Re: [OPE-L] price of production/supply price/value

From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Fri Feb 10 2006 - 12:54:35 EST

Hi Paul

On 2/9/06, Paul Cockshott <> wrote:
> Otherwise the theory of value is subjective. Not subjective in the
> sense of utility theory, but subjective relative to classes. The
> theory of economic value is then merely a social construction. Do you
> really think that if workers are militant and successful in their
> reformist struggles, and get more of the net product, then "their"
> value-theory becomes more true?
> ---------------------
> Yes this drops right out of F&M's model

I think this is an absurd conclusion, so let's rewind a bit.

F&M wrote "Laws of Chaos" as a response to the TP. They are both
highly technical mathematicians (amongst other things). So no doubt
they had a good hard look at the neo-Ricardian critique of Marx's
value theory. Indeed, Emmanuel in the collection "Ricardo, Marx,
Sraffa" has a good work-out with the Sraffian theoretical framework,
and points out how sensitive the results are to the assumption of
uniform profits. But as far as I can tell, F&M do not reject the N-R
critique on its own terms. They accept what it says. Their response
is, IMHO, groundbreaking, because the alternative theoretical
framework they sketch -- probabilistic political economy -- is
original, very promising and still under-developed to this day. This
much we know.

However, I have always thought that their defence of the labour theory
of value is the weak part of their book. They derive the results
regarding correlation between labour-content and price. They note that
other real-cost measures, e.g. oil-content, might have similar
properties. However, they decide labour-content is the appropriate
theoretical measure because (i) other commodity-types may come and go,
but labour persists, and (ii) political economy is essentially about
people. You also show that other commodity real-cost measures aren't
as well correlated with price. So empirically the labour-content
theory is a best fit to the data.

The problem, in my mind, with this defence of the LTV is that it is
ultimately about empirical correlations. Marx's value theory (which
may be wrong -- I am not begging the question only pointing out a
difference) is intended to explain how or why social labour
*necessarily* manifests in "dazzling money-forms", or how labour-time
acquires a value-form via objective, causal relations. In my view, the
semantics of representations (e.g., the meaning of the hour-hand of a
clock, the meaning of a temperature on a thermostat, the meaning of
the dollar in my pocket etc.) can only be explained via (loop-closing)
causal theories of objective semantics, and not simply correlational
theories. So, at best, F&M's correlational theory provides strong
evidence and strong reasons for holding a LTV (and a promising
re-representation of economic relations), but it is not the whole

I am not sure if the conclusion you draw regarding value-theory really
does drop out of F&M's model (it may do -- you may be drawing out what
is implicit in it). But given that I do not think F&M have established
a LTV in the strong sense (causal, objective etc.) then it might not
be too surprising that their version of the LTV can't sustain the
concept of an objective value-theory for capitalism, invariant over
class perspective.

Stretching the analogy a bit: although it's conceivable that the
semantics of clocks depends on who's reading the hands, it is a fact
that the semantics of clocks is fixed and invariant in our society.
There aren't proletarian clocks and capitalist clocks. Is there a
proletarian meaning of 1$ and a capitalist meaning of 1$?


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