[OPE-L:4211] Re: profit rate determination

aramos@aramos.b (aramos@aramos.bo)
Thu, 13 Feb 1997 15:45:07 -0800 (PST)

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Some comments on Jerry's ope-l 4202:

(1) > Ale R wrote in [OPE-L:4200]:
> > > Note also that my question in #4192 concerned understanding
> > > "actual capitalist economies" rather than interpreting Marx.
> > I do not understand this separation.
> I agree that there can not be a complete separation. However,
> given Andrew Ks comments in #4191 which I excerpted and his
> often-stated insistence that he was addressing interpretive questions in
> Marx, such a distinction became necessary for us to move forward to
> questions other than just interpretive questions.

Well, I am still not understanding your separation. I do know what
are Andrew's purposes, but perhaps we can clarify this by means of an
"practical" example. Let us suppose that I have Paul C's 50 national
statistics books (or diskettes!) and I want to study the trend of
profit rate in order to "test Marx". Then, I have to "specify" (is
this English?) the profit rate in some way. Then, I can take Okishio's
article and specify the profit rate as he suggests, or I can take
another way. So "to move forward Marx" I have to take some
theoretical position and this needs some "interpretative questions"
to be clarified both on Marx and on Okishio. Empirical work cannot be
done without theoretical positions. "Numbers" are not a kind of magic
key to comprehend reality.

On the other hand, in my personal case, I am not sure to understand
the whole of Marx's work. You seem to have superseded this author, so
that you can "move forward" him. For me this is, really, an admirable
thing but, unfortunately, is not my case. For example, I feel that I
am very far to understand his monetary theory. If I would want to
"move forward Marx" (for example to understand Argentinian
hyperinflation of 80s) I think I need to clarify what he says and,
certainly, I should understand what de Brunhoff, Foley, Reuten and
Williams, Bellofiore, and other people, say about this. For me this
work is not over.

But, basically I think, there is no separation --as you also say--
between "moving forward" and "interpretative questions." We can do
both things.

(2) Ale:
> > IN MY CASE, I read and interpret
> > Marx in order to understand "actual capitalist economies" as well as
> > the historical process of development of capitalism. I want to
> > know what are Marxs real insights about this. The problem is
> > that Marxs work has been commented by a lot of people saying that it
> > is wrong.
> Is that "the" problem? I dont think so. I think it -- attacks on Marx
> *and* the defensive agenda followed by Marxists in the last century to
> defend Marx -- is _one_ problem. Whereas Marxs agenda in writing
> political economy was to systematically investigate and discover the
> "economic law of motion of modern society", the agenda of the Marxists
> has shifted to systematically investigating and re-discovering Marx and
> defending his works. These are two very different agendas -- although,
> they are related.

In order to discover "the economic law of motion of modern society",
Marx read and commented some thousands of pages of previous
economists, historians, philosophers, etc, making what you are
calling --with some derogative meaning, I think-- "interpretative
work." IMO Theories of Surplus Value or Capital's footnotes are clear
evidence of this work. Of course, without reading and UNDERSTANDING
these thousand of pages, Marx had not been able to write e.g. Capital

Do you think that Marx had been able to advance some ideas about
"the economic law of motion of modern society" without a thorough
understanding of Ricardo's theory of value? Do you think that
Marx's work on obscure critics of Ricardo like Bailey was worthless
for his agenda? Do you think that Marx did not take position
regarding every one of his relevant predecesors?

(3) Ale:
> > Let us suppose that I want to understand the present levels
> > of unemployment in several countries. What are Marxs insights about
> > this? Well, for example, the Law of Accumulation and the LFTRP.

> What insights related to understanding unemployment are _not_
> fully-developed?

I do not understand the question.

> For instance, how does the state affect unemployment?
> In looking at differences in unemployment experienced by different
> regions and nations, what is the role of the state, foreign trade, and
> the world market and crises? What is the role of working-class struggles
> in terms of class composition, recomposition, and decomposition re
> unemployment? We can gleam insights from Marx based not only on what he
> wrote about systematically, but also what he did _not_.

Of course we can. This is obvious. We can do that but I do not see why
this would contradict what you call "interpretative work".

(4) Ale:
> > But
> > we have "modern interpreters" as Tugan (and his follower Okishio) who
> > say that the LFTRP is false because an increasing material
> > productivity would imply an increasing rate of profit. They even
> > "demonstrate" this using a math supposedely more developed than that
> > of Marx.

