Forwarded from Jurriaan (reply to Mine)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Mar 4 16:39:04 MST 2001


Thanks for your comment. Well obviously Marx did "borrow" from Ricardo,
this is undeniable I think, but at the same time he criticises Ricardo and
goes beyond him, solving a number of inconsistencies in Ricardo's theory
through innovations (the theory of money, the theory of capital, the theory
of the sale of labour-power, the distinction between concrete and abstract
labour, etc.). So yes, there are continuities and discontinuities. I just
think it's a funny thing when people prefer Ricardo to Marx, when Marx's
theory is clearly superior. Many "neo-Ricardians" want to get rid of value
theory, but this is really impossible, because ALL economic theories assume
some or other value-theory, even if they smuggle it in by the back door, as
it were. I am not hostile to neo-Ricardian socialists as such, I just think
Marx has a more elegant, worked out theory.

When you write that "prices always deviate from values or "fluctuate around
values" (Mandel) for the reasons you mention below", I have to disagree.
No, not for those reasons. Prices deviate from values in the first instance
as a necessary consequence of the operation of the law of value in a
capitalist setting. Marx goes into great pains to expound why this is the
case, in Capital Volume 3 (a particularly lucid exposition of this can be
found in a book by John Weeks, Capital and exploitation, if you want one).
Apart from that, there are many other factors that could cause a deviation
from prices from values, given the vicissitudes of competition, state
intervention and international trade, but I cannot go into that there, that
is a really complex story, and I am still trying to make up my mind about
that in spare moments. I think Marx has to be defended against the
neo-Ricardians when they misinterpret and misrepresent the meaning of
Marx's concepts such as "variable capital", "cost-price", "formation of a
general rate of profit" etc., and when they make untenable assumptions in
their models.

As regards Mandel, I think he makes a big contribution to our understanding
of Marx's economic theory, plus important innovations, but he often does
not really thoroughly work through problems in the scholarly sense, and
sometimes he makes mistakes. So whereas I value his contribution I am not a
"Mandelista" or something. Basically Mandel considered from 1960 onwards
there was really no "transformation problem", which is sort of true, but he
never attempted to model the equalisation of the rate of profit or anything
like that. Apart from not being a skilled mathematician, his feeling was
that mathematical models are only as good as the assumptions they make, and
often the assumptions econometricians make are too simplistic (because
their models cannot handle too many variables) or wrong (Mandel was
interested in mathematical discussions of Marxism as evidenced by the
papers in the Mandel archive, but he didn't write about it).

I think the TSS scholars have to be given credit for trying to supply some
conceptual and mathematical rigour to Marx's argument about how precisely
the law of value asserts itself in a capitalist setting. I don't agree with
everything they say (I mentioned for example my opinion that the identity
between the mass of surplus-value and the mass of profits is a theoretical
assumption, and doesn't really exist, even if Mandel thinks it must be
tautologically true), but a lot of what they say is illuminating. Sometimes
I find it really difficult to follow their arguments, but that is often
more because they refer to non-Marxist theories that I am not familiar
with. I wasn't educated as economist, but as educationist, I only became
interested in political economy because I could not explain the role of
schooling in society without it.



Louis Proyect
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