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Friday, September 14, 2018


As you can imagine, much of my attention is focused on the progress of the hurricane that is now swamping the coastal regions of North Carolina.  We should be in no danger here, but the rain will be very heavy, and I am hoping I can fly out next Tuesday to teach my Columbia class.

At the start of my last lecture, before launching into my discussion of Marx’s analysis of the mystifications of capitalism, which involved, among other things, an extended contrast between a Catholic church and a supermarket, I suggested to the students that for their mid-semester essay, they might consider attempting a demystification of their experiences as Columbia undergraduates.

I have gathered some data that I shall present to them next Tuesday, by way of assistance, should they choose that topic to write on.  [Yes, I realize some of them may be reading this blog.  Such is life.]

Here are the facts I gathered.

This is the fiftieth anniversary of the great Columbia student uprising, which occurred while I was teaching there.  In 1968, Columbia tuition was $1900 a year.  Using an online Consumer Price Index calculator, which I shall introduce them to, I find that $1900 in 1968 is the equivalent of $13,650 in 2018.

In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60/hr.  If a student worked all summer, for 16 weeks, 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job, he [there were no female Columbia undergraduates then] could earn $1024.  With a term time part-time job, fifteen hours a week, he could make another $768.  In short, it was possible in 1968, albeit hard, to work your way through Columbia and graduate without a burden of student debt.

But Columbia tuition is not currently $13,650.  It was, last year, $57,208.  If a student were to find a $10/hr job, above minimum wage, he or she [big improvement] would have to work 5,720 hours to earn tuition for the year, or 110 hours a week year round, clearly impossible.

Two important data points:  First, the Columbia education in 1968 was quite as good as the Columbia education in 2018.  Second, faculty salaries have risen only slightly faster than inflation – in 1968, I was a senior professor making $19,000/yr, which in 2018 dollars is $136,500, and although that is probably low for a senior professor’s salary today, it is not very low.

So:  Here are three facts to demystify:

1.         You could work your way through Columbia without student debt in 1968, but not in 2018.

2.         The education has not gotten noticeably better in fifty years.

3.         The professors are not paid dramatically more in constant dollars.

Question:  How come?

Hint:  In 1968, the students seized the administration building.  In 2018, 30% of graduating seniors go into investment banking.


s. wallerstein said...

What do the 70% of the graduating seniors who do not go into investment banking go into?

I graduated from Columbia College in 1968 and I was one of the students who seized Hamilton Hall, the beginning of the process of occupation of the university, but not all students supported the occupation and as I recall, the students who did not support the occupation called themselves "the majority coalition". I don't know if they represented the majority of the students (there were no polls of students nor was the occupation voted by secret ballot, demonstrators just shouted "yes" to radical student leader Mark Rudd's proposal as far as I remember). Anyway, it's important not to imagine that all Columbia students in 1968 were radical and there may be lots of students today who will not go into investment banking. My niece graduated from Columbia Teachers College a few years ago, and is a high school history teacher: she deliberately opted for a career of public service and there are a lot of kids like her today too.

Anonymous said...

I like how you cast this undergraduate experience as demystification.

David Palmeter said...

I suspect there is a two-fold answer to the question of why colleges and universities have raised tuition so greatly: (1) prestige and (2) because they can.

1) If Harvard charges $60K and Dog Patch University charges only $20K, then Dog Patch is conceding that Harvard must be three times better--why else could it charge three times as much? On the other hand, if Dog Patch also charges $60K, it suggests that it is the equal of Harvard--six of one, half a dozen of the other.

2) When I started law school at Chicago in 1960, tuition was $1,050 per year and the median income for a family of four in Chicago was between $5,000 and $6,000. (Today, both are about $60K.) I had a full tuition scholarship and thought, erroneously, that I’d saved enough from my summer job to live for the academic year. I soon discovered that this wasn’t the case, so I went to the Dean of Students for permission to take a part-time job. (1st year students were not allowed to work without permission; ignoring such a requirement would not be a good way to begin law school.)

He would not give me permission, but said that the School would give me my scholarship in cash and a student loan for tuition--so that’s what I did. I barely got through the year and did work part-time for the next two, even being given the scholarship in the form of cash. It wasn't enough to live on. Today, a single student with UofC Law School tuition in cash could not only eat well and rent a nice apartment, but could buy a car to boot.

There weren’t that many student loans in those days. The growth came with the federal student loan program. My loan was from the University itself; if I had defaulted, they would have lost. Universities no longer run that risk. There was a limit to how much risk they could take and how much in deferred tuition they could finance.

