[OPE-L:3730] RE: Hairsplitting

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Fri, 29 Nov 1996 02:35:11 -0800 (PST)

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>I don't agree with Paul's view that the single-system interpretation requires
>"discarding the clear and explicit definitions of value" given at the start of
>Vol. I, though I agree with Alejandro that they aren't "definitions," but
>initial determinations of the concept of value. Dialectically, abstract
>determinations should not be privileged over ones that are further
>particularized, but the opposite. Human anatomy is the key to the anatomy of
>the ape.

Paul C:
I find this a rather slippery approach. When I say that your definition of
value as being made up of newly added labour plus the price of the indirect
inputs to production is incosistent with the Vol 1 definition of value
as either the labour time socially necessary for production or the
labour crystallized in the product, I am told that this is just a
matter of not understanding dialectics. It looks to me as if you
have shifted the inconsistency from one within volume 3 to one between
the volume 3 and volume 1 definitions of value. You can say that
this is a matter of dialectical development if you like, but, if
your aim is to convince people who are not previously committed to
Marxism, it seems a very weak position to defend.

In debating with non marxists, one can not expect Marx to be granted
any special favours in regard to logic and consistency. Using a quite
different definition of value in two different books, would, in any
other author be judged inconsistency. Our own affection for Marx's
writings may dispose us to view it differently, but in arguments with
non-marxists this would look very like special pleading.

It is also very unwise to rely upon Marx's aphorism about the
anatomy of men and apes. Within its own terms it is certainly
false, and indeed the exact inverse of the understanding of the
biological sciences since Darwin. It is an expression of human
particularism, which, whilst a prevalent misconception about
evolution, has been subjected to a withering critique in numerous
books by Gould and others.

>In any case, the single-system interpretation does not require that
>one discard Marx's own specifications that the value of a commodity is
>determined exclusively by the labor-time socially necessary for its
>production, or the labor-time contained in it. It requires discarding some
>particular INTERPRETATIONS of these statements, that is all. Since these
>interpretations lead to the conclusion that Marx contradicted himself, while
>the single-system interpretation can understand these statements in a manner
>consistent with Marx's own account of the transformation, the latter is a
>superior interpretation of these statements.

Paul C:
If one only knew about the publications made in Marx's lifetime - say Wages
Prices and Profit, the 1857 Critique, and Capital 1 would anyone have
been led to your interpretation. I would say no. The interpretation is
so forced that it took over a hundred years for it to occur to anyone.
If your interpretation is what Marx really meant,
you turn him into a Nostradamus, whose centuries remained obscure for

Andrew :
>It should be noted that until Ch. 7, i.e., until he gets to the capitalistic
>production process, Marx does not say one word about how the labor-time
>necessary for the commodity's production is itself determined. Then, he says
>(in Chs. 7 and 8) it is the sum of the newly added labor plus the value
>transferred from the used-up means of production.

Paul C:
That is an adequate recursive defintion of value. It is not the same
as saying it is the direct labour plus the price of the means of production.

Andrew :
> He definitely does NOT say
>that the latter is determined by the labor-time that would be needed at the
>end of the production period to reproduce the means of production. Rather, he
>determines the value transferred from the monetary value paid for the means of
>production and the relation between the monetary and labor-time units, just as
>the *temporal* single-system interpretaton does.

Paul C:
I think it introduces undue complexity at this stage to bring in the effects
of rapid technical change and consequent depreciation of stocks. Once one
has a clear definition of value under stable or slowly changing technical
conditions, the ammendments required to deal with technical change are
easy to derive,

>Paul C: "I can not remember reading anything in Capital to indicate that Marx
>had tried to make total prices = total values and total profit = total surplus
>value after transforming input prices, and had realised that this was
>Nor can I. This is therefore evidence in favor of the single-system
>interpretation. What Marx does say (in Ch. 9) is that the transformation of
>input prices doesn't negate the equalities.

Paul C:
It can also be read as evidence that, being unaware of the discrepancies
that would arise if he transformed input prices, Marx simply did not realise
that his statements were open to ambiguous interpretation. It might also
be that, like Ricardo, he regarded the discrepancies introduced by the
equalization of profits to be small, and that in consequence they could
be ignored as a second order effect when dealing with the inputs to
production. This would be a perfectly defensible position. If the expected
discrepancy of price from value due to profit rate equalisation was say <7%,
using Ricardos estimate, then the discrepancy of the aggregate value of the
inputs to production vis a vis their aggregate price, would be very much
less than 7% because of the law of large numbers. Why he failed to transform
inputs is open to a number of conjectures, which are in principle impossible
to determine short of asking him.

>Paul C: "This apparent senselessness of the two equalities is one which only
>appeared once the criticisms had been made by others after Marx's death. We
>have no means of telling how he would have responded to these criticisms had
>he read them."
>What Marx would have said is not relevant. What his theory implies and
>suggests is relevant. In terms of his theory, if total price is (un)equal to
>total value, then total profit is (un)equal to total surplus-value, and
>vice-versa. The satisfaction of one equality without the other is meaningless
>and irrational. No one has been able to explain it successfully. Anwar
>Shaikh tried, but Hans Erhbar and Marx Glick showed that he had failed to do
>so. And again, both equalities follow immediately from the conservation of
>value in exchange, demonstrated in Ch. 5 of Vol. I.

The problem here surely is that one is dropping the assumption of conservation
of value in exchange

>Paul C: "... the dual conservation of total prices and total profits. In
>what way is this a useful or important result in predicting how economic
>relations will develop?"
>The two equalities together imply that the general profit rate (whether
>uniform or not) equals s/(c+v). Hence, they imply that the magnitude of the
>profit rate is determined in production, before commodities go to market, and
>that the amount of surplus-labor extracted sets a quantitative limit on the
>profit rate. This dispels important illusions created by competition. If
>the extraction of living labor stagnates, while more dead labor gets
>reinvested, the profit rate must fall. Hence, the FRP.

Paul C:
But the falling rate of profit does not depend upon an exact equality between
total profit and total surplus value, only on a strong correlation between them.
This is a weaker condition and much more likely to be satisfied.

>Paul C: "In preserving the dual conservation law, you are forced to throw out
>the classical labour theory of value, which in comparison, seems to me to be
>an imensely useful tool in explaining and predicting economic phenomena."
>Why is this "classical"? Neither Marx nor Ricardo nor any Ricardian nor Smith
>held that commodities exchange in proportion to vertically integrated labor

As I read it, they all recognised that there could be deviations but
considered them

>I thank Paul for his reply, but except for his implicit reference to Marx's
>statements that the value of a commodity is determined by the labor-time
>needed for its production, I don't think Paul really responded to the point I
>made, which he quoted at the top of his post, and which read in part:
>"if there is no agreement that an interpretation in which a text makes sense
>is prima facie superior to one
>in which it doesn't, I don't think there can be much forward movement in
>interpretative controversies. Criteria for deciding among interpretations are
>needed. Why has this become so controversial?"

This is a fruitless quest. As 2 millenia of biblical scholarship have shown,
the only reliable mechanism for deciding between interpretations of ambigous
texts is a pope.
Paul Cockshott