Re: [OPE-L] standard commodity

From: Andrew Brown (A.Brown@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Thu Mar 17 2005 - 06:32:04 EST

Hi Ajit,
No doubt I am missing the point, so thanks for persevering. Hopefully some helpful comments below...


	I think you are missing the fundamental point. It is
	one thing to say that all languages are dynamic and
	evolve and change so talk about meaning of words is
	meaningless and quite another thing to establish under
	what conditions words do have meaning and how it is
	impossible to assign the same meanings to the words
	when those conditions change. 

You make a big claim regarding economic science and value in the conclusion to the paper. It is not a claim that Paul C. actually wants to make, I think. Rather, it stems from your previous work on Sraffa. I am focusing on this big claim which is basically that there is no true commensurability of values between different basic systems, which severly limits economic science. We might say that there are no 'laws' that apply to prices through technical change. Now, when big claims like that are being made I think it legitimate to consider whether a shift of focus might put the claim in better light, or indeed cast doubt upon it. And it seems to me there is a clear and unambiguous reason to believe that the claim you make is too bold. Quite simply, one can prove incommensurability between different systems (before and after technical change) by noting that the new system will have a new machine (usually what happens with technical change) hence the price vector of the new system will be incommensurable with that of the old. If one wants to make profound claims about economics then I think this is where they should begin. Marx, it seems to me, was fully aware of this, and this is why he had so little time for those who doubted his concept of value. 

	I don't agree with the
	way you are presenting the problem. There is no such
	thing as "new" basic good. Similarly, your statement
	that "I simply do not see what is so significant about
	showing incommensurability under the relatively
	superfical special case where 'technical change'
	maintains qualitative identity of all goods in the
	economy, merely involving new input or output
	magnitudes." As a matter of fact the question of
	technical change or for that matter any kind of change
	does not arise in Sraffa's given input-output tables.

Two points: 1) if the Sraffian system can't deal with technical change it is presumably useless for understanding the economy? and / or the economy (prices, wages, profits, rent, interest etc.) cannot be understood?; 2) in your paper you do introduce 'technical change' in the sense of new input combinations. And indeed you compare prices between these two systems. All I am asking is why attach such significance to this when, in reality, change entails new machines not just new combinations of old machines and workers? I grant Paul's point that this may have some use in terms of an immanent critique of general equilibrium theory, but I do not think it justifies the bold claims you make in the conclusion, since these claims can be made on far simpler and more profound grounds, as I suggest above.


Actually I can show you less potatoes weighing more
than more potatoes! Anyway, the question is what does
substance of value mean. What does this substance do
in determining prices? And from your point of view,
why the substance is not something like petrol or
electricity? As we all know, when it comes to
measuring labor even at any given point in time, let
alone over periods of time, we have to not only deal
with the heterogeneity but also some sort of
"fictitious" labor and not the "real" labor given the
"socially necessary" clause. Cheers, ajit sinha

Ignoring pedantery about potatoes (!), some answers to your questions: 'substance' in this case simply refers to the 'stuff' contained by commodities that explains their price magnitude, like the potatoes in the sack (no pedantery now..). This substance makes us spend alot of our lives dealing with it, with the value of things. Commodities are in general neither objectifications of electricity nor petrol! If you agree that social labour is distributed in our society then you agree that 'labour' has a unit, and you are enabled to use this unit to grasp capitalism -- no it cannot in general be directly measured, especially due to impossibility of assessing differences between labour in different industries, but there is a common unit (though we cannot empirically measure it directly) and prices do the job of measurement for us (very imperfectly). All this is much clearer once we consider capital but all the above is more abstract than that.

Many thanks,



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