[OPE-L:2090] Re: Jerry's quiz

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Mon, 6 May 1996 10:12:31 -0700

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Alan lists the following Steedman quotes, among others, asking for my

> "(1) On the basis of assumptions to be found in Marx's own political
> economy, it has been proved that Marx's value reasoning is often
> internally inconsistent,

[I'd put it slightly differently, with a different intent: some of
Marx's reasoning, used to justify his value theory or couched in
value theoretic terms, is invalid...]

> "(2)completely failing to provide the explanations which Marx sought
> for certain central features of the capitalist economy.

[...For example, Marx's methodological stipulation at the end of Ch.
5 to the effect that surplus value must be explained on the basis of
price-value equivalence is invalidly derived from the arguments
actually advanced in the chapter. Thus, this stipulation cannot
support Marx's subsequent exclusive focus on the purchase and
consumption of labor power under capitalist production as the basis
for capitalist exploitation. Furthermore, the stipulation is at odds
with Marx's own repeatedly affirmed claims that capitalist
exploitation occured with usury capital extended to small producers
and proto-industrial merchant's capital.]

> "(3)By contrast, these same features can be given a coherent explanation
> in terms which make no reference whatsoever to any value magnitude.

[True, as long as we don't confuse "value magnitude" with "labor
magnitude", since the latter serve as the basis for measuring
exploitation as Marx defines the term.]

> "(4)Marx's value reasoning - hardly a peripheral aspect of his work -
> must therefore be abandoned in the interest of developing a coherent
> materialist theory of capitalism"

[I wouldn't *necessarily* go that far, though I wouldn't be hostile
to the idea. Certainly the uses to which Marx put his value
theory--eg. in I, Ch. 5--have obstructed a coherent understanding of
his historical-materialist account of capitalism.]

Thus, I agree with portions of these claims, but not in favor of
Steedman's resolution--I have made basic criticisms of the Sraffian
approach, not least in terms of its utter inability to account for
the strategic implications of the labor-labor power distinction, or
for the material basis of profit and interest.

Alan continues:

> I would be particularly interested in Steve and Gil's response
> to points (1) (2) (3) and (4) because Gil's pained reactions to my OPE-L 1625
> leaves me exceedingly puzzled; I think I know what he thinks is wrong
> with Marx's value theory, but I can't for the life of me work out what he
> thinks is right with it.

My "pained reactions" were to repeated and basic misrepresentations
of what I wrote, which I spell out in 1635.

That Alan can't for the life of him work out what I think is right
about Marx's value theory is hardly surprising, since it is has never
been my primary intent to establish "what is right about" Marx's
value theory. The basis of my indifference on this score is
fundamental doubt about the logical basis and scope of the theory.
In particular, insofar as I can tell the valid aspects of Marx's historical-
materialist account of capitalist exploitation and profit in no way
depend on Marx's value theory for their explication (and the Sraffian
framework is completely inadequate as an alternative).

For example, Alan's recent comments on the standard interpretation
of the German term "gleich" reinforce my earlier argument that commodity
exchange does not "express something equal", and therefore cannot
possibly establish a basis for the claim that a "common
element of identical magnitude exists in two different things...Both
are therefore equal to a third thing..."

It may turn out that value theory has some unique capacity in
grounding Marx's account of capitalism (e.g., on the basis of Paul
and Allin's demonstrations of a close empirical correlation between
values and prices), but since nothing in my critique hinges on
whether or not this is the case, I'm not holding my breath.

In solidarity, Gil

96 18:00:02 in [OPE-L:1635] Gilbert Skillman wrote in reply to
> Alan Freeman's 1625):
> =======================================================
> 1) The point of my Ch. 5 critique was not to establish that value
> theory is erroneous (of course I have my doubts about the valid scope
> of value theory, but these doubts apply with at least equal force to
> the temporal interpretation, so this has nothing whatsoever to do
> with the present argument).
> 2) I do not "apply this same erroneous value theory" in the present
> argument, since a) my critique of Marx's use of price-value
> equivalence in the account of capitalist exploitation has nothing
> whatsoever to do with the present argument, and b) my counter-example
> was taken directly from Marx, and applies no matter which approach to
> value theory is used.
> =======================================================