[OPE-L:3070] RE: assumptions, assumptions, assumptions

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sat, 21 Sep 1996 06:54:10 -0700 (PDT)

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Andrew wrote in [OPE-L:3068]:

> When other people on the list discussed the maximum profit rate, you
> didn't try to get them to "just forget once and for all that v = 0
> assumption," but when I do it you become the Miss Manners of
> methodology. Why?

First: I apologize for #3069. I thought that Andrew's post was not
and would not be posted to the list (as sometimes happens, unfortunately,
with listproc) and forwarded it to you.

Second: If I haven't made it clear already, let me state now that I object
to the v=0 assumption regardless of whether Andrew *or anyone else* makes
that assumption (except in the special case where v=0 is employed to
critique a theory that likewise uses that assumption).

Third: You seem to imply that I am "picking" on you, i.e. that I am
unfairly singling you out for criticism. This is not the case. Once again,
I remind *all* that intentions frequently can not be legitimately "read
between the lines" and, similarly, one can not assume that the failure to
respond to posts written by others implies consent with what they have

> If you want to discuss "that v = 0 assumption," then I'm willing to do it,
> but let's do it properly. Let's go back to where you broke it off several
> months ago. Basically you said let's agree to disagree, instead of
> responding to my critique of your textual analysis, in which I noted,
> inter alia, that the following imply one another: the whole working
> day appropriated by capital, necessary labor equal to 0, and wages (or
> v) equal to zero. Let's first settle whether I'm right about that.
> Then let's settle the issue of whether Marx actually made this
> assumption. Then let's seriously resume the discussion of the
> specificity of *Marx's* Marxian methodology (which, I contend, permits
> "unrealistic" assumptions) and see if this concept sheds any
> light on the alleged "incompleteness" of _Capital_. And that will mean we
> will have to discuss the concept of "Marx's Marxism" in a serious manner.

First: I *did* respond -- repeatedly -- to the textual question of whether
Marx utilized the v=0 assumption, when, and for what purpose.

Second: I object to the sequence that you propose above. Let's first
discuss the meaning of the v=0 assumption *independently of the question
of whether Marx utilized that assumption, when, where, and for what
purpose*. Let's then discuss under what conditions and as part of the
analysis of what subjects this assumption is legitimate and/or
illegitimate. *After that*, we can discuss the questions of whether Marx
employed that assumption and whether it was legitimate for the subject and
purpose at hand.

Third: if you have anything more to say regarding "*Marx's* Marxian
methodology" and "Marx's Marxism", we can discuss those questions as well.

Fourth: let me note that neither Alan, John, Ted, or yourself have
attempted to answer my question posed in the "Developing Marx" thread
concerning the ways in which each of you believe one can "develop" Marx
from a TSS perspective. Let me also note that *I* do not infer anything
about the failure of any of the above to respond to that question. It
could be, for instance, that the above choose not to answer that question
*at this time* due to time constraints. It would be nice, however, if
those asked could *say* that was the reason they have not responded yet.

Fifth: I reject the proposition that the whole working day can be
appropriated by capital, or that necessary labor can equal 0, or that
wages or v can be equal to 0. These are *not even formal abstract
possibilities* (e.g. as the equilibrium condition is in V2 for simple
reproduction). The *only* possibility for wages or v to equal 0 is for the
capital form and capitalism itself to be transcended. Yet, if we are to
agree that the subject of _Capital_ is capitalism, this is illegitimate.
This does not mean, of course, that capital can not attempt to and succeed
in reducing wages and v to *close to* 0. Yet, to vacate wages and v from
the analysis entirely requires us to *fundamentally* depart from
both Marx's analysis and the analysis of capitalism itself.

Sixth: I can see *only* one reason why the v=0 assumption is made (except
in the special case of a critique of a model that itself makes that
assumption). That reason is *purely* for mathematical/quantitative
reasons, i.e. to simplify the equations. That is, it is simpler to get
formal, quantitative "results" with the assumption of v=0, or constant
fixed capital=0, or constant circulating capital=0. Yet, in these cases,
the "results" are formally dependent on the assumptions made.

Seventh: The last time we discussed this question it remained a dialogue
essentially between Andrew and myself. What do others think?

> If you want models with v > 0, or any other models, YOU build them. As
> Alan has reiterated very rightly, very clearly, and very forcefully in
> recent days, what we (he and I) are talking about has nothing to do
> with models and assumptions, and never has. What we are talking about
> pertains to the transition rules applicable to any and all models.

First: that may be what Alan and you are saying, but it is not what *I* am

Second: it is entirely legitimate to scrutinize and critique a model based
on the assumptions made.

Third: there is no point in "scribbling", i.e. jotting down numbers and
building models, until we can agree what the purpose at hand is and what
would constitute legitimate assumptions. If we can not agree on that
point, then we could easily generate an infinite variety of models along
the lines of "the tendency of rain to fall."

> And let's really discuss concretely *why* Marx made
> this "assumption," even though it isn't "realistic"

As noted above, I have no objection to discussing this question --
although *I* view it as an entirely secondary question. [NB: I am not
objecting to assumptions based on the criteria of whether they are
"realistic" or not. Marx, and other theorists, of necessity employ
certain "unrealistic" assumptions for certain purposes. For instance,
"simple reproduction" is clearly "unrealistic", yet I do not object to
Marx's analysis of that subject given the purpose at hand. *However*, if
one is to assume v=o, one can also assume that capital=0, wage labor=0,
and capitalism is non-existent].

> For someone who felt the need to point out that I omitted "all three volumes"
> from the end of a quotation from Tony Smithit so important need to quote in
> context was so important how would you like it if I chopped up your post

It is common, beneficial, and accepted practice on Internet mailing
lists to only include sections from another post that you are responding

> economists do not
> behave as Duncan asserts. They do not use these models to
> test the coherency of generally held prejudices. What they
> actually do is to reassure themselves that these generally
> held prejudices are safe. They take issue with one minute
> assumption in the model (pretty ironic in view of the way
> the (E) assumption is used), heave a sigh of relief and set
> the whole thing on one side. I don't think they ever will do
> anything else. Something deeper is at stake. Models have
> become a means of staving off facing the issues, not a way
> of engaging in scientific discourse.

I will let Duncan respond to the first part of the above paragraph. I
will note, though, that no one has yet answered Allin's comment the other
day that other (non-Marxian) models can and sometimes do employ
disequilibrium analysis. Perhaps the acceptance by some Marxists of the
formal, mathematical logic employed normally by mainstream economists is a
way of "staving off facing the issues."

[NB: no "scarequotes" intended above or in any subsequent posts by this

In OPE-L Solidarity,