[OPE-L:3963] Re: Critiquing exploitation

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Fri, 10 Jan 1997 13:41:26 -0800 (PST)

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Andrew's last post closes with the following:

>Such is the nature of the "defenses" of Marx's _Capital_ one gets once one
>fragments it into bits and picks and chooses the parts one likes (oh, excuse
>me, the parts in which he didn't make an "error").

Andrew's juxtaposition of these two phrases suggests a belief that those who
find errors in _Capital_ are really just expressing their "[dis]like" of
parts of Marx's argument. This suggestion is doubly unfortunate, first
because it is unduly dismissive of serious attempts to come to grips with
difficulties in Marx's analysis of capitalism, and second, because to my
(and many others') reading there really are errors in Marx's analysis in
Capital, at least by standards of meaning and logic employed by most people,
an assessment which is independent of whether one adopts a "simultaneist" or
"successivist" view of Marx's value theory.

Such people will necessarily find particular details of Marx's argument
unconvincing, and attempts to to absolve Marx of any error in these details
specious. Thus, for example, my reading of N. Scott Arnold's critique
(mentioned previously by Tony) is that he makes several valid points against
Marx's analysis of value and exploitation, taken individually (e.g., he
makes the point I introduced a while back, to the effect that exchange
expresses a relationship of equivalence, not *equality*, counter to Marx's
representation in V.I, Ch. 1). But in winning these individual battles,
does Arnold win the war?

Faced with such a critique, one can attempt to insist that there is an
"interpretation" of Marx according to which his analysis in _Capital_ is
free of error. Or one can focus on what I take to be the substantive bottom
line: whether or not there are errors in the details of Marx's argument in
_Capital_, we now know there is a logically coherent sense in which
capitalist profit and interest can be said to represent the exploitation
(understood as systemic coercion based on class inequalities) of workers.

This shifts the focus of the argument from Marx's text, where in my opinion
controversies are unlikely ever to be resolved, to capitalist reality. On
this plane, as I suggested earlier, I think the Marxian position is much
harder to dismiss. One can grant, for example, Arnold's conclusion that
"time preference...can be used to explain why there is (always) positive
rate of interest" and still deny that time preference has any important role
in explaining existing capitalist interest (as opposed to, say, the interest
on consumption loans).

What's more, one can grant that time preferences determine interest rates at
the margin and still insist that inframarginal economic rent represents
exploitation, *particularly* if differences in time preference across
potential capital suppliers are driven by differences in wealth (a
possibility for which there is significant evidence).

Parallel arguments can be made with respect to justifications of capitalist
profit based on risk aversion.

In sum, I think that given how most people use language and logic, there
*are* errors in Marx's account of value and exploitation in _Capital_.
Perhaps there is another approach to language and logic which dissolves
these errors, but even if so I don't think there is much gain to be had in
pursuing this approach, and much more can be gained by emphasizing 1) there
is a logically (in the standard sense) coherent basis for the claim that
capitalist profit and interest represents exploitation of workers, and 2)
this claim is at least consistent with available evidence.

For what it's worth, Gil