[Marxism] Ecological Economics vs The Misevaluation of ValuebytheTraditionalists

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Sun Aug 15 19:10:30 MDT 2004

Tony Abdo wrote:
> Jurriaan criticizes the viewpoint, by ecological economics, that labor value
> is only a subgrouping within the framwork of what is actually valuable for
> the maintenance of human life.  He calls that notion "not correct in my
> view, and only semi-literate."   But I find that his standard marxist
> viewpoint to be rather 'semi-literate' and incorrect. In essentiality, it
> merely states that if we can't quantify it in dollars and cents, then we
> should just ignore any other concerns as having no value!  But this is
> exactly what is wrong with valuation that continues completely unable to
> factor in negative values into its overall accounting system. And capitalism
> is full of negative value production.  It has to be in accounted for.

Tony is clearly incapable of accurately stating a single marxist
position, traditional or otherwise. This makes it pretty hopeless to
argue with him, but I'll try once more. I will return to some of the
details of this paragraph at the end.

Marxism is about how under capitalism living human activity is
organized. That ought to be of great interest to anyone with the
slightest interest in generating collective opposition to the power of
capital. It seems Tony has no interest in human activity and thus, in
effect, he is not very interested in politics. One wonders why he is
wasting his time on this list. 

The classic commentary on Value theory is I.I. Rubin, _Essays on Marx's
Theory of Value_. It has been translated into English with an
Introduction by Fredy Perlman and Milos Samardzija (Detroit: Black and
Red, 1972).

[Here are the opening paragraphs of Perlman's essay:]

    According to economists whose theories currently prevail in America,
economics has replaced political economy, and economics deals with
scarcity, prices, and resource allocation. In the definition of Paul
Samuelson, "economics -- or political economy as it used to be called --
is the study of how men and society choose, with or without the use of
money, to employ scarce productive resources, which could have
alternative uses, to produce various commodities over time and
distribute them for consumption, now and for the future, among various
people and groups in society." According to Robert Campbell, "One of the
central preoccupations of economics has always been what determines
price." In the words of another expert, "Any community, the primers tell
us, has to deal with a pervasive economic problem: how to determine the
uses of available resources, including not only goods and services that
can be employed productively but also other scarce supplies."

    If economics is ideed merely a new name for political economy, and
if the subject matter which was once covered under the heading of
political economy is now covered by economics, then economics has
replaced political economy. However, if the subject matter of political
economy is not the same as that of economics, then the "replacement" of
poltical economy is actually an omission of a field of knowledge. If
economics answers different questions from those raised by political
economy, and if the omitted questions refer to the form and the quality
of human life within the dominant social-economic system, then this
omission can be called a "great evasion." [4]

    [4] After the title of William Appleman Williams' The Great Evasion,
Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1964. Williams vividly describes some of the
techniques of the evasion: "The tactics of escape employed in the
headlong dash from reality would fill a manual of equivocation, a
handbook of hairsplitting, and a guidebook to changing the subject." (p.

    The Soviet economic theorist and historian I. I. Rubin suggested a
definition of political economy which has nothing in common with the
definitions of political economy quoted above. According to Rubin,
"Political economy deals with human working activity, not from the
standpoint of its technical methods and instruments of labor, but from
the standpoint of its social form. It deals with production relations
which are established among people in the process of production." In
terms of this definition, political economy is not the study of prices
or scarce resources; it is a study of social relations, a study of
culture. Political economy asks why the productive forces of society
develop within the context of business enterprise, why industrialization
takes the form of capitalist development. Political economy asks how the
working activity of people is regulated in a specific, historical form
of economy.

    The contemporary American defintions of economics quoted earlier
clearly deal with different problems, raise different questions, and
refer to a different subject matter from that of political economy as
defined by Rubin. This means one of two things: (a) either economics and
political economy are two different branches of knowledge, in which case
the "replacement" of political economy by economics simply means that
the American practitioners of one branch have replaced the other branch,
or (b) economics is indeed the new name for what "used to be called"
political economy; in this case, by defining economics as a study of
scarcity, prices, and resource allocation, American economists are
saying that the production relations among people are not a legitimate
object of study. In this case the economists quoted above are setting
themselves up as the legislators over what is, and what is not, a
legitimate topic for intellectual concern; they are defining the limits
of American knowledge. This type of intellectual legislation has led to
predictable consequences in other societies at other times: it has led
to total ignorance in the excluded field of knowledge, and it has led to
large gaps and blind spots in related fields of knowledge.

    A justification for the omission of political economy from American
knowledge has been given by Samuelson. In the balanced, objective
language of an American professor, Samuelson says: "A billion people,
one-third of the world's population, blindly regard Das Kapital as
economic gospel. And yet, without the disciplined study of economic
science, how can anyone form a reasoned opinion about the merits or lack
of merits in the classical, traditional economics?" If "a billion
people" regard Das Kapital "as economic gospel," it is clearly relevant
to ask why only a few million Americans regard Samuelson's Economics "as
economic gospel." Perhaps a balanced objective answer might be that "a
billion people" find little that is relevant or meaningful in
Samuelson's celebrations of American capitalism and his exercises in
two-dimensional geometry, whereas the few million Americans have no
choice but to learn the "merits in the classical, traditional
economics." Samuelson's rhetorical question -- "And yet, without the
disciplined study of economic science how can anyone form a reasoned
opinion about the merits . . ." -- is clearly a two-edged sword, since
it can be asked about any major economic theory, not merely Samuelson's;
and it clearly behooves the student to draw his own conclusion and make
his own choice after a "disciplined study" of all the major economic
theories, not merely Samuelson's.

    Although Samuelson, in his introductory textbook, devotes a great
deal of attention to Marx, this essay will show that Samuelson's
treatment hardly amounts to a "disciplined study" of Marx's political

    The present essay will outline some of the central themes of Marx's
political economy, particularly the themes which are treated in Rubin's
Essays on Marx's Theory of Value. Rubin's book is a comprehensive,
tightly argued exposition of the core of Marx's work, the theory of
commodity fetishism and the theory of value. Rubin clarifies
misconceptions which have resulted, and still result, from superficial
readings and evasive treatment of Marx's work.

    Marx's principal aim was not to study scarcity, or to explain price,
or to allocate resources, but to analyze how the working activity of
people is regulated in a capitalist economy. The subject of the analysis
is a determined social structurae, a particular culture, namely
commodity-capitalism, a social form of economy in which the relations
among people are not regulated directly, but through things.
Consequently, "the specific charactrer of economic theory as a science
deals with the commodity capitalist economy precisely in the fact that
it deals with production relations which acquire material forms."
(Rubin, p. 47)

        Marx's central concern was human creative activity, particularly
the determinants, the regulators which shape this activity in the
capitalist form of economy. Rubin's thorough study makes it clear that
this was not merely a central concern of the "young Marx" or of the "old
Marx," but that it remained central to Marx in all his theoretical and
historical works, which extend over half a century. . . . (Perlman in
Rubin, pp. ix-xi)*********

Now I would like Tony to explain how Perlman and Rubin "merely state
that if we can't quantify it in dollars and cents, then we should just
ignore any other concerns as having no value!"


P.S. There is an almost infinite number of "things" (events, qualities,
relations) out there in the world to name. There are only a limited
number of words in any language. It follows that we must use the same
word in many, many different senses. Human conversation depends on all
concerned exercising good faith in noting the sense in which a word is
used in a given context. But Tony wouldn't recognize good faith in this
respect if it bit him on the ass. When he insists that ONLY HIS sense of
"value" is allowed, he is simply telling us that human activity, living
human activity, is not a suitable subject of conversation. Fuck it!

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