[OPE-L:1961] Re: Re: Is 'Value, Price and Profit' a Theory of "Increasing Misery" by Marx?

Ajit Sinha (ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in)
Mon, 20 Dec 1999 11:41:40 +0530

Paul Zarembka wrote:

> Replying to Ajit:
> >... As far as your Sraffa quote is concerned, it is simply irrelevant,
> >because Sraffa is talking about 'money wages', i.e. wages represented by
> >the money commodity. We are here concerned with real wages.
> In claiming that Sraffa is talking "money wages", Ajit is incorrect.
> Sraffa precisely says that we must first "specify the standard" [full
> phrase: "We can thus no longer speak of a rise or a fall in the wage
> unless we specify the standard, for what is a rise in one standard may be
> a fall in another"]. The standard need NOT be the money commodity!
> (However, for me, Sraffa was only a parathetical remark; he was basically
> touching around the famous reswitching controversy.)


By putting out in public statements such as ajit is misinterpreting a whole host
of people and is incorrect about Sraffa etc., you are leaving me no option than
to take out time from my currently extremely busy and stressful time to respond
to such statements. I'm not wrong about Sraffa. The "standard" is what the
theoretical money commodity is for Sraffa. I'm usually not wrong about such
trivial things.

> >There are various
> >quotations above that you have quoted where Marx is basically talking
> >Ricardian theory and they are all in the static context. So i detect a
> >lot of confusion on your part about what is the issue here.
> I'll wait until Ajit backs up the statement that "Marx is basically
> talking Ricardian theory". It relates to the distinction between
> Ricardian and Marxist theory. It relates to what "A Critique of Politcal
> Economy" (subtitle of CAPITAL) might mean [e.g. "'To Criticize Political
> Economy' means to *confront* it with a new problematic and a new object:
> i.e., to question the very *object* of Political Economy"--Althusser,
> READING CAPITAL, Chp. 7, "The Object of Political Economy", first page].


Quotation from Althusser here has no meaning. Althusser is talking about
*Capital* as a whole. Some of your quotations from VPP were talking about inverse
relation between wages and profit, which is nothing but a Ricardian theory; and
let me add, it is developed in a static context. So any intended inference from
it that over a secular time period a fall in the rate of profit would imply a
rise in the real wages would be simply incorrect. For Ricardo too, there was a
secular downward trend for both the rate of profit and the real wages.

> I'll pass on "I detect a lot of confusion on your part".
> >> And with that narrow concept, it is difficult to accept a remark such
> >> as (even distinguishing falling, from fixed, wages):
> >>
> >> "A quite different version of the iron law of wages was provided by
> >> Karl Marx. He put great emphasis upon the 'reserve army of the
> >> unemployed.'...This, Marx thought, would depress wages to the subsistence
> >> level." "[T]he basic Marxian conclusion" is that there is a "tendency for
> >> real wages rates to fall to a *minimum subsistence level*" (Paul
> >> Samuelson, ECONOMICS, 6th ed., section entitled "The Iron Law of Wages:
> >> Malthus and Marx", pp. 553 and 554).
> >Here Samuelson is right, and i think most of the serious historians of
> >thought would agree with him on the question of the trend in the real
> >wages.
> Samuelson tries to render a simplistic interpretation of Marx for those
> who will not study Marx carefully. In fact, I think Samuelson wants to
> DISCOURAGE careful study of Marx as he thinks that "answers" to questions
> in economics are best handled by classical/neoclassical theory. In any
> case, what does "most of the serious historians of thought" mean?
> "Serious" can sound like a putdown toward those who disagree with one's
> own position. Furthermore, if we on this list were to go with "most"
> intellectuals we wouldn't have this list at all.


I don't think it is a news to any of us that Samuelson is a neo-classical
theorist. But he is serious enough a scholar to not put his name to stupid
statements simply to "discourage" serious reading of Marx. Statements from
scholars of Samuelson's stature should be, in my opinion, taken seriously. Not
doing so would be being not serious. Disagreeing with his reading is, of course,
another issue.

> >> {It is also difficult to accept a phrase "Marx's prediction of
> >> increasing misery of the working class"--whether or not it continues with
> >> "rests on the assumption that the rate of labor saving technical change
> >> combined with the rate of growth of population would be higher than the
> >> rate at which capital accumulation could absorb the labor force" (Sinha,
> >> draft review of Lapides' book, 9/5/99, OPE #1112.)}
> >On what ground you say that "it is difficult to accept" the above
> >statement? Do you think that Marx thought that there was a secular trend
> >for the rate of unemployment to fall over time?
> The entire [OPE-L:1881] is my reply to Ajit's assertion the VPP is a key
> support for immiseration. Whether I have tracked my objection well or not
> is of course left to any who are reading the interchange, but I did try to
> be "serious".
> I haven't yet introduced the production of relative surplus value nor
> unemployment in my argumentation one way or another.


But the question of unemployment is the crux of my whole argument. So you haven't
even begun to critique my position.

> However, I can say
> that during the deepest unemployment in U.S. history during the 1930s,
> workers became the most militant and achieved real gains which to this day
> the capitalist class is struggling to wipe out!


I have never claimed that Marx's secular prediction about real wages came out
right. Fact of the matter is that the historical development of developed
capitalist countries diverged from what marx thought the way capitalism would
grow. It is a separate issue, and in my opinion, an important issue to work out a
"Marxist" theory of wages for the modern times. But this is not a question of
history of economic thought, which is the basic issue I'm debating about. If you
read *Capital* as a literary text, then the picture you get is that capital is a
vampire that sucks the blood of workers and mutilates him, takes all the life out
of him, and throws him out in the street as a broken wretch. It is not a picture
of a pick-up truck driving American working class with their nice home with
nicely mowed green garden and cable tv and vcrs indoors! Cheers, ajit sinha

> Paul

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