[OPE-L:1044] Re: Definitions and Tautologies

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Mon, 12 Feb 1996 13:46:22 -0800

[ show plain text ]

Andrew here, replying to Gil's post (ope-l 1028). Gil asks me to show that
his conclusions are false, and then he'll shut up. I don't want him to
shut up; I think the issues are important ones, so I hope the discussion
continues (albeit not as an attempt to poke holes into the TSS interpreta-
tion or Marx's _Capital_, but as a way of trying to understand it; that at
least is my hope).

I do want to show that Gil's conclusions are false, however. Note that this
doesn't mean he's wrong, only that the conclusions don't follow from his

Gil says that the value of a commodity, according to the TSS interpretation,
won't be constant if the labor-time required for its production is constant.
Thus, the TSS interpretation contradicts Marx. I agree that if the value
would not remain constant, then this would indeed contradict Marx. But
I don't agree that the value can change independently of the labor-time
required for production--when the latter is understood in its full

Abstracting from fixed capital, the vector of constant capitals in the
TSS interpretation is c(t) = p(t)*A(t). Gil says that p(t) can vary
arbitrarily with changes in demand conditions, even if the labor time
required for the commodity(ies) production changes. I agree that p(t)
can vary with changes in demand conditions (e.g., some producers can get
more surplus-value when demand for their studd is strong, thus raising
their output prices). But notice that changes in p(t) lead c(t) to change.
And c(t) is part of the value of the commodity:

v(t+1) = c(t) + L(t)

In other words, the value of a capitalistically produced commodity has
TWO parts. Not only the new value added, but the old value preserved and
transferred. Both parts are required for the production of the commodity,
and both parts are *labor-time*. p(t) is a vector of labor-times per unit
of the commodities, just as L(t) is.

Hence, if p(t) changes then the labor-time required for the commodity's
production changes (or course, p(t) must itself reflect only socially
necessary labor, and that is assumed in my formula).

Hence, as I and others understand labor-time required for production, then
Gil's conclusion doesn't follow. Similarly, when he notes that two
commodities with different vectors of input commodities will have different
values, according to the TSS interpretation, even if they can be produced
with the same amount of labor-time, I will say that their values differ
because they're produced with different amounts of labor-time.

The key issue, of course, is whether c(t) is an amount of labor-time
required for production even if c(t) not = L{(I-A)**-1}A. I say that
Marx says it is. Several references could be brought, and I cited Vol.
III (Vintage), p. 265. Here's the point. Say we have two sectors, one
that produces commodities having a value of 100 and the other producing
commodities having a value of 40. But they will sell maybe at prices of
90 and 50. Given only that total value = total price, then it is clear
that the prices are just fractions of the total labor-time, albeit
different fractions than the values. Hence, the prices are themselves
sums of labor-time, not giraffes, or Augustinian theology, or logarithms
(of any color). This is not tautology--it depends on the conservation
of value in exchange.

Of course, this is not what most people have thought Marx meant, but that
is precisely the problem. Their interpetation cannot make sense of the
whole; it especially cannot obtain his major theoretical results. The
above interpretation, I submit, can, and has done so on many fronts.
Hence, it is preferable *as an interpretation of Marx's value theory*.
One can of course keep trying to find missing pieces of the jigsaw
puzzle that the TSS interpretation has lost under the rug, but I really
think this is futile. The pieces are just fit together differently than
in the standard interpretation, so that they *do* fit together.

This is the 100th anniversary of Bohm-Bawerk's _Karl Marx and the Close of
His System_. That whole century was marked by people, Marxists as well
as non-Marxists, trying to find self-contradictions in Marx. I suggest
a new beginning for the next century. Let's try to understand what he
had to say. Instead of rushing to conclusions that A means X and B
means Y, but X and Y are inconsistent, the way to *begin* to understand
Marx--or anyone else--is to relect a moment and say, well, if X and Y
are inconsistent, then maybe, just maybe, A does not mean X or B does
not mean Y or both. Maybe, just maybe, there's another possible meaning
that can make sense of things. Under what conditions would this person's
conclusions follow from their argument? How can I change my inderstanding
of the terms of their argument so that it makes sense?

I do not think the proponents of the TSS interpetation are especially
smart or clever or whatever. I think that we have been able to make sense
out of Marx's work because we have *tried* to do so. It doesn't take all
that much effort. Now, for a number of reasons, people don't want to
look like religious fanatics, and trying to understand what Marx had to
say by working backwards from conclusions to concepts (as well as forwards
from concepts to arguments) may strike some people as apologetics. But
I suggest that this is the way we all try to understand someone if we're
really trying to understand them (e.g., somehow people manage to understand
my posts despite all the horrible typos, because they infer the "real"
words from the whole). And I suggest that we *must* do so if we are to
understand Marx. Trying to find holes in his arguments and
internal inconsistencies will not produce real understanding. It has not.
And the originators of this approach to the interpreation of Marx, quite
frankly, did not want to.

I do feel very strongly that people should be free to express their
disagreements with Marx--that might lead to some real positive development.
But his critics should express their disagreements as *disagreements* and
not as *proofs* of "error" emitted inexorably by a disembodied, classless,
logic machine. This is, at root, an ideological cover that serves the
purpose of making it look like there's no one here except us disinterested
scientists, rather than the clash of antagonistic interests.

These last few paragraphs are not directed at Gil or anyone on the list.
They are directed at an inherently antagonistic and dubious way of
approaching Marx's work that, unfortunately, has been too often accepted and
even adopted by Marxists, when it certainly isn't to the advantage of anyone
who wants to understand, concretize, and develop Marx's _oeuvres_.

BTW, I'll just mention that the method of solving problems by working
backwards from conclusions is very well known, extremely common, and
very effective in mathematics.

Andrew Kliman