Re: [OPE-L] Truncating Marx

From: David Laibman (dlaibman@SCIENCEANDSOCIETY.COM)
Date: Mon Sep 10 2007 - 18:26:06 EDT

Jurriaan, I think we are on the same page here.  My point (I could have
expressed myself more clearly) is that if one avoids what one sees as a
contradiction or inconsistency by simply referring to the fact that all
of the elements in a system are constantly changing (surely true of the
real world), one thus essentially separates one moment in time from
every other, and winds up without any explanatory power at all.  To
identify inner tendencies, or to posit levels of determination so that
deep structures can be distinguished from all manner of fortuitous
occurrences, is the role of theory.  My problem with the TSSI is that
they don't succeed in doing what they claim.  They don't make Marx
consistent; they in fact fail to provide any real determination of
value, price of production, or anything else.  They say: value is NOT
lambda times A plus 'el'.  OK.  Then price of production is NOT (to take
one simple formulation) pA(1 + r) + wl.  OK again.  Then what *are*
they?  How does one distinguish between value and price of production?
Or between either of these and money price, for that matter?
"Non-equilibrium" is a non-starter.  *Dis*equilibrium as an inherent
aspect of systems (such as capitalism) that can be studied using
equilibrium/simultaneous methods -- that's altogether different.
    I don't share the view that a truly revolutionary-critical analysis
of capitalism is one in which capitalism is continually in crisis and
break-down.  We need to understand how capitalism contains immanently
within it a tendency toward instability and crisis.  But we also need to
understand its homeostatic qualities, its capacity for longevity and
    Bortkiewicz was always after Marx for, e.g., his critiques of
Ricardo.  He clearly rejected the falling profit rate theory, and
emphasized the problems he saw in what he regarded as "correction" (in
the title of one of the major papers) of Marx -- especially what he saw
as an inconsistency between Marx's calculation of the average rate of
profit and the one emerging from his equations.  I think B. needs to be
answered, and I tried to do that as long ago as 1973!  (Science &
Society, Winter 1973-74.)  Point is that this can, I think, be done in a
way that respects the consistent interdependent structure of value
formation.  It can't be done, in my view, by rejecting the systematic
quantitative analysis that B. pioneered (despite his positions on
various issues).  That is what impressed Sweezy, I think, and led to
what might be an overly positive evaluation.  But the TSS stuff is rife
with *Bortkophobia* and, unfortunately, does little if anything to
transcend it.
    In solidarity,

Jurriaan Bendien wrote:
> David Laibman wrote:
> "But Bortkiewicz was a crotchety anti-Marx writer who thought he had
> stuck
> it to Marx.  The TSS-ers take this much too seriously."
> As far as I am aware, von Bortkiewicz did not really aim to show Marx's
> theory was wrong, but to use mathematical insight to understand and
> reveal
> the implications of the theory more rigorously, making it more
> consistent,
> and solving logical problems it raised (not just with regard to the
> transformation problem). Thus, Paul Sweezy called Bortkiewicz's modelling
> the "final vindication of the labor theory of value" as Kliman notes
> in his
> book (p. 46).
> My understanding is that what the TSSI school battles with, is the
> idea held
> by many economists that von Bortkiewicz exposed a fatal flaw in Marx's
> theory, in fact rendering the theory incoherent, with the implication
> that
> it should be rejected. Marx failed to transform inputs because it was
> logically impossible to do so. The idea then is, that with just two basic
> propositions (input and output prices can differ, and values and
> prices are
> determined interdependently) everything falls into place and that the
> theory
> can then be made completely consistent (although I agree with some of the
> arguments, I think that cannot be true, but I would need to prepare a
> whole
> book to explain systematically my own interpretation of the theory itself
> and its criticism, which I simply don't have the time for to do now -
> I am
> not even a professional economist - as already I mentioned, I don't think
> "all profits are due to surplus labour", but that's just for starters).
> David argues that "If everything is changing, nothing can be
> theorized" but
> surely that is not true. We cannot even recognize any change, without
> constants - if "you cannot step into the same river twice" that
> doesn't mean
> that there is an infinite number of different rivers, for example (other
> than in a new age fantasy). It is quite possible to theorise a process of
> change, in terms of constants and variables. David is on stronger ground
> when he argues that you cannot understand disequilibrium or
> non-equilibrium
> without reference to equilibrium. But there is - heavily truncating,
> sorry
> to say - yet at least another possible position, admittedly difficult to
> accept for an economist: the dispute about equilibrium or
> non-equilibrium in
> Marx's theory is really a "non-problem", i.e. it exists only if we
> abstract
> from the object of study some essential characteristics that make it
> what it
> is. In that case, setting up a debate between equilibrium and
> non-equilibrium economics is barking up the wrong tree.
> Jurriaan

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