[OPE-L:7222] [OPE-L:747] Thought experiment on exchange

Andrew Kliman (Andrew_Kliman@email.msn.com)
Thu, 25 Mar 1999 00:27:10 -0500

A reply to OPE-L and OPE-L 745.

Gil writes: "I would have thought that the 'question-begging'
charge had been laid to rest by now, if nothing else as the result
of my response to Andrew's paper (as yet unanswered), in which I
showed that Andrew's 'interpretation' makes*exactly* the claim
that I'm criticizing Marx for."

Given that Gil has been diligent in responding to everyone else, it
seems that he either did not receive, or misplaced, my OPE-L 705. I
certainly DID answer him in that post, which I will reproduce below.

(I took up the first paragraph on p. 127, but not the 2nd paragraph,
which is the one to which Gil's latest post refers. The reason is
that, IMO, Marx's proof is contained in the former paragraph. If
that proof is (in)valid, then so are the conclusions he draws from
it in the 2nd paragraph. But I'll address Gil's points about the
2nd paragraph below, too.)

Gil, the reason you're begging the question is that you are
asserting without proof that Marx is attempting to derive some
conclusions from the fact (nature, properties, etc.) of the exchange
of commodities. I have challenged this assertion repeatedly, and it
hasn't been proved.

For instance, you write "The thought experiment (all of it, not just
the phrase singled out above) was constructed to show that commodity
exchange cannot be validly understood to yield Marx's inference that
"a common element of identical magnitude" exists in exchanged
bundles, except perhaps as a simple tautology." I deny that Marx
deduced this conclusion, or intended to do so, directly from the
fact that commodities exchange.

Let me also illustrate the problem with respect to the second para.
on p. 127. In my paper, I comment:

In the previous paragraph, he proceeded from the equal magnitudes of
the exchange-values to derive a content common to them all.
Similarly, he here proceeds from the exchange of two equivalent
commodities to derive their equality to a third thing: *if* “1
quarter of corn = x cwt of iron” (Marx, 1977:127), *then* a common
element of “identical magnitude” exists in each. “If A, then B”
does not imply “if B, then A.”

Gil's reply to this begins: "[Yes, this is exactly the point of my
critique, and demonstrates better than any other single passage that
I am not 'begging the question,' as Andrew suggests. First, the
fact that alternative bundles represent 'equal magnitudes' in the
sense that they're all exchangeable for a quarter of wheat *does not
allow* the derivation of 'a content common to them all.'"

Hold on a moment, please. Where does the "in the sense that" come
from??? Not from anything I wrote! It is therefore not the case
that my interpretation "makes *exactly* the claim that I'm
criticizing Marx for."

What I wrote was "he proceeded from the equal magnitudes of the
exchange-values to derive a content common to them all." Your "in
the sense that" alters the subject of the sentence: for
*exchange-values of equal magnitude*, you have substituted
*alternative bundles that are exchangeable for a quarter of wheat*.
"In the sense that" also makes no sense, at least to me. That
"bundles" are exchangeable for a quarter of wheat does NOT entail
that they are exchange-values of equal magnitude. The fact that
they are exchange-values of equal magnitude thus cannot be
reduced to the fact that they are exchangeable for the wheat,
as you are trying to do.

Gil continues: "By the same token, the exchange of two 'equivalent'
commodity bundles does not support the 'derivation' of 'their
equality to a third thing.'"

True, but once again, that is not what I wrote. It is the
EQUIVALENCE of the commodities, not their EXCHANGE, that enables him
to derive the equality of each to a third thing.

Gil: "In repeating Marx's claims here, Andrew is simply reasserting
the claims that I criticize."

It is true that I am repeating Marx's claims. It is NOT true that
you are criticizing those claims. You are rather criticizing A
PARTICULAR INTERPRETATION of those claims. I happen to think that
interpretation is fatally flawed, as can be seen from the fact that
it is easy to make mincemeat out of "Marx's" argument when it is
interpreted thus.

Gil: "It *does not follow* 'that *if* “1 quarter of corn = x cwt of
iron” (Marx, 1977:127), *then* a common element of “identical
magnitude” exists in each.'"

Sure it does. See my OPE-L 705, reproduced below.

Andrew Kliman

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew Kliman <Andrew_Kliman@email.msn.com>
To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
Date: Thursday, March 18, 1999 10:54 PM
Subject: [OPE-L:705] Re: Re: Use and abuse of mathematics [OPE 574]

A reply to OPE-L 701.

Gil writes: "... Andrew's interpretation took as *given* that
commodities have a thing called 'value',..."

No. I didn't take it as given. I take it as having been
demonstrated in the text under discussion. Because my paper is
intended to elucidate the text, I see no harm in referring to the
result in order to comprehend what precedes it.

Gil: "... and that some form of "equality" was established by

Again, no, a hundred times no. Not established by exchange. I'll
repeat this as many times as are necessary for this to sink in.

Gil: "But these are exactly the points I criticize Marx's argument
on. Therefore, whatever we may think about Marx's argument, the
bottom line is that *Andrew's* interpretation doesn't get around my

To the extent that your "critique" depends on the premise that Marx
is saying that the equality of commodities is established by
exchange, my interpretation suggests that you are attacking a straw

Gil: "Specifically, the words

'Therefore x boot-polish, y silk, z gold, etc., must, as
exchange-values, be mutually replaceable or of identical

do not, contrary to Marx's claim, support the inferences that

'the valid exchange-values of a particular commodity express
something equal', where 'equality' is interpreted to signify
'that a common element of identical magnitude exists in two
different things'."

Well, apparently you accept that these commodities are, in their
capacity as exchange-values, "of identical magnitude." How can they
be of identical magnitude and yet not express something equal?

Take another example, quite similar to one in the TSV. You measure
a table and find that alternative expressions of its length are 1
yard, 3 feet, 36 inches, etc. Are you not entitled to conclude that
1 yard, 3 feet, and 36 inches are mutually replaceable or of
identical magnitude, and *therefore* that these lengths express
something equal? Are you not entitled to conclude that a common
element of identical magnitude exists in all three measures?

Would you complain that I am begging the question, assuming what I
need first to prove, when I call them all "lengths"?

Gil: "... or that

'exchange-value cannot be anything other than the mode of
expression, the "form of appearance" of a content distinguishable
from it',

since no basis for positing such a 'content' has yet been given."

Would you deny that 1 yard, 3 feet, and 36 inches are alternative
modes of expression of a content distinguishable from each of

Gil: "let one of the traded-for bundles be a non-commodity,
like acres of unimproved land. Then any valid conclusion one draws
from the fact of exchange must hold for this bundle as well."

For the 101st time, I deny that any conclusion is being drawn from
the fact of exchange, and the contrary simply hasn't been

Gil: "Alternatively, if one *restricts* the field to commodities,
i.e. products of labor, as a pre-condition, then one need not talk
about exchange at all to conclude that all bundles have in common
the fact of being products of labor. The conclusion was assumed

Absolutely right. As others on this list have also pointed out,
all valid conclusions are implicit in the premises.

It is true that the commonality of commodities as labor-products is
pretty obvious. What is by no means obvious is that exchange-value
is merely a form of appearance of the "equality" of different
labors, or that the labor that they have in common has only a
phantom-like objectivity.

Andrew Kliman