[OPE-L:7201] [OPE-L:720] Re: Re: Value and equivalence

Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 23 Mar 1999 08:58:55 -0500

Rakesh writes:

>David L made the following methodological argument:
>>One small point, just on the possibility of the value postulate. Gil's
>>counterexample concerning land (which of course is also in Bohn-Bawerk)
>>misses a methodological claim that Marx does make, and which imo makes
>>sense. Marx programmatically restricts his attention to *reproducible*
>>commodities (following Ricardo quite clearly in this), but for a deeper
>>reason than Ricardo's: by carrying out (what I like to call) *pure
>>reproduction analysis*, Marx focuses in on the most basic and general
>>of class formation and exploitation, which in the world of experience (the
>>"real world") is always overlain ("overdetermined"?) by other forms of
>>exploitation based on ownership of non-freely-reproducible resources. It is
>>another aspect of the "even if" argument that has been mentioned (by
>>on OPE: *even if* there were no monopolies of land and other natural
>>resources (Henry George: are you listening), the power of capital to extract
>>surplus value would be massively present, on the basis of ownership over
>>production of reproducible commodities. From this standpoint, Marx would
>>seem to be justified in ignoring land and other violations of the
>>pure-reproduction framework, until *after* the basic capitalist relation has
>>been theorized.
>This is my reading of Marx's method as well (or William J Blake's).

Rakesh, I wonder what you made of my response to David's methodological

For what it's worth, I don't think invoking "Marx's method" here quite gets
around the problem. Marx invokes no "historically specific" conditions for
the claims he makes in the portion of Marx's chapter 1 argument that I
criticize. He makes some assertions about the nature of exchange
relations, and draws what are clearly intendedly deductive inferences from
these assumptions. Invocations of a "method" cannot make an invalid
deductive argument valid.

>The reason for Marxian selection may be less to do with pure reproduction
>analysis than with with principle of historical specificity. That is, for
>Marx the question of value is "historical not categorical";

Nowhere in the chapter 1 argument I criticize does Marx invoke any more
"historical" requirements than the fact of commodity exchange. The
inferences he draws from the fact of (systematic) exchange relations are,
however, manifestly categorical. He adds no "historical" caveats to the
conclusions he draws in the argument being discussed.

the Austrians
>on the other hand try to retain a deductive method and seek to define value
>as a dictionary does: "they seek the least common denomoniator for every
>object and when they have got that they call that the defintion of the mass
>of objects to which it applies.:

What the Austrians do is no concern of mine. I'm sure we all agree about
the fundamental flaws in Austrian political economic reasoning. It is not
"Austrian" to ask if a deductive claim Marx advances is actually valid, and
if so under what conditions. Thus I do not see how the quoted passages are
on point. I might ask Rakesh: what specifically historical conditions
would make Marx's argument valid, in your assessment? And can that
validity be demonstrated, other than as a simple tautology? Gil

>Blake continues:
>"For the Marxians the question cannot be put that way. If a social
>situation shows that 99% of goods in any given time can be understood in
>only one way, and that from this way of understanding there follows the
>most fruitful consequences, then this is the correct method to follow.
>"For them commodities, products of social labor, are over 99% of all
>economic units today. Millions of acts of exchange, conducted on a social
>basis, are affected with them. If 1% of good are not commodities, that is,
>cannot be defined by the 99% and the 1% must be referred to some common
>constituent to understand them.
>"The 1% represents a different social result; it may be a survival of
>individual or familial economy; it may be a mode of valuation unique or
>monpolistic goods, that can itself be understood only by understanding the
>class origin of those value the 1 % and that class origin must be found in
>their relations to the 99%.
>"The Marxians reject the absolute, the Austrians embrace it. The Marxians
>say that 'capitalism' is not a pure concept, but an overwhelmingly
>important picutre of nearly all phenomena at a given point. It is no more
>perfect than 'feudalism' ever was absolutely a reproduction of its
>theoretic model, without any vestigal or superceding factors, in any given
>decade. Hence there are contradictions in the working out of any concepts,
>such 'as value'. These contradictions do no annul, but confirm the theory,
>when it is seen that the theory explains the general working, and by way of
>this identification accounts for the deviation.
>"The Austrians maintain that no concept must have an exception. For an
>exception points to a need for revision of the concept in favor of the more
>comprehensive concept that will embrace both. To the Marxians, the
>Austrians are mere scholastics, to the Austrians the Marxians evade the
>logical issue by a historic fire escape. This is the background then,
>subjective vs. objective, social vs. individual, consumption vs.
>production, historic evolution of mass vs. logical rigor."
>And a later section is also relevant:
> "The Purpose of Marxian Selection":
>"it is asserted that Marx selected only those objects for valuation that
>suit his purpose. But Marx does not exclude any 'goods' from his study. He
>includes them all, but he analyzes them as having separate social
>properties. Land, for example, has no value though it has a price. How is
>this proved?
>"Marx does not say that labor is the only source of wealth. Nature is an
>equal source. So that natural and labor objects are all provided for in
>Marx's ideas. Why then their separation for value?
>"Because Marx asks, Which objects attain an exchange value by reason of the
>captialist system of production? They cannot be natural objects antecedent
>to that system. They must be objects socially produced in that system.
>"The others existed before man was on the earth. Nor, until you had a
>commodity society, did any object have any exchange value, even under a
>fairly high productivity. Now its ithe objects fasioned by social labor for
>a profit that are the specific goods of the capitalist system. Their laws
>are the basis of all exchanges, since it is obvious that all objects, apart
>from the natural substances in the, are products of labor, and their
>differential in vlaue is that of the social labor time required to produce
>"Only land is outside of this, and its price is known only by its annual
>command of objects fasioned by labor. But the whole system begins and ends
>with objects that require necessary social labor time to reproduce."