LOV - value of references?

James Devine JDevine at lmumail.lmu.edu
Mon Jul 3 10:33:21 MDT 1995

Chris Buford writes" >>I have a problem with ... referring to
many authors without quoting from them or summarising from them
an intelligible argument.<<

I agree with Chris; I think it's a good idea to avoid the
academic practice of citing sources without explaining what their
points are. In fact, one reason I participate in this list is to
get away from academic-style reasoning.

For example, Justin refers to Paul Samuelson. Now, Paul Samuelson
has said some worthwhile things in his time and shouldn't be
rejected 100% just because his main role is that of a bourgeois
ideologist. (No ideology would survive if it said nothing
worthwhile; it's got to have some connection with people's
experience or the real operations of the economy or whatever.)
But we can't assume that simply because Samuelson says something,
it's true. There's no reason to exempt Samuelson from the
critical analysis that we subject Marx to, after all.  He's a
very good mathematician. But are his assumptions correct?  Is he
artificially restricting the questions he asks so that they can
be answered using mathematics? For example, is Samuelson's
assumption that Marx was a minor post-Ricardian, a price theorist
who failed, accurate?  Specifically, is his assumption that the
whole point of Marx's law of value is to develop mathematical
formulas for calculating abstract equilibrium prices (prices of
production) accurate? Is it accurate to assume that Samuelson and
Marx have the same goals in their economic analysis?

Now all of the above simply repeats Chris' point, so I'd better
add something new.  So here goes.

What _was_ the point of Marx's law of value?  Marx never says (or
does he?). It seems to me that first value appears in a form of a
heuristic: he notes that "In the analysis of economic forms...
neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force
of abstraction must replace both. ... in bourgeois society, the
commodity-form of the product of labor -- or the value-form of
that commodity -- is the economic cell-form." Value captures the
quantitative social dimension of commodities. It might be seen as
an tool of economic sociology or sociological economics.

Further, Marx's main argument implies that capitalism itself
tends to do this kind of abstraction itself. It tends to
commodify _everything_, put absolutely everything on the market.
It tends to put all of society into one big factory under the
rule of capital.  Now one might argue that Marx's heuristic was
misapplied, so that his vision of capitalism is wrong. But if one
is to make that kind of argument, it helps if one understands the
point of value first.

I've made up a provisional list of the purposes of Marx's value
theory. I value comments and criticism. Here it is:

Marx used value in order to cut through the fetishism of
commodities, to reveal the societal nature of capitalism, to
answer the following questions:

1. What are the basic principles of commodity production, i.e.,
the nature of value, use-value, and exchange-value?

2. Where do profits come from under capitalism?

3. How are prices determined? Why do they deviate from values
under capitalism?

4. Why and how are profits distributed among capitalists?

5. How are prices connected to values, and individual profits
connected to aggregate surplus-value, despite the price/value

6. What are the laws of motion of capitalism?

In this vision, price/value deviations (which are the target of
Samuelson and others) are just as important phenomena as the
macro-level unity of value and prices (summarized by the
equations total new value = total net product and total
surplus-value = total property income).  Price/value deviations
mean that the laws of motion of the system are hidden and
distorted by the fetishism of commodities.

In the end, Marx wanted to reveal the nature of capitalism in
greater depth to give workers more theoretical tools.

for socialism from below,

Jim Devine      jdevine at lmumail.lmu.edu
Los Angeles, CA (the city of emphysema)

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