Today, the federal student loan program eliminates those problems for the university. It can charge whatever it wants with a guarantee that it will be paid. It’s as if Medicare agreed to pay whatever providers decided to charge, without limit. With student loans, commercial lenders with federal guarantees of repayment are more than happy to lend whatever schools charge, and the schools can charge as much as they want.

The only limit to the scheme is that students would prefer to borrow as little as possible, so a school with lower tuition would have an advantage. But this is not much of a barrier because of the prestige factor: when one school raises its tuition, the others follow. It’s something like a conspiracy with winks instead of words. Such are the paradoxes of progress, and the workings of the law of unintended consequences.

On the bright side, I read somewhere lately that a leading medical school has greatly lowered its tuition in an effort to reduce the high debt burden their graduates face, but I don’t recall any of the details.

mesnenor said...

In 1968 open admissions wasn't in place at City College yet. So, if you could afford the tuition, getting in to Colombia was much easier than getting into City College. City College was far more selective, because tuition was free there.

The student radicals of the 60s didn't manage to achieve many of their actual goals, but they did manage to destroy public higher education in the US.

Anonymous said...

The education may not be "better" today, but it is different.

For one thing, technology is ubiquitous now. Nobody had to be paid back in 1968 to maintain network infrastructure, servers, desktops, online educational services, engage in technology training, etc. Next time try to check on the fact of how much a University now has to spend on overall technology resources and support...hint, it is a major cost center of just about every institution of higher learning. Not to mention, student services in general have grown to encompass all sorts of things that in the past a University had no business with.

Overpaid administrators are another issue, yes, but it's not the full picture.

MS said...


What you have written suggests a possible class action by students for anti-trust violations by the lending institutions and the colleges. Given that you entered law school in 1960, I gather that you are retired and have no interest in pursuing such a major undertaking, but perhaps there are other enterprising attorneys out there (Ted Olson, Gerry Spence?) who would be willing to take up the challenge. The potential monetary reward for such a class action would be enormous, with the added benefit of performing a public service.

David Palmeter said...


While I studied antitrust law in school, I’ve never practiced in the area and am about as far from being an expert as you can get. But based on what little I do know, I’d doubt if there is an antitrust claim here. I went too far in using the phrase “wink and a nod.” It sounded good to me at the time, but it is misleading. Colleges don’t have to communicate directly with each other, even by a wink or a nod. They simply disclose their tuition on their web page; the others can do as they like.

When the steel industry was a major part of the economy, something like this went on, and I don’t believe there ever was a successful antitrust action against them for it. What happened (probably still happens) is that a large producer, such as US Steel, would announce a price increase. This would be reported in the trade press and on the business pages of newspapers in steel country. Everyone who cared about it knew about it. The other companies could go along or not, as they saw fit. If one or two other large producers decided not to go along, US Steel would rescind the cut “because of market conditions” or something to that effect. Otherwise, they all enjoyed a price increase.

The diabolical thing about tuition, though, is that the prestige factor means that not going along with Harvard or whoever could diminish the publicly perceived quality of the school so deciding. Steel companies are not faced with that factor.

MS said...


Your are correct, a wink and a nod, alone, are not sufficient to prove an antitrust violation. Under the S.Ct. decsions in Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio, 275 U.S. 574 (1986) and Bell AtlanticCorp. v. Twombly, 560 U.S. 574 (2007), it is not enough to allege coincidental parallel conduct that suggests a conspiracy. There has to be evidence of an actual agreement. Under Twombly, moreover, the pleading must allege actual facts demonstrating an agreement, not speculation that such an agreement exists. I regard Twombly as a particularly bad decision (notwithstanding that it was authored by Justice Souter, whom I generally respect as a jurist), because it precludes the use of discovery in order to unearth facts that would demonstrate the existence of an agreement.

If, however, there was a verbal agreement among, for example, the Ivy League Schools to uniformly raise tuition rates, which was witnessed by, for instance, a whistleblower like Jeffrey Wigand in the tobacco industry, then a case might be made that overcomes the demands of Twombly.

MS said...

Senior Citizens Unite!

I just watched an interview on PBS News Hour with David Grohl, lead singer for the band Foo Fighters. He was the former drummer for the band Nirvana. Foo Fighters has just released an album with the song Run. Those of you 65 and over will get a kick out of it. You can watch the video here:

David Palmeter said...


Sorry, you're going to have to put an upper limit on the age of those who will get kick out of it. My 50+ sons, no doubt would. But the big dance I went to in my senior year of high school was the local Policeman's Ball, with Duke Ellington. In college we loved what we thought was original folk music, e.g, the Kingston Trio. Jazz hadn't become totally esoteric yet. Brubeck was big and, for the sophisticates, Charlie Parker. I got on a big Coltrane kick in my 30s and 40s. To my now 50+year old sons, Coltrane was back there with Bach. (I went on a Bach kick a few years after that.)

