[OPE-L:1996] Re: value-form theories

Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Fri, 31 Dec 1999 06:34:37 -0500 (EST)

This was intended for the list. Note the date./In solidarity, Jerry

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 1999 23:06:08 -0000
From: Michael J Williams <michael@williamsmj.screaming.net>
Reply-To: Michael J Williams <mike.williams@dmu.ac.uk>
To: "Fred B. Moseley" <fmoseley@MtHolyoke.edu>
Subject: Re: [OPE-L:1937] Re: Re: value-form theories

I'm afraid I still haven't emerged from the flood-tide of commitments that
has left me as a silent lurker at my own arraignment. My co-defendent is
also lying low.

So I cannot tackle the many crucial outstanding issues that have emerged and
to which I have more or less different responses than those of the comrades
who have been expounding versions of the value-form view.

As it happens, it is a message from Fred that presents itself when I can
snatch a moment to reply. As always, Fred's contribution is thoughtful and
fully developed.

What I want to question is the central inference that he draws from the Marx
quote he cites:-
----- Original Message -----
From: Fred B. Moseley <fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu>
To: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
Sent: Friday, December 17, 1999 2:46 PM
Subject: [OPE-L:1937] Re: Re: value-form theories

This assertion of Fred's:

> 3. But Marx also argued that they key question in a theory of capitalism
> is to explain the determination of the magnitude of the dM. This point is
> stated very clearly in the following excerpt from the "Results"
> manuscript:

Is, I submit, not supported by this quote:
> The fact that the purpose of the process is that x should be
> transformed into x + dx also POINTS TO THE PATH OUR OWN
> INVESTIGATION SHOULD TAKE. The result must be expressed
> as the FUNCTION OF A VARIABLE QUANTITY, or be transformed into
> one during the process. As a given sum of money, x is a constant
> from the outset and hence its increment = 0. In the course of the
> process, therefore, it must be changed into another amount which
> contains a variable element. OUR TASK IS IS TO DISCOVER THIS
> (Capital, vol. 1, Vintage edition, p. 977; emphasis added).

Rather, Marx says quite clearly here that the capitalist system must
determine (throw up determinations of) the quantity of surplus-value
(expressed in money). And that we (the investigators) must grasp the
mediations by which this occurs. That doesn't speak one way or the other to
the necessity for the theory to determine magnitudes - just that it must
explain how such magnitudes are reproduced in the theoretical object -

> On the basis of this theory of the
> magnitude of surplus-value, Marx was able to explain a wide range of
> important phenomena in capitalist economies (conflict over the working day
> and over the intensity of labor, division of labor within capitalist
> firms, inherent technological change, falling rate of profit, recurring
> crises, etc.). Without this quantitative theory (or perhaps some other
> theory) of the magnitude of surplus-value, these phenomena cannot be
> explained.

This is, of course, unexceptionable. But none of it requires the
investigater to determine some number (for example, some division of the
working day measured in hours, or fractions of the whole, or whatever).
These questions all demand qualitative answers, without reference to any
fancy philosophy, in just the sense in which the results of neo-classical
economics are qualitative - they predict the sign rather than the magnitude
of change.

[Lest this all too brief intervention lead to still further
misunderstanding, I have the greatest respect for the work of empirical
investigation that, inter alia, Fred does, or the quite different kind that
Paul and Allin do. It tells us something - it is just that I have not yet
satisfactorily determined exactly what.]

> If "value-form" theory rejects this quantitative theory, and
> does not provide another quantitative theory, then I don't see how it can
> explain these important phenomena, and in this sense is inferior to Marx's
> theory.

It depends which of the quantitative theories that can be gained from
different reconstructions and modifications of Marx we are talking about.
Let me just say for now that if one takes the rejection of value/money
dualist systems seriously, I cannot see how one can entertain some kind of
pre-existing stuff (abstract labour) that is just waiting to be channelled
into different valorising uses, except perhaps as a rather crude heuristic
metaphor. I must say all this talk of a 'social substance', 'congealing'
and/or 'crystallising' seems far more peculiar (not to say 'metaphysical' in
the pejorative sense) to me than the specifically capitalist paradox of a
social system driven by form (almost) without content.

btw, I willingly concede that my contribution to any theory in this area is
vastly inferior to that of Karl Marx. 'Shoulders of giants' and all that.

> I look forward to further discussion.

And so do I, but I will not be able to be a significant participant for some
weeks to come yet.

Dr Michael Williams
Economics and Social Sciences
De Montfort University
Milton Keynes
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