[OPE-L:1855] Re: Re: A Review of Lapides' Marx's Wage theory

Subject: [OPE-L:1855] Re: Re: A Review of Lapides' Marx's Wage theory
From: Ajit Sinha (ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in)
Date: Wed Dec 08 1999 - 03:24:02 EST

Paul Zarembka wrote:

> Ajit,
> I now have time to turn to wage theory and note a criticism in 1112 you
> posted of Kenneth Lapides' book "Marx's Wage Theory in Historical
> Perspective" (see below). Lapides replied to you in 1303:
> "It really seems as though Sinha only glanced through my book, because if
> he had actually read it he would know that I show that there is no such
> thing as 'Marx's immiseration thesis,' that it only exists in the minds of
> writers like himself. Thus I cannot 'misunderstand the logic' of
> something that I demonstrate does not exist (or exists only as an
> imaginary entity). What I do show is that many followers and critics of
> Marx have mistakenly 'identified' his economic doctrine with Lassalle's
> 'iron law of wages,'..."
> What I would like to know is 1) where you find an "immiseration" thesis in
> Marx and 2) how do you respond to Lapides' denial that he had joined an
> Iron Law of Wages to immiseration (i.e., where do you find him in his book
> joining an Iron Law with immiseration)? Note Lapides': "The
> misrepresentation of Marx's wage theory that is the most far-reaching in
> its implications and widespread in its dissemination is the allegation
> that it rests on a thesis of 'increasing misery' of the working class" (p.
> 238).
> Thanks, as I think these issues are important, Paul


Paul, I have not responded to Lapides's response to my review because I did
not like his tone, and I thought getting into a debate with him would amount
to one of those unending waste of time. I have tried to be as generous to him
as I could in my review. He thinks that I have simply glanced through his
book; but as a matter of fact I read the whole book three times and some
sections more than that to make some sense of what he is saying, since he
quotes everything that is 'out there', some of which are contradictory but he
does not go into an analysis of those contradictions. The fact of the matter
is that nowhere he tries to explain the simple fact that the technical change,
which according to him, creates a possibility or causes the rise in real wages
also causes an increase in unemployment. How come a rising rate of
unemployment be accompanied with a rise in real wages within a Marxist
framework? He does not even think that there is even a question out here.
That's how bad the theoretical part of his book is. And his statement, "What I
do show is that many followers and critics of Marx have mistakenly
'identified' his economic doctrine with Lassalle's 'iron law of wages,'..." is
another proof of his theoretical bankruptcy. Lassalle's 'iron law of wages'
suggests that real wages, due to population mechanism, cannot stay higher than
the bare subsistence for any considerable period of time. The people who are
arguing that marx had an imiseration thesis are evidently assuming that the
real wages remain higher than the bare subsistence for a long period of time,
that's why they can talk about a secular trend in the real wages to fall. So
how could they identify it with the Lassallian 'iron law of wages'?

Now, about where do i find the immiseration thesis in Marx. Well, I have
quoted that in the review and I will do it again here for your convenience:

"In addition to Marx's famous statement in his 1865 lecture (VPP) where he
says '... the general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise, but
to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or
less to its minimum limit' (p.61); in *Capital 1* the whole of section 5 of
chapter 25 (68 pages in total) is devoted to documenting a declining tendency
of real wages in England (for the period 1846-66) and Ireland (for the period
1860-65). Most interestingly, Marx puts a lot of stress on the deteriorating
condition of housing for all strata of workers. Since housing constitutes a
fair share of the real wage basket, the case for a declining tendency of the
real wage in this period is very strong. Meek (1967) also agrees with our
position in general, though he does not explicitly take into account the
evidence I have alluded to above." (Sinha, Ajit 1998, *History of Economics
Review* no. 28, summer, f.n. 1, p. 110)

Moreover, anybody who has a good sense of history of economic thought would
know that the classical economists were almost unanimous in their opinion that
the secular trend in real wages was to decline to its bare subsistence
level--this is one of the conditions for the stationary state. If Marx was
opposing this unanimous opinion of the classical trend, don't you think he
would have made a lot of hay out of it? Where do you find Marx opposing
classicals on this point? In my opinion, there is no epistemological break
between Marx and classical economists in the context of a theory of wages. The
difference lies in the mechanism through which the declining trend in the real
wage is brought about. In Ricardo, and in classical theory in general, it is
the population mechanism that is critical; whereas in Marx it is the nature of
technical change that is critical. Cheers, ajit sinha

> ***********************************************************************
> Paul Zarembka, supporting RESEARCH IN POLITICAL ECONOMY, web site
> ******************** http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/PZarembka
> On 09/05/99 at 01:41 PM, Ajit Sinha <ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in> said:
> >The fundamental problem with Lapides s position stems from his complete
> >misunderstanding of the logic of Marx s immiseration thesis. He
> >identifies Marx s increasing immiseration thesis with Iron Law of Wages
> >, which is simply absurd. An increasing immiseration thesis must assume
> >that real wages for most of the historical period under consideration
> >must be considerably above the minimum subsistence , otherwise how could
> >one talk about a secular tendency for the real wages to decline? The
> >Iron Law of Wages , on the other hand, maintains that real wages cannot
> >be higher than the minimum subsistence for any considerable period of
> >time. Thus the two theses mutually exclude each other, and their
> >identification on Lapides s part is evidence to his poor understanding of
> >this issue.

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