[OPE-L:5158] Re: [JOHN] Re: RRI and The Rate of Profit

Michael Williams (mwilliam@compuserve.com)
Sun, 1 Jun 1997 11:07:55 -0700 (PDT)

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> Andrew
> >
> > I don't know the answer to the last question. With respect to the
former, I > think the *tendency* is ever-present. But Marx clearly holds
that the tendency is periodically overcome by means of crises (I have
> no idea where the interpretation of the law as a secular trend comes
> from. Does anyone?).
Seongjin Jeong
> I think following frequently quoted paragraph of Vol.3 clearly
> shows that Marx assumed that the Law of TRPF operates at least in the
> long run.
> "We have shown in general, therefore, how the same causes that bring
> about a fall in the general rate of profit provoke counter effects that
> inhibit this fall, delay it and in part even paralyse it. THESE DO NOT
> ANNUL THE LAW, but they weaken its effect. ... The law operates therefore

> simply as a tendency, whose effect is decisive only under certain
> particular circumstances AND OVER LONG PERIODS." (Capital, Vol.3,
> Penguin, p.346. My emphasis.)
> In this regard, I do not agree with Ben Fine's argument that Marx's Law
> of TRPF is just "abstract" tendency "which by itself yields no general
> predictions about actual movements in the rate of profit." (Rereading
> Capital, p.64.) I think Marx's Law of TRPF is an empirically tendential
> law as well as abstractly tendential law. I think Marx just meant that

Michael W
I do not think that this quote will bear the interpretation that Seongjin
puts on it. Of course a 'tendency', if it is to be of some scientific
interest must, as Marx says, have empirically observable effects, and very
likely these will be manifest only in the long run. But exactly what these
*effects* are will depend on the particular circumstances. In particular,
the effects of the trpf may never be any extended historical 'trend' of
falling profit rate. At its most general, I would say that the trpf, in
changing articulation with the other tendencies of accumulation, is
manifest in the cyclical course of development of capitalist accumulation -
which has, of course, various empirically observable manifestations.
Thus an abstract (and they all are) tendency (no 'just' about it) is never
observable per se - the (adequately conceptualised) empirical is always
*concrete*. To avoid confusion, what can be observed are best referred to
as trends - that a) may not simply be an empirical manifestation of any of
the tendencies that contribute to generating them; and b) will come and go
over the course of the cycle (and much else). A secular trend is then one
that goes on and on, ignoring cycles ( and I doubt there are such things in
political economy). A tendency is always abstract, and in itself is
unobservable, whilst operating continuously as long as the conditions of
its existence are being reproduced.
Of course, a similar concept of tendency (although a dialectically
inadequate one) is discussed in the work both of JN Keynes (John Maynard's
father) and in JS Mill.
It will surprise noone that I was a Student of Ben Fine's in the 1970s -
and I was thoroughly persuaded of this part of his account of Marxist

Comradely greetings,

Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"

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