[OPE-L:4212] Extending Political Economy

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 13 Feb 1997 18:57:48 -0800 (PST)

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Ale R wrote in [OPE-L:4211]:

> Well, I am still not understanding your separation.

For instance, we see in a separate thread the tension between interpreting
what Marx wrote on moral depreciation and understanding the relation
between profit rate determination and the turnover of fixed capital with
technical change. That is, as Andrew K has insisted, there are
interpretive (of Marx) questions and there are other questions. I would
say that it is important to be clear which topic is being discussed _and_
to not _exclusively_ focus on either interpreting Marx _or_ analyzing the
logic of capitalism _independently_ of what Marx wrote.

> 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.

I agree with the last two sentences.

Here's how I see it:

There are a number of related components to theoretical research and
development (not necessarily in order of importance):

(1) reading, digesting, and critiquing what Marx and other authors wrote
on the subject matter under investigation.

(2) empirical investigation and research, broadly interpreted to include
the investigation of economic and social history including case studies
rather than national income accounts and/or i/o tables alone.

(3) the construction of a logical outline that identifies and sequences
all of the determinants of the object (let's say, capitalism) under
investigation. That is, part of the process of investigation and research
is developing a logical sequence which contains in shell form all of the
essential inter-connections of the subject matter and identifies different
levels of abstraction. During the course of investigation, this logical
shell would be expanded, made more concrete, and altered -- but it is a
necessary logical step in the construction of theory.

(4) Relatedly, the process of writing. During that process, one comes to
realize areas that need further expansion and development and analytical
problems with the theory under construction. Then follow modifications --
successive drafts -- in which the investigation and presentation is made
more complete and thorough and in which new lines of research are

As for "testing Marx", I guess the questions I would ask are:

(1) what is being tested?

(2) is the empirical data and research technique appropriate and
sufficient for the "test"?

[More specifically, I would ask how one can separate out data by region
and country and still show the presence of surplus profits that vary among
firms in the same branch of production in different regions and

[If the object is "testing Marx", why must one then "take Okishio's
article ...."? Why can't Marx be interpreted without Okishio? ].

> 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.

I didn't suggest that we should move Marx forward. I didn't suggest that I
have "superseded" Marx (although, I clearly have outlived him).

What I was suggesting, quite simply, is that Marxists (in particular,
those working on political economy) need to move forward to consider
questions that were either incompletely addressed by Marx (e.g.
competition, the state-form, foreign trade, etc.) or not addressed by Marx
(e.g. an investigation of the ways in which capitalism has changed since
Marx). Beyond that, I would say that there is a need to _systematically_
investigate these subjects in order to establish the dialectical
connections among the topics under investigation. For me, the _primary_
subject in need of further investigation is capitalism rather than Marx.
In a similar vein, I think that _for Marx_ his primary subject in terms
of writing about political economy was capitalism rather than Quesnay,
Smith, Ricardo, Bailey, etc.

Marxists, I think all too frequently, _limit_ their research to
interpreting Marx and answering Marx critics. I doubt if this is the case
_to the same extent_ for any other group of "social scientists." Are
Keynesians so obsessed about interpreting Keynes and defending Keynes from
criticism? Are (Neo-) Ricardians so obsessed with the works of Ricardo and
his critics? Are Freudians so concerned about interpretations of Freud and
critics of Freud? Are Weberians, Durkheimists, and or Veblenians so
pre-occupied with the works of Weber, Durkheim, and Veblen?

[Excuse me for venting, but Marx is DEAD! Do you or anyone else believe
that he would say to us: "... well, first you have to take a position on
everything that I wrote, then you have to defend my memory against my
critics, then -- maybe some time in the distant future -- you need to
think about what I didn't write and try to understand (and change)
capitalism more concretely?". NO! He would expect and DEMAND that we
subject his writings to critique just as he subjected other writers to
critique. He would expect and DEMAND that we use our *own minds* to
understand capitalism and not rely exclusively on what _he_ wrote or what
others wrote about his works].

> 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.

