[OPE] Bhaskar as Marx's method?

From: Jurriaan Bendien <jurriaanbendien@online.nl>
Date: Wed Feb 09 2011 - 08:22:05 EST


Either an entity is a theoretical entity (it exists only in theory) or it is
a really existing entity. If we can deduce and reliably predict some
empirical consequences when we ASSUME the entity really exists, then we have
provided some "empirical corroboration" for the hypothesis that it DOES
exist. That is a very reasonable and acceptable scientific procedure.

What is not reasonable (an empiricist fallacy) is the idea that, if an
assumption turns out to be a good predictor, that "therefore" the assumption
is true. Because we have no proof that it is true, and if it is true, why it
is true - it's just that if it was true, it would explain a lot; which is
why we prefer the assumption. Point is, the reason WHY the predictor is a
good predictor may actually be different from what we think.

I go along with Ian insofar as, in my opinion, his modelling gets a lot
closer to Marx's own theory than previous attempts, but I have never seen
any scientific proof that Marx's prices of production are a "centre of
gravity", and there is no such proof yet. There are only a whole lot of
models based on counterfactuals, and because they are based on
counterfactuals (for example, no fixed capital, no technical change,
constant demand, fixed labour costs, a whacky concept of price-relations
etc.) the results are not conclusive. At best you can prove that if you
adopt a certain set of assumptions, then this has certain logical and
quantitative consequences.

The problem with Ian's text "in my humble opinion" is that he provides a
super-abstract story without sufficiently defining his concepts. There is an
"attractor point" in the "system" but it is even unclear what the "system"
itself is - essentially, it is a system of prices, but that system of prices
does not even exist other than as a theoretical entity. When we begin to
spell out in detail what it means, the story turns out to be a lot more

What the empiricist Marxists typically do is that they confuse a causal
relationship with a statistical correlation. When they have discovered a
seemingly robust correlation between selected variables, they think that
they have proved the causal relationship, but in fact they have proved no
such thing. They assume something in order to prove an assumption, but in
fact they assume what they have to prove. It is just that if you wrap things
into a a complex mass of mathematical verbiage, it is not immediately clear
what is going on.

Ian Wright condescendingly accuses me of "ritual references to Marx" perhaps
because he considers himself just so much more advanced and rigorous in his
splendidly superabstract mathematical world. But in my experience this is
rather misplaced, since (a) I am merely taking a different approach to the
same sort of problem, and (b) the "rigor" of the mathematical procedure is
just a lot more dubious, when you spell out what the categories, concepts
and counting units actually mean, and what is actually being assumed. The
"rigor" exists only because many facets have been abstracted away from,

What I am saying is, (1) let's reconstruct Marx's concept of production
prices and his theory of capitalist competition as he actually wrote it,
without filtering this theory through a Ricardian, Sraffian or neoclassical
paradigm (2) let's have a look at how things work out in the real world, and
take that as an explanandum. I make this suggestion, because so far Marxist
research has mostly failed, both as regards (1) and as regards (2).

In truth Marxists have failed miserably in completing the theoretical
project of Das Kapital, but how could it be otherwise, if they cannot even
agree at the most elementary level about how this project should be
understood, and keep filtering it through alien theories, such as Smithian,
Ricardian, Sraffian, Bhaskarian, Negriite etc.? Fred Moseley's or David
Harvey's "literal Marxism" has much to recommend itself in this respect,
except that they still mix up Marx's idea with Ricardian and Smithian
economics anyway. That shows you how difficult the interpretation is, and
why the "ritual" of verifying what Marx's view actually was is actually not
a bad idea.


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Received on Wed Feb 9 08:23:21 2011

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