[OPE-L:7037] [OPE-L:532] Re: Equality and Equivalence I [OPE-523]

Steve Cullenberg (stephen.cullenberg@ucr.edu)
Fri, 26 Feb 1999 10:36:38 -0800

Thank you for your nice little lecture about how a postmodernist should
feel and behave and think :). Of course, it is hard to prescribe any exact
behaviour for a postmodernist given the fredom of pomos, so I'm not sure on
what basis you criticize me :). Postmodernism pretty well protects against
such self-referential criticism, doesn't it? The ultimate Popperian
immunizing stratagem :).

More seriously, it seems in this post you have tried to turn the burden of
my question back on me, which is fair. But I still think my question is
fair is well. Here it is again, and one which I have not seen any explicit
answer for.

Why pose the particular and strong mathematical structure of equality on
the process of exchange? Or, what metatheoreic arguments are there for
doing so?

Do we agree that this is a paticular structure and not self-obvious from
the "intrinsic nature of exchange," what ever that might mean?

I agree that there is more than one way to think about exchange. Obviously,
there are many, even from out OPE-L discussion. Indeed, I thought we were
discussing the merits of thinking about exchange in one very particular
way, exchange as equality.

I guess we disagree about economists. I don't know what "get it right"
means in this context, but it seems to me there is a tremendous amount of
work done by all kinds of economists that is very persuasive, interesting,
insightful, progressive, etc. I can elaborate, but do we really need to.
More importantly, I don't draw strict boundaries between so-called
paradigms and am not really attracted in trying to heremtically identify
such disciplinary borders (but I do strongly favor our assumptions and
logical and empirical protocals, etc. straight, and respecting differences
in them). You might call that a postmodern position, but it is certainly
not uniquely so.

Moreover, I of course don't see any necessary reason to think like the vast
majority of economists (I said presumptively, not definitively). I
certainly don't, and that includes I guess Marxist economists. But my
question is the much simplier one about exchange as equality. That's all.

I have never argued that Marx needs to think like neoclassical economists,
however they think. Indeed, I think any evaluation of Marx's cogency
should try to read his work faithfully and presume that he thought long and
hard about his ideas. That is very similar to how you Andrew (among
others) feel I believe. As an example, I think the tremendous ink spilt
over the transformation problem which tries to prove Marx was wrong or
right was often misguided. It doesn't, it seems to me, take a very close
reading of Capital to see that Marx's idea about conservation of value and
surplus value is pretty straightforward along the lines that you, Andrew
and Bruce Roberts, and others have differently argued for. The question
would be better posed, I think, if it were to say: how interesting or
useful or robust is Marx's value theory. And that, in essence, is what I
am querying about exchange as an equality.

So, to be clear, I think that Marx has a concept of exchange as equality.
And, to judge Marx's project for its cogency after, and if, one accepts
Marx's theory of exchange, then one must follow out the logic of the theory
of exchange as an equality.

But, if one contests Marx's theory of exchange as equality, as I and Gil
have done, then I think one has an obligation to think through what
theoretical scaffolding falls or remains under any other putative
assumptions about exchange.

And, if it turns out that the only way to argue cogently for a theory of
surplus value and exploitation (or any other hard core marxian idea) is to
assume exchange as an equality, then it seems to me that one should have a
pretty good story about why this particular structure makes sense (does it
provide a counterfactual like perfect competiiton does? is it empirically
compelling? is it intuitively compelling?).

I'm not trying to be dense, but I just don't see what the story is, whether
Marxian, postmodern, neoclassical or whatever.


At 02:12 PM 2/26/99 +0000, you wrote:
>Steve writes "I see no prima facie reason to assume that exchange must
>necessarily be taken to take the form of an equality. Indeed, I see many
>presumptive reasons not do so, namely one being that the vast majority of
>economists who think about exchange do not."
>Steve, as a person who has acquired a great deal of sympathy with
>post-modernism through my very positive practical encounters with the
>Rethinking Marxism current, I'm surprised at you.
>1) There is more than one way of thinking about exchange.
>2) In my experience anything the 'vast majority of economists' think, is
>wrong. Leastways, I can't think of anything they got right.
>3) Why should anyone presume that Marx thinks like the vast majority of
>4) Why should *we* think like the vast majority of economists?
>I'm surprised to find myself hectoring a post-modernist about this, but
>your way of theorising exchange isn't the only way to think about it, and
>you write as if it is.
>In a separate post I've set down the textbook definition of equality used
>by mathematicians. I think that if one reads Marx as applying the textbook
>algebra definition of equality, it makes perfect sense.
>I agree that if one reads Marx as thinking like 'the vast majority of
>economists', it makes nonsense.
>As a post-modernist, you should at least consider the possibility that
>(a) Marx might have thought like a mathematician instead of a neoclassical
>(b) the reason it makes nonsense to read Marx like the vast majority of
>economists, is because the vast majority of economists are talking
Stephen Cullenberg Office: 909-787-5037, ext. 1573
Department of Economics Fax: 909-787-5685
University of California Email: stephen.cullenberg@ucr.edu
Riverside, CA 92521 www.ucr.edu/CHSS/depts/econ/sc.htm