Again ... the question is not moving _Marx_ forward. The question is
moving _Marxism_ forward.

As is the case with any investigation a "literature survey" is necessary
when investigating particular subjects. I.e. part of the process of
research is reading, understanding, and critiquing relevant literature.
Yet, given the inter-relatedness and inter-connectedness of different
subjects, one has to be careful of not making the "literature survey" a
_permanent process_. I.e. at some point, one has to say that one has
digested enough information relevant to the subject, and then move
forward to creation (or, possibly, re-creation and re-discovery).

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

They can not be _completely_ separated -- on that we agree.

> 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,

If he discovered the "economic law of motion of modern society", what is
it? We don't know since he doesn't tell us. What we _should_ know is that
there are many important aspects of "modern society" that he didn't
systematically investigate (e.g. competition, the state, foreign trade,
world market and criss).

> Of course, without reading and UNDERSTANDING
> these thousand of pages, Marx had not been able to write e.g. Capital
> I.


> 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?

"Some ideas"? _Which ideas_ (specifically)?

Did Marx -- could Marx? -- have said that his aim was to advance "some
ideas" about the economic law of motion of modern society? From a
systematic dialectical perspective, he would be required to advance,
explain, and logically connect _all_ of the essential "ideas" related to
understanding the "law of motion"? From a (post) Hegelian perspective,
this is a logical requirement. Did he meet that requirement?

> Do you think that
> Marx's work on obscure critics of Ricardo like Bailey was worthless
> for his agenda?

I wouldn't say that Bailey was an obscure critic, but ... very clearly it
was important for him to critique Ricardo, Bailey, et. al. since _Capital_
was intended, in part, to be a critique of p.e.

> > > 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.

Let me re-phrase the question: (a) what are the determinants of
unemployment and how are they related logically? (b) if you want to
understand the present levels of unemployment in several countries,
doesn't that pre-suppose an analysis, of among other topics, the
process of accumulation with the turnover of fixed capital and technical
change, the state-form, competition, foreign trade, and the world market?
(c) are the insights related to (b) fully-developed in Marx?

> > 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".

I'm pleased you see it as "obvious." I don't think that all others would
share our opinion.

Must it contradict "interpretive work"? No. Not necessarily. But these are
subjects that move _beyond_ interpreting Marx (although they, *to some
extent*, pre-suppose interpretive work as a constituent element of the
process of investigation).

> > .. 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.

I'll answer briefly here in order to save a post.

Actually, I think I answered your questions last week in a post on
"Use-Value and Value." By identifying value with exchange-value, the
Ricardians (and others like Sweezy) ignore use-value and treat value -- a
social relation -- as if it were the quantitative expression of value

As for the methodology and math question, efforts at showing that the Marx
critics are internally inconsistent _on their terms_ shift away from
Marx's own terrain.

> > 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?

I didn't say I was "amazed" -- I asked a question so that I could
understand your position better.

I agree with you.

> 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."

It has certainly been suggested by Andrew K that _Capital_ is complete
(or, at least, he has _strongly_ resisted efforts to call it
"incomplete"). My point was that if one accepts the position that
_Capital_ is complete, then that both colors the way in which you read the
text and establishes a research agenda which in my opinion is very
limiting, i.e. defending that position and Marx against the charges of
incompleteness and inconsistency.

> Although Marx's work is
> a draft (and by definition a draft cannot be "complete")

An obvious, but very important point. Indeed, *by definition*, one could
say that _Capital_ is incomplete.

> it is
> obvious that it could be "consistent",


> Perhaps you are thinking
> that I belong to that "sect" because I have posted a lot of
> "interpretative work"


> 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.

That "atmosphere" was established in the 1970's (and, btw, was effectively
countered by Baumol in the pages of the _JEL_).

As for eliminating once and for all the critics of Marx re the TP, forget
about it. *No matter what anyone writes or discovers*, there will always
be (at least while there is bourgeois society) critics who maintain the
charge that Marx was internally inconsistent. The whole debate about the
TP from Bohm-Bawerk forward, it should be remembered, has an ideological

In solidarity, Jerry