[OPE-L:7026] [OPE-L:521] Re: Equality and equivalence [OPE 491]

Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Thu, 25 Feb 1999 15:10:33 -0500

Alan writes in response to Steve:
>I came in recently because I did have something new to say.
>By and large I don't disagree with your central point in it, or at least I
>haven't until now when you say that linearity isn't the issue, because I
>think linearity is the issue.
>However before we get onto that, there's a prior point of clarity; it seems
>abundantly clear from all your contributions that what you mean by equality
>is exchange in proportion to magnitude of abstract labour. If you mean
>something different, then perhaps we should get that clear before
>proceeding onto linearity.

I'd like to point out for the sake of clarity that *I'm* not translating
"equality" as "exchange in proportion to abstract labor." [I don't think
Steve necessarily is either, but I'll let him speak for himself.] My point
is that exchange relations, with or without the law of one price, do not
establish a relationship of *equality* in a sense sufficient to support
Marx's Chapter 1 argument that abstract labor is in some *qualitative*
sense the basis of exchange value. Marx expresses this connection in
various ways (such as that exchange values are "regulated" by labor
values), but my point of is that *none* of these follow simply from the
condition of systematic commodity exchange, with or without LOOP.


>Here's a list of citations from your post that suggest to me that when you
>speak of equality, you mean exchange at values. I hope you'll enlighten me
>if your own meaning is different from that which I attribute to you.
>[OPE 298]
>The question I have been pressing is: does Marx (and many others since)
>define exchange values this way because he/they feel that there is
>something about the nature of exchange that either theoretically or
>empirically enforces such an exchange of equality, or, is it the case that
>Marx considers exchange as an equality as a simplification and sets up
>exchange ratios between commodities so that in fact they are equal in
>abstract labor. And, if the latter, the question becomes just how robust
>this simplification is.
>I want to stress this point. There is nothing obvious about the claim that
>exchange should be understood as an equality.
>[OPE 288]
>(ii) Is there a theoretical proposition that under fairly non restrictive
>and general conditions will guarantee that exchange ratios will necessarily
>be governed by equal magnitudes of abstract labor contained in each
>commodity. I don't know of any such propositions.
>[OPE 270]
>I have no problem with this as far as it goes. My concern is why should we
>expect the process of exchange to be one of equal amounts of abstract labor
>time. That is, do the 2 apples exchange for the 3 oranges "because" they
>have equal amounts of abstract labor time contained in them?
>That doesn't make any sense. But
>obviously many Marxists want to see exchange characterized by the relation
>of equality, which brings us into the realm of a third substance, different
>from each commodity, but common to both (abstract labor).
>But defining these maps is a very different exercise than arguing that
>exchange produces or creates through arbitrage (of what?) the equivalence
>class of the equality of values, for example. I don't see the process
>whereby that would occur.
>It seems to me that the motivations for exchange, and the acceptance of
>particular exchange ratios (nb, I'm not saying not exchange values) as
>"fair" (by which all I mean here is that the exchange occurs without
>physical force), will always be culturally and politically inflected, as
>well as individuated.
>[OPE 184]
>Another relation which satisifies the conditions of an equivalence class is
>the relation of indifference, and there is no presumption of equality
>there. There are others as well. My question is, what is it about a
>market exchange that would make us think that exchange should be the
>characterized by the particular equivalence class of equality, and that the
>metric of this equality should be abstract labor.
>I am not sure what you, or others, mean by an exchange of equivalents, if
>that is not also equality. My question again is why is it (a) obvious, or
>(b) insightful, to conceive of exchange as an exchange of equals. As to
>references, I said it before, 99% of economists who think about exchange
>formally do not begin by presuming exchange as an equality. Why should
>marxist economists do so?
>(Alan adds: amen to that)