Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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, February 3, 2019

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS DUE


In commenting on a post, Marcel Proust [if only!] offers this observation:

“It has been roughly a quarter century since I last spent time thinking about Sraffa, but IIRC he demonstrated that one could speak equally well about the exploitation of any input to production, not just labor. My recollection is that he used the example of iron and showed how iron could be considered exploited. Again, IIRC, this was based on substituting an iron theory of value rather than a labor theory of value, the former as valid as the latter mathematically. Whatever good was used as the basis of value (labor or iron) would invariably be "exploited."”

Well, it was not Piero Sraffa who demonstrated that.  It was I!  Or more precisely, I proved it, unaware that a few years earlier, Josep Vegara, a Spanish economist, had also proved it.  My proof appeared in an essay entitled “A  Critique and Reinterpretation of Marx’s Labor Theory of Value,” published in the Spring 1981 issue of the journal Philosophy and Public Affairs.  In a comment on my essay, the brilliant Marxist mathematical economist John Roemer noted that Vegara had proved the same theorem in his 1979 book Economia Politica y Modeles Multisectoriales [see pp. 56-7 of that work, for those interested.] 

In my essay, I attempted an alternative mathematical analysis of Marx’s [correct] claim that capitalism rests on the exploitation of the working class.  I was hopeful that Marxists mathematically abler than I would develop my ideas, but that has not happened, to the best of my knowledge.

I realize there is something pathetic about an eighty-five year old man tugging at people’s coat sleeves and saying, plaintively, “I did that, I did that, I really did that,” but inasmuch as this is the only thing I have ever proved in my entire life, I was seriously bummed by Roemer’s news.

3 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

If you proved the theory on your own, why should you be bummed if someone had proved it previously without your knowledge? You have all the right in the world to be proud of proving it since there was no plagiarism involved.

marcel proust said...

The original of this comment has not appeared more than an hour later, so I am trying a second time.

My apologies for the incorrect citation. Sraffa's PCbMC was published in 1960 and was written over (about) 3 decades. Your work (and Vegara's) appeared aobut 20 years later. How is it that "it was not Piero Sraffa who demonstrated that"? Have I incorrectly remembered a main result of his analysis?

In related news, when I took and taught the history of economic thought, I found your 2 books on Marx very helpful. Understanding Marx was a very clear and concise explanation of when the LTV was mathematically coherent (almost never) and when it was not (almost everywhere, as measure theorists are fond of saying). Moneybags was a wonderful and (IMHO) brilliant exposition of what Keynes described in a similar context: "The composition of this book has been for the author a long struggle of escape, and so must the reading of it be for most readers if the author's assault upon them is to be successful, a struggle of escape from habitual modes of thought and expression."

I remember a promise (in one of the introductions?) of a 3rd book on Marx, covering his philosophy. I was never able to find it back when I was thinking about such things. Did you ever get around to writing it? What is it called?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I am delighted that you found my two books helpful. That is very gratifying. I am afraid you have misremembered. Sraffa did not prove the theorem that Vegara and then I proved [it is not clear to me that he would have been interested to do so, but I am absolutely certain that had he cared, he would have come up with the proof in a heartbeat.]