Marx's use of the word "bestimmt"

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at keynes
Sun Apr 9 17:54:36 MDT 1995

Dear Chris:

I found more evidence in Marx in favor of my interpretation,
and perhaps I also have not been fully understood, therefore
let me try to say it again, a little bit differently this time.

One aspect by which Marxian economics differs from neoclassical
economics is that Marx does not assume that every economic outcome is
determined by economic laws.  If mainstream economic model builders
have n unknowns, then they try to find n mathematical equations in
which these unknown figure, so that each variable is determined.  It
does not even occur to them that they are making an assumption here.
It seems obvious to them that if one has n variables one must be able
to find n equations, since they are steeped in the actualist
tradition: everything that happens happens because it has to happen.

Marx, by contrast, brings several instances in "Capital"
in which economic outcomes are not
always determined by economic laws, but they may be the
outcomes of competitive struggles, or historical accidents:

(1) The length of the working day and the level of wages are
perhaps the most famous examples.  Despite neoclassical economics,
which says the level of wages is determined by the marginal product
of labor, therefore rises in wages in excess of productivity
cannot be sustained but will be eaten up by inflation,
Marx (and also the Neo-Ricardians) say that higher wages will mean
a lower profit rate but a whole range of wage-profit combindations
is economically feasible.

(2) Marx says that there is no natural rate of interest.  The interest
rate must be somewhere between zero and the profit rate, but there is
no economic law determining where it ends up; this is decided by the
relative competitive strengths of financial versus productive capital.
Since then, it is argued by Panico and others, the state has taken up
the slack, so-to-say, and uses its monetary policy to fix the interest
rate on a relatively high level in order to put a floor under the
profit rate and force the capitalists to be firm against wage demands.

These two points are general knowledge.
I think Marx sees gaps in the economic determination also in the
following two cases:

(3) The reduction of complicated to simple labor also is
determined by supply and demand, not by an economic law.

(4) The fraction of surplus value which the capitalists accumulate is
perhaps another candidate for an economic outcome which is not
determined by an economic law.

Perhaps this makes it a bit clearer what Marx means by "bestimmt."
Look for instance at the beginning of Chapter 10, the working day
chapter, where he says the length of the working day is in and of
itself indeterminate but determinable.  (unbestimmt aber bestimmbar).

I have to leave now, I will continue this later, and explain what
I think he means by this.


Hans G. Ehrbar                                    ehrbar at
Economics Department, 308 BuC                     (801) 581 7797
University of Utah                                (801) 581 7481
Salt Lake City    UT 84112-1107                   (801) 585 5649 (FAX)
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