Ceteris paribus

P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU
Sat Jul 29 14:31:50 MDT 1995

I'd like to express general agreement with Jerry's post
on Marx's use of something resembling "ceteris paribus".
One good example of such a construct is how Marx handled
the relation between wages and the value of labor-power:

"For the time being, necessary labor supposed as such;
i.e. that the worker always obtains only the minimum of
wages. This supposition is necessary, of course, so as
to establish the laws of profit in so far as they are
not determined by the rise and fall of wages or by the
influence of landed property. All these fixed suppositions
themselves become fluid in the further course of
development." (Grundrisse, Penguin edition, p. 817.)

However, I don't think that such an approach to logic has to be
seen as undialectical--though this may reflect differences
of opinion as to what dialectics is. I draw parallels between
dialectics and what Post Keynesian economists are calling
"organic relations", with their concept deriving from

Keynes, prior to the _General Theory_ argued that
we had to assume that relations between economic forces were
"atomic"--so that economic entities could be understood without
having to analyse the relations between them, because if
relations were otherwise, then relationships could not be
ignored and you would have to know everything before you
could know anything.

Whitehead's counter that relationships were in fact "organic"--
so that economic entities were determined largely by the
relationships between them, and could not be understood in
isolation--included a counter to Keynes's proposition that
line was relationships formed a nested hierarchy, so that
at the outermost level there is one defining relationship,
while at inner levels, more relationships will exist. Thus
if you are working at the most general level, you can
ignore these inner level relationships; and when you are
working at an inner level, you can (must) take these outer
level relationships as your givens.

I argue that the same "nesting" occurs in Marx's analysis,
and that it is this, within a dialectical framework that
emphasises the relationships between entities, which forms
what Jerry called Marx's ceteris paribus.

The outer level of this schema is the commodity, since as
Marx argues in Capital Ch. 1, the commodity is the
defining entity of capitalism. It it at this level that
(in my analysis of Marx!) Marx uncovers the existence and
source of surplus value, and in doing this he ignores inner
level forces--such things as credit, whether surplus value can
in fact be realised, whether workers receive less (or more)
than their value, etc.

Inner levels include such things as the worker-capitalist
relation (expressed in the concept of the wage), credit
money, the realisation of surplus value, and so on. At
each of these inner levels, the overall dialectic of the
commodity must be taken as given.

This practice, while bearing some outward similarities
to the "ceteris paribus" practice, differs from it in that
at inner levels what is "taken as given" includes the dynamic
relations of higher levels. What economists have traditionally
meant by "ceteris paribus" is closer to Keynes's original
rejoinder; see Winslow, E.G., 1989, The Economic Journal,
Vol. 99, December, pp. 1173-1182), that they presume relations
between economic entities are atomic, and therefore presume
that the relations themselves can be ignored altogether.
(I'm aware that this is not what Jerry meant by it, BTW!)

In this light, it's possible to see Marx's logic as one,
rather than consisting of part dialectics and part formal

Steve Keen

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