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A reply to OPE-L 2966.
I had written: "it is only since the 1970s that physicalism/simultaneism
can be said to have
Riccardo writes: "Why you say that physicalism/simultaneism 'triumphed'
in the 1970s? Looking at the Italian, or French, or even Anglo-Saxon
debates I would have said that physicalism started to be questioned in
the 1960s and 1970s. So, what's your argument?"
Physicalism didn't predominate prior to the 1970s because Marxists still
reasoned in terms of value and price aggregates, not in terms of their
decomposition into per-unit values/prices and physical quantities. Even,
e.g., Sweezy, who introduced Bortkiewicz and the "transformation problem"
into the English-speaking world, was not in most respects a physicalist
(technical coefficients, simultaneous valuation in general equilibrium)
thinker, but a Keynesian (aggregative monetary flows) thinker.
Before the 1970s, one could still accept the cogency of Marx's law of the
tendential fall in the profit rate. One was not forced to accept the
Okishio theorem, even though precursors of it had been around since about
the turn of the century. As Steve Cullenberg has emphasized, the
pre-1970s debate centered on whether whether the profit rate would, or
would have to, fall for the reasons Marx said, not whether it *could*
What comes in the 1970s is Samuelson's redundancy argument, popularized
by Steedman and others: value is irrelevant, because physical quantities
determine all prices and all values. This became conventional wisdom by
the end of the decade and early 1980s. Even the anti-Sraffians accepted
it. There are *no* exceptions to this that I can think of (this includes
the French and Italian literature that I'm familiar with), except of
course temporalists. Even those who went in another direction, such as
value-form theory, the New Interpretation, etc. accepted the conclusions
derived from the physical quantities approach.
I had written:
(a) The misrepresentations help reinforce capitalist class rule. (I
realize functional explanations are insufficient, but I'm keeping this
short, as you requested.)
Riccardo: "This interests me. But why this specific misrepresentation
rule. Do you imply that simultaneists are putting forward a bourgeuois
representation of capitalist reality?"
Well, at least one that reinforces capitalist class rule. The
physicalist model implies, for instance, that productivity growth via
technical change is potentially good for capitalists and workers alike.
There's more output to go around. The issue then becomes one of
securing wage gains. I've been told that this argument was widely used
in Italy in the 1970s to defeat working class resistance to
industrialization, through the influence of Sraffianism on the leadership
of the Communist Party.
I had written: "(b) Misrepresentations aren't recognized, acknowledged,
because interpretations aren't tested empirically against the whole of
"Andrew, I know you will not like my answer, but the problem is that if
we follow your line of reasoning, which has its merits, we should all
recognize that we ALL have read a Marx which is not Marx in all of our
translations, and even in German. ONLY NOW the whole Marx - i.e. the
original manuscripts of the different version of Capital since 1857-8 -
are available. Then, what we should do, following your suggestion, is: be
silent for 10 years, study Marx in the original in German, and THEN check
our interpretations of Marx. May be, in the meantime, take a couple of
course of textual criticism, trying to understand if it would be possible
to have a 'neutral' reading of a text. BTW, I think that doing this sort
of things would be extremely positive and liberatory. Unfortunately, my
University will not give me money for following this pulsion of mine."
You missed my point completely. What's at issue isn't how much we know
at any moment, but our *attitude* -- dogmatic adherence to previously
formed conclusions versus acceptance of empirical verification or
Testing theories and interpretations against the whole of the evidence
doesn't require that you already know all the evidence. That is never
possible. What it means is that a theory or interpretation that cannot
account for all the evidence needs to be rejected. You do not need to
know all possible evidence to apply this criterion. The evidence which
does exist may be enough to let you conclude that the theory or
interpretation cannot account for all of it.
This is the case with simultaneist interpretations of Marx's value
theory. Given Marx's premises, they contradict rather than conform to
many of his theoretical conclusions.
To say that we need to understand Marx perfectly before we can say
anything would of course be ridiculous. That would be like saying
physicists shouldn't say anything about how the physical world operates
until they first know everything about it. But what you're implying is
equally objectionable: physicists do not know the whole of the physical
world, so they shouldn't have to weigh their theories against the
empirical evidence. They should not have to test their theories against
the *whole* of the available evidence -- it is enough to point to some
isolated phenomena to which the theory does conform. They do not need to
be able to specify conditions under which they would acknowledge that the
evidence contradicts their theories.
The last point is the one most pertinent to my paper. As I note,
proponents of simultaneist interpetations of Marx's value theory seem
unable to specify conditions under which they would conclude that the
evidence falsifies their interpretation. For some reason they have not
told us, they refuse to accept that the inability of their
interpretations to obtain Marx's theoretical results on the basis of his
premises counts as disconfirming evidence.
If you don't find such procedures acceptable in physics, what makes them
acceptable as methods of interpreting Marx?
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