Coming Soon:

Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."

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Sunday, September 16, 2018


There has been extended comment here concerning Marx's Labor Theory of Value.  This is a subject on which I have written extensively over many years, and I am not going to repeat myself here, but interested readers who are prepared to deal with some serious mathematics are invited to follow the link at  the top of this blog to and there to find my paper, "A Critique and Reinterpretation of Marx's Labor Theory of Value."  Those somewhat put off by math can read Understanding Marx for a primer.

By the way, Marx's claim that there is a tendency for the rate of profit to fall has been refuted mathematically, first by Okishio and then by Sam Bowles.

If I may summarize twenty years of work in a sentence, Marx was right that Capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class but wrong that the key to proving this is the distinction between labor and labor power.


marcel proust said...

What, no mention of Joan Robinson's bon mot: "The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all"

LFC said...

My apologies for getting the title of your article "A Critique and Reinterpretation..." wrong in the comment thread. For some reason I had the word "Reconstruction" in my mind, but of course it's "Reinterpretation" not "Reconstruction."

Your YouTube lectures did convey the gist of your view that Marx was right about exploitation but wrong on the significance of the labor/labor-power distinction. But I think there's prob no substitute for reading as opposed to watching the lectures for those wanting the details of your position, and in particular the extent to which "reinterpretation" of the LTV amounts to "rejection" (which I'm not at the moment 100 percent clear about but presumably the article addresses the point). Also thks for the note re tendency of rate of profit to fall.

Nick Kahn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
N K said...

Marx’s tendency for the rate of profit to fall was proved wrong? Are you familiar with the temporal single system interpretation? From the little I know, the tendency was only proved wrong if one uses the neoclassical approach of simultaneous valuation, which of course, makes no sense at all to do given the importance of time and motion in Marx’s theories. Curious of your thoughts. Thanks!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Some while back, I carried on a lengthy back and forth with one of the proponents of that theory on this blog. I am rushed right now and cannot immediately find it, but it is there.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

OK, MK, the date is May 10, 2014. Read that and see whether it makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Numerous people have demonstrated that Okishio was wide of the mark, INCLUDING Okishio!

Look at the work of Mattick Jr, Andrew Kliman, Alan Freeman, Fred Moseley, and Guglielmo Carchedi, to name just a few thinkers. Wolff is wrong in that in his initial article he says Marx offers no argument for the LTV. But he does. Wolff reads Marx as Ricardio 2.0, but Marx is not Ricardo 2.0, he is asking different questions and giving different answers.

LFC said...

Have looked at and downloaded the article. The prose is quite comprehensible even if the equations may not be -- to all readers, that is. Wolff also summarized (rather quickly) some of the article's conclusions in his YouTube lectures on Marx.

Personally I didn't find Wolff's statement in the lectures that "he was putting the irony into the equations" all that helpful (a variation on that statement also appears in the article). Anyway it's clear from key passages e.g. p. 114 that W. is saying that M.'s basic conclusion is correct but his reasoning is not, or crucial parts of his reasoning are not. It's the "metaphysical accident" of workers being bodily tied to their "capital" that, at least in large part, allows for their exploitation, so the article argues as I read it.

Despite M's reasoning being wrong, W. thinks Capital is still a great work of social theory largely, as I gather, b/c of M's emphasis on mystification, i.e., the reality of capitalism being concealed by its surface appearances. That notion is correct even though M's explanation of the how the reality works is faulty. Marx was right that there is a "secret" of profit-making, it's just that M. got the substantive content and explanation of the secret wrong.

M. saw that the question of where profits come from *is* a problem, one that Ricardo couldn't answer and one that, arguably, mainstream non-Marxist economists still have some difficulty answering convincingly. At least the last pt is what Heilbroner (whom I quoted in an earlier thread) said in Marxism For and Against, and W. would seem to agree w that. So M. asked the right question(s) and framed the problem correctly, even though he didn't quite get the right answer. And posing the right question in this context was of crucial importance.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

LFC, that is close. The point about a metaphysical accident is intended to echo Marx's irony. As Marx makes clear at great length, the fact that workers have nothing save their labor to sell is the consequence of a long, complex historical process by which the peasantry and craft workers are reduced to a propertyless proletariat forced to sell their labor. The irony in the equations is the treatment of the workers as free commodity producers [of their commodity, labor, which, also by a long historical process, has been transformed in bourgeois theory and practice into a commodity.] To treat their inability mathematically to move into another line of production as a metaphysical accident is a bitterly ironic way of describing their plight. I fear I lack Marx's literary gifts.

LFC said...

Thanks. That is helpful.

I hope to find time to read the article closely, now that I've downloaded it.

Daniel Langlois said...

The labor theory of value is a major pillar of traditional Marxian economics, I suppose, and the theory's basic claim is simple, I suppose. It might be interesting to list *other* economic theories which have actually been completely abandoned over the past couple of centuries. Anyways, the basic point that ‘value is in the eye of the beholder’ is often thought to be where the debate ends -- the inherently intangible nature of use-value. And even more basic point is I hint that maybe textbook economics is interesting enough. Heterodox economics is I'm sure, a large field but life is short.