[OPE-L:3648] Operationalization of Marxian theory

Duncan K. Fole (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Sun, 10 Nov 1996 14:43:53 -0800 (PST)

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In Andrew's [OPE-L:3577], which is largely concerned with the TSS
definition of the monetary expression of value, he remarks:

"There are many other, much more difficult, problems involved in
trying to estimate labor-time value and `price' magnitudes, once one
abandons pure simultaneism, for which the input/output approach `works'. I
agree with Michael Perelman that the problems are insuperable in practice,
so that the project of operationalizing Marx's value theory as a whole is
doomed to failure."

I was sorry to hear this news, since I've invested a big chunk of my
professional research in working on methods to operationalize Marx's theory
of capitalism. But I think this is perhaps too gloomy a view to take. The
problems involved, such as the one discussed on the list earlier this fall
of reducing skilled labor to simple labor, or the issue of estimating
unproductive labor, to which Fred Moseley and Simon Mohun have given much
effor, or the problems John Ernst raises about identifying the time profile
of the circuit of fixed capital, are difficult, but in my opinion no
different qualitatively from the problems any social theory, such as
neoclassical economics, faces. (For neoclassical economics parallel issues
involve the problems of measuring the capital input to production,
identifying supply and demand schedules from real market data, measuring
expectations, and so on.) But the Marxian circuit of capital framework is
closely related to real accounting data from real production (as Alan
Freeman points out in his ch 11 of the Freeman/Carchedi book), and it is
possible to make meaningful and insightful measurements of the key Marxian
variables, such as the rate of surplus value, the composition of capital,
and the turnover times of the capital stock from relatively easily
available data. These preliminary estimates could no doubt be refined and
improved with better data and better methodology, but that's just the
bread-and-butter of economic research of any kind. I think we give up too
much of the contested terrain if we withdraw from this kind of research.

The empirical terrain is also the area where we are most likely to resolve
or compromise the sharp doctrinal differences that at the moment threaten
to stall fruitful research. The relation between macroeconomic data based
estimates of the parameters, and input/output based ones brings together
the perspectives of a lot of different people (Dumenil/Levy, myself,
Cockshott and Cottrell, Ernst, Ochoa/Tonak/Shaikh, etc.)


Duncan K. Foley
Department of Economics
Barnard College
New York, NY 10027
fax: (212)-854-8947
e-mail: dkf2@columbia.edu