[OPE-L:1358] Slow learner's blues

riccardo bellofior (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Thu, 7 Mar 1996 10:05:28 -0800

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At 6:48 7-03-1996 -0800, glevy@acnet.pratt.edu wrote:
>Paul C wrote:
>> The two processes can go hand in hand. Casting
>> things in a mathematical form forces one to be
>> precise about what one means, in a way that does
>> not occur if one just thinks about things
>> qualitatively.
>> I dont accept that there is anything that is
>> unsuited to mathematical modeling. If something
>> is declared 'unsuited' that just indicates the
>> depth of our ingnorance and confusion in the field
>> in question.
>I guess Hegel and Marx (as well as many Marxists, including Rubin and
>Mattick) could be said, therefore, to be ignorant and confused since they
>frequently did not frame their analysis in quantitative terms. Mike L's
>and Tony's books must also be examples of fuzzy thinking since they are
>not very mathematical. I, for instance, don't think that Mike's work can
>be quantified with any degree of precision. IMHO, this is not a
>weakness on Mike's part but stems from the nature of the subject being

I think I agree with Paul C., though for reasons he probably will
not find congenial. The problem is the meaning of the term 'ignorance'. One
of my favourite quotes is the following, from Thomas Pynchon's Slow

"Everybody gets told ot write about what they know. The trouble with many
of us is that at the earlier stages of life we think we know everything -
or to put it more usefully, we are often unaware of the scope and structure
of our ignorance. Ignorance is not just a blank space on a person and
mental's map. It has contours and coherence, and for all I know rules of
operation as well."

Thus, I take not as an insult that we are ignorant, that there is
something as yet unsuited to mathematical modeling; and that we are able to
deal with the "contours and structure of our ignorance" only with
qualitative means. Rather, I find this as a compliment to qualitative
analysis. I have the doubt that when we finally will arrive to overcome our
'ignorance' and to castng things in quantitative terms, well, we will be at
the (truly important) stage where we will be able to state by rigorous
reasoning and wording what we *already* know.

By the way: just now there was a letter by Alan F. showing how some
conclusions must be drawn - how something *must* happen - from what we
*know*. That is an important task. But what is what we know, and why it is
so compelling? Are we allowed to think we agree on what is value theory in
Marx? Pursuing this thread would take us again to the issue raised by Mike
Perelman's letter, which I liked a lot, and in which he invites us to
conceptualize again value. 'Value' was not taken over by Marx as an
'obvious' thing from reality (e.g., look out there, there are human beings
working hard and your useful things come from their work: that would be
feudal, not capitalist, exploitation; Smith's profits from deduction, not
Marx's abstract wealth arising from the pumping out of forced and
other-directed labour). Nor in theoretical debates we can oppose the
criticism to the labour theory of value as a quantitative theory of price
saying that "*if* value theory holds, then these are the conclusions".
This, as I told in a previous letter, would at best means that we are able
to respond to the charge of inconsistency of the labour theory of value as
a theory of value. This, let me be clear, is an essential task. But it is
not enough.

Once again, as a slow guy who wants to learn, I wonder if we are
not often confusing two things: the first is the reconstruction of value
theory; the second is the answer to Marx's critics. Marx's aim was (or was
not?) to show that prices could *only* be derived from values (here the
charge is not the inconsistency but the redundancy of values)? This idea of
values behind prices has (or has not) crumbled down? And if the answer to
the last question is yes, does the value theory becomes useless? At the
moment, I think that for Marx prices should be deduced only from values,
and that this idea was wrong, but that the value theory as the theory of
the valorization *process* is still alive.

I do not find convincing replies that says, well, "in reality more
or less prices follows value magnitudes", or, "in theory some value
magnitudes are computed by Marx at prices", and then all the conclusions
held by Marx follows. *If* we are not able to reply to the redundancy issue
either we abandon the labour theory of value or we find other dimensions in

I think that if we follow Mike L. suggestion to thinking value anew
we would find that the other dimensions in value theory are overwhelming.
And that the importat task is to redefine the demands before than returning
to (or refuting) Marx's answers.


Riccardo Bellofiore e-mail: bellofio@cisi.unito.it
Department of Economics Tel: (39) -35- 277505 (direct)
University of Bergamo (39) -35- 277501 (dept.)
Piazza Rosate, 2 (39) -11- 5819619 (home)
I-24129 Bergamo Fax: (39) -35- 249975