[OPE-L:3561] assumptions, assumptions, assumptions

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Wed, 30 Oct 1996 12:52:53 -0800 (PST)

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I had hoped that we were beyond discussing this thread. However, Andrew K
and Paul C have continued to discuss the Great v=0 Controversy in recent
days so I feel I should respond:

Andrew K wrote in [OPE-L:3560]:

> "When workers go on strike, they do not get paid. Their v = 0 to the firms
> against which they strike. Yet capitalists very willingly incur costs in
> order to prevent the strikes and break the strikes."

When workers go on strike, there is no capitalist production. Since we
were talking about the accumulation of capital, the v=0 condition where
v=0 means that there are no wage-earners (as in the case of a general
strike) effectively means that capital accumulation can not take place.
*Yet*, when v=0, we are supposed to have the "maximum rate of profit". So
... capitalist firms, by this reasoning would realize maximum
profitability and the v=0 condition only when there is no production and
the workers are on strike! Somehow that doesn't sound quite right ....

> It is well
> known, first of all, that employers also resist strikes because they want to
> keep production going.

All the more reason why v>0 since if v=0 workers would not work for
capital -- let alone go on strike against capital.

> [...], which brings us to my third piece of evidence:
> "I took a poll.[...]

This is a rather odd idea of "evidence."

> Of course, v = 0 is not *my* whole idea. It is an assumption that Marx
> employs twice in _Capital_, and it is regularly employed in constructing the
> wage/profit rate frontier, as Alan has noted.

I can not let this go without mentioning that Andrew's claim that Marx
"twice" employed the v=0 assumption has been rigorously criticized on this

> I find this debate depressing and frustrating. By means of introspection, I
> When Paul doesn't like them, he demands empirical
> evidence. When I supply the evidence, [...]

I think you have a different idea from Paul about what constitutes
empirical evidence. At a very minimum, taking a poll of your students
seems to be a somewhat irrelevant form of "empirical evidence."

> he challenges it - by means of
> introspective arguments (and irrelevancies about volunteers).

If one is going to inquire about the conditions in which v could equal 0,
then volunteers seem very far from being irrelevant.

> It is just
> this type of thing that turned me off long ago to attempts to prove things
> empirically. It can't be done. Someone can always pick at the evidence and
> refuse to accept it. The whole thing then becomes endless, with everybody
> trotting out more and more evidence, with no outcome possible unless the
> parties happen to *agree*. No thanks. I'll stick with refuting fallacious
> arguments. Because everyone knows how to think, this does yield a clear
> outcome, even when the outcome is not acknowledged openly.

Certainly, the collection of empirical evidence can not be a *substitute*
for theory. Yet, from a materialist perspective, an understanding of the
concrete historical and empirical evidence is a component *part* of the
process of trying to understand the world in thought. If one rejects any
reference to empirical discourse, then one can find oneself drifting into
idealism and a discussion of an infinite variety of logical theorems like
"the tendency of rain to fall" that have no relevance for the subject
matter that one is investigating.

> Another method I find useful is to explain why people think the things they
> do. Can anyone explain the resistance to the idea that capital must always
> force workers to work, and bear the costs of doing so?

Can anyone explain the resistance to the idea that workers do *not* "live
on air" or that they would not work for capital unless they were paid?

In Solidarity,