Vulgar Economy--TSS (PART 9)

Xxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx at
Thu Mar 1 20:09:20 MST 2001

Vulgar Economy--TSS (PART 9)

        Far from clarifying the laws of surplus-value, this argument merely
demonstrates that Kliman and McGlone know how to apply the laws of
arithmetic.  The Temporal Single System "vindication" of Marx is
obtained by labeling price magnitudes "values", calling the arbitrary
and ill-defined ratio S*/K* the "profit rate", and then laying out the
accounting relations that follow from this idiosyncratic terminology.
To borrow a metaphor from Joan Robinson, they have put the rabbit inside
the hat in full view of the audience!
        The Temporal Single System framework preserves Marx's invariance
postulates by interpreting his value magnitudes as prices, while still
calling them values.  To justify this reasoning, its adherents appeal to
the dialectical method:

Value and price are dialectically linked and form the contradictory
unity of value and its form.  The dualistic method used by Bortkiewicz,
supposedly to correct the transformation, is based on an understanding
of value different from Marx's… (Ramos-Martínez and Rodríguez-Herrera

[T]he persistence and dominance of the dual-system interpretation [is
explained in part by] the tendency to read Capital linearly rather than
dialectically.  Initial statements that commodities' values are
determined by the labor-time they contain … are read as transparent
definitions requiring no enrichment of meaning, so that Marx's
subsequent development of the concept of value is forced to conform
equally transparently to the definitions of be judged self-contradictory
(Kliman and McGlone 1999: 40).

Because Capital's projects and concepts … are inherently critical,
Marx's work becomes subject to distortion when forced into the mould of
economic theory….  The dialectical meaning of the term "transformation"
… differs from its use as a synonym for a mathematical mapping.  Many …
of Marx's critics view his transformation procedure precisely as a
failed attempt to map a self-contained set of values onto another
self-contained set of prices of production….  [W]hat goes unrecognized
is that this transformation is but one of many transformations into
opposite discussed throughout the three volumes of Capital, none of
which are mappings (McGlone and Kliman 1996: 29, 34).

This stance, if accepted as a guiding principle of exegesis, would
completely insulate Marx from criticism on matters of economic theory;
for almost any theoretical error attributed to him could be explained
away by arguing that the critic had projected the categories of
bourgeois economic discourse onto Marx's more philosophically nuanced
        I do not dispute the importance of the dialectical method in Marx's
work.  But beginning in the 1840s he had sought to demystify the
dialectic by turning Hegelianism on its head, that is, by grounding the
dialectic in historical materialism (see Marx's letter to Kugelmann of
March 6, 1868, Marx and Engels 1864-68: 544; and his Afterword to the
Second German Edition of Capital, Vol. I, 1883: 29).  The fluid Temporal
Single System use of terminology - in which "value" somehow represents
labor-time but is nevertheless conceptually indistinguishable from the
word "price" - is more characteristic of Hegel's dialectic than of
Marx's, and is difficult to reconcile with Marx's aim of making his
critique of capitalism accessible to working-class readers.
        In any case, the debate is at bottom about Marx's economics, not his
dialectics.  The models found in the Temporal Single System lieterature
aim to establish the coherence of Marx's account of how values, prices
and distribution are interrelated.  If the issues at stake were not at
some essential level the same as those addressed by Ricardo and
Bortkiewicz, there would be no sense in setting out the problem in the
form of equation systems that are structurally analogous to those of
        But the Temporal Single System equations don't clarify the economic
issues.  Kliman and McGlone insist that Equation System (6)  -   - is an
accurate representation of Marx's transformation procedure, with   and
equivalent to Marx's value categories c and v.  The profit rate is
determined by the ratio of surplus-value to the capital advanced, as in
Equation (7).  Until input prices are established the system has n
degrees of freedom.  Thus we should not be surprised that both of Marx's
invariance postulates can hold within it: no mathematical contradictions
can arise because the model is spectacularly underdetermined.  To this
criticism - first raised in 1995 by Gil Skillman in an unpublished note
- Kliman and McGlone respond that the input prices   are parameters, not
unknowns, and that once they are specified the system is fully
determined.  Here, though, the "invariance postulates" don't operate as
constraints on the price solution - as Marx surely intended them to do -
and hence don't overdetermine the system.  Since, in this peculiar
shell-game, the elements on the right hand side of Equation System (6)
are labeled - or, rather, mislabeled - "values", the "invariance
postulates" will hold as accounting identities.  But precisely because
they hold as accounting identities rather than as constraints on the
price solution, the Temporal Single System conceptualizations of the
invariance postulates cannot be regarded as equivalent to Marx's.

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
Ph.D Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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