> .. and when Marxists employ the same methodology and use the same math
> as the Marx-critics, they shift the terrain itself away from Marx to
> other methodologies. When, for instance, we follow the Ricardian
> identification of value with exchange-value and, thereby, concentrate
> exclusively on the quantitative determination of value, we depart from
> Marx.

Ale: I already asked you about in another post.

(5) Ale:
> > So, to know if Marxs insight is valuable in understanding
> > "actual capitalism", I need firstly to contrast what modern
> > interpreters have been saying about this. This implies to study
> > Marxs work that is mainly a draft.

> I read that last sentence as saying that Marxs work _is_ mainly a draft.
> Is that a correct reading?

Yes. As far as I know he published only a few proportion of his whole
work. What are you "amazed" by this?

(6) Ale:
> > So, it is necessary *to precise*
> > and *to clarify* what are Marxs insights in order to understand
> > actual capitalism. It is clear that the "interpretation work" is
> > heavy (and sometimes seems "hairsplitting" as Andrew K. said) because
> > 1) its draft nature 2) the work of the precedent interpreters who,
> > IMHO, in many cases, have been "misinterpreters".
> Yet, some others on this list have repeatedly asserted that Marxs drafts
> are "complete". This has a very important consequence both in terms of
> how one reads Marx and develops a research agenda of ones own. Since if
> we think that Marx drafts are "complete" and correct, then the *only*
> important question becomes establishing that "fact." This, IMHO, is the
> basis for a very limited research agenda.

Ale: I do not know who are these people. I do not know anyone on this
list who claims that the "only important question becomes to
establish that Marx drafts are complete and correct."

Personally, I think that *one* important thing is to establish that
Marx's work is basically consistent and it is a valuable source to
understand capitalism. This marks some position. If you accept, for
example, what Steedman says about Marx, you would find that Marx's
work is worthless to understand capitalism and you can set it aside.

If you are thinking e.g. in Andrew K., I believe --please Andrew,
correct me-- that he is claiming that Marx's draft (and theory) is
BASICALLY CONSISTENT (against people like Steedman or...Bohm) who say
that Marx's work lacks of logical coherence. Although Marx's work is
a draft (and by definition a draft cannot be "complete") it is
obvious that it could be "consistent", so that there is no room to
criticisms such as "Vol 3. contradicts Vol.1" or "he fails to
transform inputs" or "it is impossible to rigorously establish the
double equality claimed by Marx".

On the other hand, it seems to me that you are depicting these people
(without saying exactly who are) as a group of "dogmatics" whose only
concern is to "defend a sacred text", i.e. like a kind of "religious"
sect (I am not using the word "religious" in derogative terms).
Frankly I find this treatment quite unfair. Perhaps you are thinking
that I belong to that "sect" because I have posted a lot of
"interpretative work" but, if this is the case, I am afraid that you
are wrong.

Perhaps it could be useful for you re-read Samuelson's articles on
Marx to "catch" the "atmosphere" that, I think, Andrew is trying to
eliminate once and for all.

(7) Ale:
> > But, I want to say that
> > my interest for Marx in the last years arose from my personal
> > experience in Argentina during the hyperinflations of the 80s (an
> > "actual capitalism"). Although I studied Marx in the University, it
> > was that violent experience, as well as the present hegemony of the
> > crudest neoliberalism in Latinamerica, what stimulated me to study
> > Marx again. In itself I do not love "hairsplitting work".
> How did the study of Marx help you to more concretely comprehend the
> hyperinflation in Argentina? How does it help you to understand
> Neoliberalism?

Ale: Well I would be very pedantic if I say that I "comprehend the
hyperinflation in Argentina". The main idea is that when I studied
Marx in the University we still were in the epoch of Keynes, Welfare
State, etc. So Marx was seen as an interesting thinker, but considered
"outdated", obsolete for understanding a capitalism that have
superseded cycle, able to re-distribute wealth through State, to
reach full employment etc.

When I came to Argentina I felt that "Keynes" was really death and
XIX-century Marx was more useful to understand the ongoing situation.
As you can imagine, hyperinflation is a particularly good situation
to re-think value theory. I cannot write much on this right now, but I
have posted some things about the issue. Also my article on Okishio --
which I will presented in Washington-- is an effort to develop my
**questions** (not answers) on this. BTW, I find that this article is
**not only** an "interpretative work", but maybe I am wrong.

Alejandro Ramos M.

P.S. A question: In the 60s --with a **economically** triumphant
capitalism-- Okishio Theorem sounded a very reasonable formalization.
But, how does it sound today? Now, is it "reasonable" that an
increasing material productivity implies an increasing capitalist