Steedman versus Value

Chris Burford cburford at
Fri Jun 16 07:38:30 MDT 1995

I seem to have an ability to comment on people's summaries of
economists only after they have gone on holiday. However Jerry went
off only four days after posting the admirably conscientious
abstract of Steedman's assumptions.

Since I have nailed my flag to the mast that a cat may look at
a king and a kid at an emperor, as a non-economist I will
nevertheless take the plunge. I hope others also can comment as
Steedman is much referred to.

Jerry's summary is everything one could wish about a technical
model. And it is at *this* point that lay people must say whether the
model suits them.

I have an analogy with microchip equipment. Even if you understand only
10% of the technology, the basic rule has to be one of assertiveness:
know what you want and ask for it.

That said, I have to give credit to Steedman too for his own
conscientiousness in displaying his assumptions, even if the criticism
of marxist propositions is coyly inexact. Perhaps this explains half of
the mystery of his standing (cleverly in the name of Sraffa), in Marxist
circles. It appears to fair, and reasonable, *and technical*: who would
dare sustain their criticism?

My impression overall however is that this is the model of a robotic, not
a living system.

While it might seem helpful for those in the west to consider "only
fully developed capitalist economies", there is clearly no end point in
capitalist terms to the process of development. An economy that had
finished its development would not be a capitalist economy. (Assumption 1)

If all labour is performed by workers, what of the few percent of work
done by managerial staff and entrepreneurs? What of the significant part
of economic activity performed by toiling petty bourgoisie, so often made
bankrupt after working 80 hours a week in a corner shop. These are
like the catalysts and the lubricants of a living system. (2)

On the concept of economies reproducing themselves, I hope Paul
will expand on his objection to this formulation. That they should do
so smoothly is odd. My own view is that marginal factors in the
relation of advanced capitalist economies with less advanced or
third world economies have the potential of creating "virtuous
circles" of capitalist accumulation, and vicious circles in the
face of competition from economies like those of east Asia. A model
which is essentially one of autarky does not begin to explain the
global dynamic of uneven accumulation (4)

Money and the changing experience of it is highly likely to be
crucial in the working of the economy. Remember Marx's description
of the business cycle of how money appears to be in limitless supply near
the peak of the boom, and to vanish like water in a semi-desert
during recession. In the downswing a few years ago in Britain
all the major banks were vilified for their cruelty in calling back
credit lines. They were only doing their job. (7)

It seems strange not to consider market prices since one of the
essences of the marxist presentation of the economics of capitalism
is how value is manifest only partially in market prices. (8)

The determination of wages exogenously robs this model of the process
by which the different classes every day adjust and review in thousands
of individual decisions, the proportion of surplus that goes to the
capitalist class and the proportion to the working class, thereby
continually shifting the definition of the necessary value of labour
power in the conditions of that society at that time. (9)

On the failure to give a central role to commodity production, you
do not have to be a marxist or a post-modernist to notice the
pride of place given to the commodity in our economic system.

Having commendably laid out his assumptions however, Steedman's urbane
cataloging of objections a-g earns apparent credit points for objectivity.
His murmured dismissal that "careful consideration of the underlying
assumptions ... will show at once that some of the particular allegations
are unfounded" ensures that bourgois economists will immediately
recognise that he is on their side, while the target of attack to
marxists will be obscure. His dense maths will serve to impress and

As marxists it is useless to criticise him that he is not marxist enough.
The critical allegations that most impress me are:

e) "It does not deal with the dynamic of capitalism, with accumulation or
with crises.";

Capitalism is clearly a pulsing throbbing system.

f) "It is concerned only with quantitative matters, to the complete
exclusion of qualitative issues.";

The two merge, and to fail to handle that process is a failure to
understand how the dynamics of economic activity grow out of human
mental activity, even though crucial aspects of it, are not consious.

Therefore as far as my comments are concerned I think this kid has to
concede that the emperor is partially clad. Whether they are clothes
that enable us to understand the dynamic nature of a highly social
economy in a way that might help us to bring it under social
control is another matter.

I do feel Jerry has earned the right to make his own comments, and
perhaps others will come in, with the advantage of more training in
economics than myself, as well as more kids, if only to assert our
democratic demand that the whole system must be democratically
accountable and controlled , and must be changed until it is.

Chris Burford, London.

Jerry Sun 11th June 95
Steedman himself outlines the assumptions of his critique in the first
chapter of the MARX AFTER SRAFFA work.  As all on this list should be
aware, the keys to understanding any particular theory or model often
rest critically on an understanding of the assumptions made in the
those theories and models.

Steedman makes at least the following assumptions:
1) only fully developed capitalist economies are considered (p. 16);
2) all labour is performed by workers(p. 16);
3) "production relations will be 'frozen' and taken as determined
exogenously...."(p. 17);
4) "The capitalist economies considered are always in a self-reproducing
state, whether the reproduction be 'simple' or 'expanded' (stationary or
growing)...."(p. 18);
5) "For the most part, reproduction will be 'simple'".(p. 19);
6) "all labour is taken to be unskilled, 'simple' labour, all labour of
equal ability and equal 'intensity'."(p. 19);
7) "money will seldom be referred to explicitly, and that the functions
of money other than the medium of exchange function are not discussed ...
issues of crises, 'effective demand', 'Say's law' and so on are
abstracted from, reproduction being assumed to take place smoothly."(pp.
8) "market prices are never considered"(p. p.20);
9) "wages are ... being exogenously determined." (p. 20);

Other assumptions, as well, are given by Steedman.  He recognizes
explicitly that "the object of discussion is thus an 'abstract'
capitalist economy." (p. 16)

Steedman goes on to assume that "only circulating capital is used and
that no pure joint products are produced" and that "nothing has been, or
will be said here concerning Marx's work on commodity fetishism,
reification and related issues." (p.26)

He also notes the following "alleged" failures of his analysis (pp. 22-23);
a) "It is asocial and ahistorical, failing to represent capitalism as a
specific mode of production.  In particular, relations of production are
viewed in a purely 'natural' (non-social) way and capital is not seen as
a social relation....";
b) "It is concerned only with exchange and distribution, paying little or
no attention to the process of production";
c) "In so far as production _is_ concerned, it is seen as a purely
natural, technical matter, not as a social process.";
d) "The coercion, direction and control of the labour process by
capitalists, or their agents, is not discussed....";
e) "It does not deal with the dynamic of capitalism, with accumulation or
with crises.";
f) "It is concerned only with quantitative matters, to the complete
exclusion of qualitative issues.";
g) "The source, or 'origin', of profit is not explained and the concepts
of surplus labour and surplus value are ignored or rejected."

Steedman goes on to claim that this "composite allegation" is
"specious."  He believes that these allegations are advanced by
"obscurants" and that "careful consideration of the underlying
assumptions ... will show at once that some of the particular allegations
are unfounded."

Note the use of the word "some" in the above quote.  For further
information, I refer you to the work -- MARX AFTER SRAFFA -- itself.



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