Steedman on value

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sun Jun 11 20:23:14 MDT 1995

OK, look at Steedman (and remembver in doing so that I'm not a Sraffian);
also, I suggest, at King and Howard.

As to Sraffa and Steedman's math: look, we're not dealing with anything
arcnae and difficult here. It's simple algebra. Check it yourself: you
can. The point is not whether there;s a mathematical error--there isn't,
or Sraffa wouldn;t be regarded as highly as he is by mathematical
economists. His theorems are theorems. The question about them is the
qauestion about any theorems or math applied to social theory: what's the
significance? Do the maths capture anything important about a theory
they're supposed to illuminate, or about social reality? That's where the
debate should be. Howard and KIng, especially in the History,. vol. 2, are
good about laying out the debate on this.

I'm sorry if Chris casts me in the role of the "logic police" for pointing
out than an argument he makes is a non sequiter. That doesn't change the
factL the argument in question ("Capitalism is terrible and the world is
in bad shape, therefore the labor theory of value is true") does not
follow. Chris may think that the LTV offers the best explanation of the
state we're in, but that requires a lot of argument.

Chris is puzzled, rightly, by my cryptic interpretive comment on Marx. In
my view, which I will not defend just now, lacking as I do the energy to
hare off on this tangent, is that Marx does not hold an LTV. He uses it,
obviously. But in my view he regards it is a heuristic, a reasonable first
apporoximation, something which holds in models which, while not strictly
true (because, e.g., they use the pretense that market agents calculate
directly in value magnitudes or that commodities exchange at value) are
iullumuninating. In short, he uses it a bit like neoclassicals use the
fiction of the rational econbomic agent and the ideal market. He knows
it's false. Some evidence of this,a nd I won't say more--I say this only
to show that I'm not completely mad--is that Sweezy, Dobb, Meek, and other
"defenders" of the LTV say that Marx uses it as an idsealization, an
approximation. What they fail to note is that if he so uses it he cannot
also hold it true.

I'm speaking here of the quantiative LTV. With the qualiattaive notion of
value as a critique and analysis of social relations I have never had any

--Justin Schwartz

On Sun, 11 Jun 1995, Chris Burford wrote:

> Steedman on Value
> Thanks, Justin, for posting me a somewhat more detailed
> explanation of the chart by Steedman. I see how the rows
> are supposed to be laid out now. My main resulting
> insight is that the chart seems to conjure up new
> commodities - gold and corn, while failing to record
> any corresponding naturally occurring use values on
> the left hand side.
> I feel now that until Steve returns or I can get a
> copy of Steedman's Marx after Sraffa, it is not helpful
> to press for a more detailed explanation of the model on
> this list unless anyone offers.
> Lenin, who I think was not noted for his tolerance,
> once recommended understanding an opponent at his best,
> and so I shall try to obtain Steedman.
> Although Steedman is out of print in the UK the book is
> available in the US. Can anyone suggest a convenient
> store through which I could order using VISA?
> I feel some progress has been made, Justin, in at least
> clarifying what we disagree about.
> I hope you take it as the complement that it is that I
> am concerned about this.
> I guess that Jerry is trying to be especially
> constructive, which I appreciate, because he senses I have
> quite a head of steam up about this unlike many other
> topics on the list.
> My patients are sent crazy by having no valued place in
> society. British born black men have something like six
> times the chance of developing symptoms of the terrible
> illness of schizophrenia as British born whites. There are
> many psychosocial factors but it is also that often as
> skiled manual workers they are on the edge of the
> downturn in the momentum of accumulation of the British economy.
> I am not prepared to accept that the motion of the economy
> is beyond marxist analysis. While I appreciate Jerry's information
> about the debate going on about value on the Pen-L, I also feel
> that it must not be intelligible to economists alone. So I am torn
> about Andrew Kliman's view that e-mail is not going to
> illuminate these questions.
> I think we are in fact moving forward a little.
> In the light of Jerry's most recent post I would like to ask
> Justin and others not to quote the name of Gramsci's old
> friend Sraffa against the law of value, but to quote the name of
> Steedman. It is one of the oldest devices of exegesis to shift
> the content of a theory by reinterpreting, and it would now
> seem clear according to Jerry that the thrust against Marx's law of
> value comes from Steedman not from Sraffa.
> I am not prepared to accept Justin's reassurance that I can trust
> Steedman's maths. A lot of technically reliable maths-based programmes
> of statistical analysis are done on psychosocial data these days.
> All the more reason to ask what value judgements (no pun intended)
> are hidden in these apparently objective formulae.
> As someone who likes taking a broad sweep at times, I cannot oject
> to Justin's right also to do this, but I am concerned that Justin is
> appearing to quote a technical argument as authoritative, without
> analysing the methodology. The argument seems to be that because
> Steedman is part of the landscape he is a FACT with a capital F,
> and that must change our reading of Marx. That would leave us
> paralysed in the face of any economist funded by the capitalists.
> I would suggest that it is better now to draw lines of demarcation
> in terms of Justin's views.
> Justin :
> > I also like Sraffa's argument, not discussed by Steve, that prices can be
> > determined without reference to values, using only information about the
> > physical conditions of production and the wage data.
> Chris:
> Marx too felt it necessary to explain how day to day prices are derived
> from costs of production. Everybody accepts
> that there is a need on the immediate level, to relate prices of
> commodities to prices of inputs.
> >From an earlier post by Justin June 6th 23.07
> Chris:
> ------
> > Yet, (and I confirmed the figures of the ILO report with a campaigns
> > officer of the British Trades Union Council) 30% of the world's
> > population is either unemployed or underemployed, but there is not
> > enough capital in the world for everyone to be constructively
> > productive.  Migration and racism are mounting. There is massive
> > suffering, and even risk to the continued existence of the biosphere
> > and to human life as we know it. Why let the central theoretical core
> > of Marx's economic critique lie in disrespect, unused?
> >
> Justin:
> -------
> A non sequiter. The world is fucked up. Capitalism sucks donkey dicks. It
> doesn't follow that Marx was right about value. (If, as everyone on this
> list but me thinks, he held rather than merely used the LTV.)
> Chris:
> ------
> I am annoyed by the logic police telling me this is a non-sequitur.
> If Justin does not want to see a connection that is his prerogative.
> I do see a connection and that is my prerogative. I see what in other
> words Scott called the tyranny of dead labour over living labour.
> Millions must remain idle and unemployed because of the tyranny of
> dead labour. That is a crime against humanity, when half a continent
> should have the opportunity to repair itself from the devastations of
> apartheid.
> I will post separately about helplessness over the world being fucked
> up.
> What we seem to be coming to is a difference over value judgements
> (again no pun intended). Everyone agrees that there are prices of
> production. Marxistwant to look to an underlying law of value.
> Justin repeatedly prefers not to. Why?
> Justin's strange remark in brackets merits explanation  "(If, as everyone
> on this list but me thinks, he held rather than merely used the LTV.)"
> Presumably Justin, you think that Marx used the "LTV" but did not hold
> it?
> It is one thing to argue that Marx emphasised different aspects of his
> theoretical system at different times. It is another and much more risky
> argument to suggest that a writer who had every reason to expect
> hostile critics to tear any weaknesses they could find to shreds,
> consciously made his central economic idea one he used but did not
> genuinely hold.
> Is that really what you are saying? Because if so
> I think it would be in your interests to clarify, and we might get
> down to what the problem is.
> Chris Burford, London.
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