[OPE-L:6396] RE: is capitalism chaotic?

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@CLASSIC.MSN.COM)
Wed, 1 Apr 98 16:06:13 UT

A reply to the PIAF

From: owner-ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu on behalf of Gerald Levy
Sent: Tuesday, March 24, 1998 3:47 PM
To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
Cc: multiple recipients of list
Subject: [OPE-L] is capitalism chaotic?

I found Jerry's questions quite important and thought-provoking.

"How exactly is capitalism chaotic? <that's a serious question>"
"Does this mean that the dynamic of capitalist accumulation is non-linear?"
"Would that, by itself, mean that chaos theory is an appropriate conceptual
tool for understanding those dynamics?"

It seems to me that Jerry's first question is the right threshold question. I
would put the matter this way. In both the vernacular and the mathematical
senses of "chaotic," we refer to something changing in irregular and
unpredictable ways. A further feature of mathematical chaos, however, is that
the system is deterministic. So the first question is whether capitalism can
be conceived as a deterministic system. I have no doubt that it is a "system"
in a certain sense, or that it is "deterministic" in a certain sense, but I do
doubt that it can be conceived as a "deterministic system" in the sense of
mathematical dynamics.

If that's the case, then its dynamics are neither linear nor non-linear,
strictly speaking, and it is not chaotic in the mathematical sense. However,
I think the *metaphor* of a non-linear, chaotic system is a much better aid to
thinking about capitalism (for those helped by physics metaphors) than is the
metaphor of a linear system.

On the other hand, I think that it is possible and fruitful to conceive
*particular relationships* within capitalism, when abstracted from the whole,
as dynamical systems, whether linear or non-linear. For instance, people have
traditionally tried to test whether various endogenous business cycle theories
are internally consistent by ascertaining whether they can generate limit
cycles. If a theory is able to generate a quasi-periodic chaotic path, I
think it is also an endogenous cycle theory.

Note that none of this necessarily means that the theory is capable, even in
principle, or with sufficient "extensions," of being able to describe the
precise path of any variable.

Jerry: "When we consider the reproduction schema, we see a system with a
certain logical *order* to it. Granted, we also see the formal possibility of
crises. Granted, Marx in V2 hasn't discussed the dynamics of accumulation in
the context of an investigation of capitalist production as a whole. Yet,
even so, is the picture there and even in VIII one of a chaotic

I do not think the reproduction schema were intended as models of capital
accumulation. In particular, I do not think they were intended as balanced
growth models. Nor do I think Marx was trying to theorize
(disproportionality) crisis by means of them (the standard alternative

Yes, all this is what "we see" when we read this section, but we have been
trained by post-Marx Marxists to so. Yet I think the reproduction schema
concern a very specific set of issues, the main one being that
underconsumption, far from being a barrier to expanded reproduction, is a
concomitant of it. Thus, the schema show that expanded reproduction occurs
through *unbalanced* growth, the relative expansion of Dept. I over Dept. II.
(And thus, conventional wisdom notwithstanding, this part of Vol. II is not
some "equilibrium" aberration in an otherwise non-equilibrium text.)

Andrew Kliman