[OPE-L:2257] Re: Reply to Duncan (Profit Rate, Science)

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Thu, 16 May 1996 15:34:59 -0700

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A brief reply to Duncan's thoughtful, warm, and very welcome ope-l 2228:

First, TSS stands for Temporal Single-System. The term was coined by
Gil Skillman, or me, or maybe both of us together (I don't remember).
Temporal is obvious. "Single-system" is as opposed to "two-system,"
one system of vlaues and other of prices. In the single-system
interpretations (both temporal and simultaneous), values of inputs
(C & V) depend partly on prices, while prices depend on the "value" rate
of profit.

I agree with Duncan that the discussion on ope-l has been very respectful.
But a lot of stuff languished for a long time when a lot of people
decided not to give any recognition to it even when they clearly knew
about it and could have mentioned it. Alan and Bruce, who've been doing
their stuff much longer than I have are the real experts on this. But
I wonder whether in places such as the New School and the University
of Utah, whether these interpretations still go unstudied by political
economy students or even unmentioned (also UC Riverside and UMass, but
I'm more hopeful that a breadth of views is being considered in these
schools, esp. the latter).

I agree with Duncan that sophisticated historians of thought discuss what
thinkers had to say, not whether they were "right" or "wrong." Alas,
almost no history of ecobnomic thought today is sophisticated. The
reigning mode of interpretation is an abomination called "rational
reconstruction," for which what someone actually said is thought to
be a yawner to be left to "antiquarians" or disciples.

Nonetheless, Duncan raises a very important point as to whether getting
on the turf of the "refuters" of Marx "feeds into this ideological
deadend." I myself worry about this--a lot, because I always have to
question whether I'm wasting my time. Why am I always doing negative
critique when I could be doing something positive? Part of the answer is
that the marginal costs seem to be falling and the marginal benefits
rising. Another part is that this work helps clear the ground for
positive work. E.g., if the Okishio theorem is correct, then, as Roemer
points out, no amount of empirical work can successfully explain a fall
in the profit rate by referring to automation and robotization. I'd
like to get things to the point where a study such as this (if it did come
to such conclusions) wouldn't be laughed out of court. But I still have
my worries. On the other hand, Hegel teaches that the movement of
negativity is positive throughout, and I think that I may have discerned
a thing or two that is helpful for the development of theory and under-
standing of the real world through this process of critique.

Certainly the process of establishing what Marx meant is long and
difficult. If I can contribute to fostering the recognition that it
is possible in principle (i.e., an issue that succumbs to empirical
evidence) and that it is worthwhile because what Marx had to say is
*not* well known, then I'll be very happy. But I'm not sure that
establishing that an interpretation or theory is consistent and coherent
or that it possesses explanatory power is any easier. It's not a
perfect analogy, but take neoclassical economics (please)--is it
coherent and consistent. I think so, but I'm not sure Garegnani (e.g.)
would agree. Does it possess explanatory power? Get 10 heterodox
economists in the room and you'd probably get 11 (or more) answers.
Perhaps there's just no royal road to agreement.

Duncan's comment about folks like Roemer and Samuelson "reading selectively
and reading into rather than reading to try to understand" is marvelous,
I think--this is what I've been trying to say but doing so much more

Finally, I very much endorse Duncan's hope that we can return the
discussion of Marx's work to the same standards used to discuss others'
work. He was no god, nor was he a nincompoop just because he didn't
know the Frobenius-Perron theorem. He grew, developed his thinking over
time, changed his mind about some things (he at first opposed the determin-
ation of value by labor-time, and had a supply and demand theory, for
instance). One key thing I think is absolutely imperative to understanding
his work, however, is that it be understood with reference to *his*
concerns. The attempt to read Marx as a Ricardian, for instance, stems
IMHO mostly from an attempt to squeeze a deterministic theory of relative
prices out of _Capital_. Why do I say "however"? Because this standard
is *not* generally accepted among "Whig" historians of economic thought,
and the method of "rational reconstruction" so much in vogue is a fancy
cover for "reading selectively and reading into" *all* earlier thinkers.

Andrew Kliman