[OPE-L:3666] Operationalization of Marxian Theory

John Ernst (ernst@pipeline.com)
Wed, 13 Nov 1996 22:33:21 -0800 (PST)

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To Duncan's OPE-L:3661, Jerry in OPE 3665 added:

1) Weren't those debates an outgrowth of workers' movements themselves and
didn't they reflect important political differences among Marxists in
countries that had strong mass Social Democratic and revolutionary parties
and traditions? Today, most researchers are academics and theorists rather
than revolutionaries. Hasn't the academic environment itself had an effect
on what we research, how we conduct research, and how we write and who can
understand what we write?

John says:
I'm not sure about the "academic environment" bit. I think the problem
is two-fold.

a. There is not a lot happening out there. That is, capital, for now,
appears stable. I think this may well change sooner than any of us
would like but as Mr. Cronkite used to tell us "that's the way
it is."

b. We are not very clear theoretically. Consider the very basic
levels on which we find disagreement -- the valuation of capital,
the definition of the rate of profit, etc.

Jerry continues:

2) What do you (and others on the list) view as the "larger political
economic issues" that *should be* discussed and developed?

3) [For any who answer #2], why haven't we, as Marxists (not only on the
list but elsewhere as well), allocated more time and effort developing
answers to these "larger political economic issues"?

John says:
See "b" above.


I'm not sure the idea of operationlization is not one way to attempt
to make the field more "coherent." The difficulty is that to move
to that level one needs more clarity than the field itself seems
capable of supplying. To test a hypothesis one needs to have a
hypothesis to test. I'm not sure we have one yet. On the other
hand, issues we have discussed could stand a bit of
"operationlization." Here, I think the idea of constant capital
using or saving technical change is one of them.

But even here there is a bit of difficulty. For example,
in one of his more recent posts Duncan noted that the output
to capital ratio fell dramatically in the 1970's due
to increases in the price of oil. This sounds a bit
like the rising prices of cotton that Marx saw as he
wrote CAPITAL, to which, in his work, Michael Perelman
often points. Do these cases furnish examples of constant
capital using technical change? In themselves, I do not
think so.


Perhaps an alternate way of getting around the lack of coherence
that one finds in this endeavor would be to create simulation
models of the process of accumulation itself. It seems to me
that our generation unlike those before us have been given tools
about which our predecessors could only dream. Here, I refer to
high speed computers and software like spreadsheets. Why not
take what we can from the process of operationalization and
begin to create simulation models. This would force us to attain
clarity as we construct a model that may one day be capable
of being tested.