[OPE-L:1041] Discussions on the labor Theory of Value

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Mon, 12 Feb 1996 09:09:49 -0800

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Allin wrote in [1040]:

> But
> if -- as the work of Anwar Shaikh and his co-workers, and more recently a
> long list of researchers using data from several countries, has suggested --
> the stronger version is valid, then where is the need to hedge?

Does anyone believe that there is sufficient empirical evidence based on
reliable data for international comparisons? The research of Moseley (Hi,
Fred) and Tonak and Shaikh (Hi, Anu), for instance, is limited to the use of
input-output data for the US economy and the data itself is only
available for a limited number of years. This is *not*, in my view,
merely an empirical matter since the question of the international
distribution of surplus value is an important theoretical issue that
needs to be resolved and has significant empirical consequences in terms
of measurement. I understand from reading the Shaikh and Tonak book that
there have been other studies, for example, on Turkey. However, even
*after* we compare individual economies, we *still* have to have the data
for *all* capitalist economies to show conclusively the international
distribution of surplus value and the relationship empirically between
market price and value for capitalism as a whole.

I believe, at some point, we should discuss this question more explicitly
since it has come up at various points in our discussions. I assume we
all feel that empirical work is needed. The question, I suppose is: how
should Marxists do empirical studies and what should be the theoretical
and methodological basis for those studies? Unfortunately, the data that
we inherit is far from ideal and does not include many factors that we
might wish to include if we (as opposed to primarily bourgeois state
agencies) collected the raw data.

>1.The first is a polemical-strategic consideration. Like it or not, Marx is
>strongly associated in the popular mind with the disaggregative LTV. We are
> in a much stronger polemical position if we are able to say: "Marx (as
> popularly understood) was right!", rather than having to say: "Marx (as
> popularly understood) may or may not be right, but _really_ that's not what
> Marx was saying (or it's not what he ought to have said), and if you
> interpret him correctly... etc."

I think this is a very weak counter-argument. We can not resolve
theoretical differences by appeal to a polemical position no matter how
widely a position is accepted. If an element of a theory is incorrect, it
needs to be rejected or modified -- period. If it is correct, then we
accept it even though it may be unpopular.

>2.It may be that Marx's critique of capitalist exploitation is more or less
>independent of the validity of the disaggregative LTV. But Marx was not just
> a critic of capitalism. He was an advocate of a communist planned economy,
> and his vision of that economy (sketchy as it was) relied in turn on a
> particular vision of the economic mechanism in general -- one in which the
> quanta of human labour-time required to produce society's various outputs
> constitute by far the most significant single "signal" to emerge from the
> sphere of production.

If you want to discuss this topic (which surely we will do at some
point), I think that a useful starting point would be a survey of Marx's
writings on socialism and communism (which are compiled, in part, in an
article by Ollman and a book by Moore). I suggest this since it is
obvious that we (members of the list) have different perspectives on
socialism and communism. If we could at least build agreement based on a
study of Marx's writings, then we would be then better positioned to
discuss differences in interpretation. At this juncture, I'd rather we
didn't have a long digression on planned economy vs. state capitalism.

> The credibility of this general conception is surely
> enhanced by the finding that -- even through the "anarchy" of capitalist
> production, and even given the systematic "distortion" induced by (some
> degree of pressure towards) profit-rate equalization -- prices seem to
> conform rather closely to labour-time values in today's capitalist
> economies.

*Even if* "prices seem to conform rather closely to labour-time values in
today's capitalist economies", that does not resolve the theoretical
issues that are being debated. The comment I made above regarding
international comparisons and time-series I think has to be taken into
consideration as well.

> [I have not discussed the relatively technical point raised in Duncan's
> posting, namely the issue of joint production. We could debate that anon: I
> don't believe it constitutes a fatal obstacle to the LTV.]

*Even if* joint production isn't a "fatal obstacle", it still needs to be
explained theoretically. There have been a number of such attempts from
different theoretical perspectives.

Turning to a question that Allin did not raise:

Would people agree that there are certain conditions in which value and
surplus value can be *diminished* rather than merely re-distributed
internationally? Even if we can initially refer to the re-distribution of
surplus value, don't we have to (at a later stage of analysis) look at
the possible destruction of values by natural events (i.e. hurricanes,
typhoons, etc.) and social events (e.g. wars)? One could argue that
there will be an adjustment in prices due to these events, but I remain
sceptical if the claim is that the total value that existed prior to
these events is claimed to equal the total value after these events.

BTW1: please try to include the OPE-L# that you are responding to in your
posts. It helps when trying to follow the discussion.

BTW2: What topics do we want to discuss next? Ideas?

In OPE-L Solidarity,