[OPE-L:6246] Re: research objectives

jurriaan bendien (Jbendien@globalxs.nl)
Thu, 5 Mar 1998 20:42:54 +0100

Thanks Jerry for your comment. You write:

> I agree that trying to measure the rate of profit in "feet per second" is
> not the most worthwhile research objective. But, who is trying to do
> that?

It was I guess a bit of a bad caricature to say that. I just wondered
about the significance of debating at great length the theoretical
intricacies of profitability, when it seems much more important to get a
better picture of the real trends and the social implications thereof. But
then I guess I am not a professional economist.

> I am certainly sympathetic to your desire to discuss issues that are more
> concrete and less hermenuetic. I would also say that too much research by
> Marxists in the past has been driven by the Marx critics, like
> Bortkiewicz. I.e. it seems to me that many research objectives are
> _defensive_ in orientation. This list, for those of you who were here to
> recall, was intended in large part to attempt to overcome that previous
> defensive agenda.
That is a noble objective which I fully share.

> Nonetheless, there is certainly a place for the more abstract
> discussions (or, at least, there _should be_ a place for that research).

> A good question to discuss might be: "what _is_ that place"?
Presumably this list is as good a place as any. I am not against it by any
means, it is just that I sometimes don't see the link between the
theoretical dispute and anything that matters in the "real world". The
merit of Marxian economics as I see it has been that it tries to come to
grips systematically with the big questions of real life, something which
you rarely see in conventional (neoclassical) economics because its key
assumptions (equilibrium, perfect competition and suchlike) are simply
counter to reality.

> Is it oversimplified to portray this situation for the last few decades
> the following terms?
> a) one group of Marxists have been dealing with questions related to
> "value theory", e.g. the transformation, the Okishio Theorem, the LTFRP,
> etc.
> b) another group of Marxists have been investigating more concrete
> questions, e.g. conjunctural analyses, class analysis, etc.
> c) there has been relatively little real intellectual communication
> between those in a) and those in b).
I think you are correct here.

> d) increasingly, the journals that Marxists publish articles in orientate
> themselves more to the research objectives of b) than a). I.e. journals
> like the _Review of Radical Political Economy_ and _Capital & Class_ have
> less "theoretical" articles now than in the past.

what is really needed is a recognition that there should be a
> (two-way) _bridge_ between these two related and inter-connected fields
> investigation. I.e. instead of "theory people" doing theory but not more
> concrete and empirical investigations and more "concrete" comrades doing
> more concrete investigations without really inquiring into the
> underpinings of their research ... what should happen is that there
> both be the recognition that both fields of inquiry are required (and,
> thereby, legitimate) and there should be more of an open intellectual
> exchange between the different groups.

> So I agree that the issues you suggested for research _should_ be
> investigated (and I would hope that we could do more of that on this
> list). I also share your admiration for the late Ernest Mandel, even if
> our accessment of him may be somewhat different. But, I don't think that
> the space for a discussion of theory should be replaced by these other
> investigations. Both are needed.
Agreed. I would be interested in your assessment of Mandel, actually. I
have rarely read any serious appraisal of his economic work.

> There are also methodological questions here that need to be
> E.g. to what extent do more concrete investigations rely on particular
> interpretations of value and capital? Can we simply take the theory as a
> "given" and proceed to more concrete investigations or do we recognize
> that the theory (or theories) must be questioned. Similarly, how can
> empirical (and historical) investigations inform theoretical research?

Well I have to think some more about that. But one thing that crossed my
mind. In the 20th century rather few people actually understood Marx's
Capital, let alone advance on it, compared to the number of copies printed
and sold. And the question of relating Marx's theory in Capital
systematically to the data of experience was never fully solved, although I
think the literature of the 1970s and 1980s represents a big advance.
Perhaps this is at least partly attributable to the unfinished and
sometimes ambivalent or exploratory nature of Marx's own writing.