True story: In August 1977, one of my sons (then 11) and I climbed Mount Washington. On the way home, listening on the car radio, we heard an announcer, with great anguish in his voice, tell us that, "The King is dead!" I thought, "The King"? Who does he mean? England has a queen. I rapidly tried to think of other kings--only Olav of Norway came to mind. Then the announcer elaborated. "The King," it turns out, was Elvis Presley.

MS said...

Dave, Dave,

Remember what Frank said, "If you're young at heart."

Sure, the music may not be your cup of tea, but what about the video?
A lot of those seniors rocking and rolling to the music are probably older than you!

P.S.: One of my favorite Jazz numbers is "Sing, Sing, Sing," with Benny Goodman on clarinet and Gene Krupa on drums. I took up the clarinet at the age of 53 with the aspiration of playing the clarinet solo on “Sing, Sing, Sing.” I never came close. (Most people who are familiar with “Sing, Sing, Sing,” do not know that its composer was Louis Prima, the singer of “That Old Black Magic,” with his wife Keely Smith, on the Ed Sullivan Show.)

Dean said...

Sorry, but Dave Grohl and, for that matter, Nirvana, stand for the worst of the consequences of corporate oversight of popular music. Grohl is talented, no doubt, but utterly devoid of what once upon a time we called soul. Meanwhile, there are multiple talented, spirited, soul-full young bands emerging these days. We really don't need to hear from bland artists who lucked out like Grohl.

MS said...

Oh my God!

I did not intend to incite a debate about the comparative merits of different rock and roll bands.

I thought the video was funny. The video. Did you watch the video? You know, elderly people in a nursing home rebelling against the shackles of their caretakers.

Does everything have to be reduced to a philosophical debate?

Jerry Fresia said...

Structural forces have not only delivered to us/students finance capital but a model of education that will erase the
professor-student relationship as we know it:

“Education is not a product. Students are not customers. Professors are not tools. The university is not a Factory!”

This is the last gasp of the savages before the machine.

Anonymous said...

(M.S., Part One)


That is a fascinating article. Thank you for posting it.

Reading that article, and watching the video of the dialogue between Profs. Daniel Kaufman and Brian Leitner recommended by s. wallerstein, has prompted me to contemplate the implications that AI has for capitalism vs. Marxism/communism.

As I understand Marx’s analysis of the interplay between capitalism and industrialization, the motive of capitalism to increase profits by maximizing the use of industrial machines, thereby reducing the need to use human labor, and in turn reducing the expense of paying for human labor, is sowing the seeds for its own self-destruction. That is, humans are needed to purchase the goods which the machines produce. But unless the humans are working, and being paid a wage, they will have no income to purchase those goods. The more that humans are displaced by machines, the fewer available humans to purchase goods, with a resulting reduction in profits. As I understand it (and I acknowledge that all I know about Marxism, aside from reading the Communist Manifesto when I was in college, is derived from watching Prof. Wolff’s lectures on Marx and watching the conversation between Kaufman and Leitner), Marx predicted that as industrialization increased, human labor decreased, and the automated production of goods increased, there would be no need for the displaced human laborers to have capital to purchase the excess goods being manufactured. This, as I understand it, was the source of Marx’s prophecy, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Why require humans to purchase the goods they need, when they are being produced in abundance by machines that do not need to be paid a wage to perform the labor? The implementation of Marx’s prophecy would result in humans who no longer have to work in order to earn an income to survive, but humans who can devote their free time to “free labor,” in which they spend their time engaged in endeavors they enjoy, e.g., reading, painting, fishing, playing softball, ....

The wrinkle that I see in this analysis, however, is human jealousy, an ineluctable characteristic of human nature. That is, even with the increase in industrialization, there will still be a need for some humans to operate the machines. They, generally speaking, will be the humans with higher intellectual aptitudes. Most of the manual laborers who have been displaced by the machines will not have the intellectual aptitudes, or the interest to learn how, to operate the sophisticated machines. Human nature being what it is, those who operate the machines will still consider the time that they do so as work. They will resent sharing the fruits of the goods produced by the machines with those whom they regard as inferior who, despite their idleness, are being provided the necessities to live. They will refuse to share the products created by the machines with those who are idle. Is this not why the affluent resent those who are on the welfare rolls? (What I have written may be riddled with misconceptions regarding Marxism, and if so, I welcome their correction.)

MS said...

(M.S., Part Two)

The development of AI will not, I believe, solve this problem, but will only exacerbate it, for two reasons. First, AI will displace more jobs, but it will only do so in stages. That is, AI will not replace workers in all professions at the same time, because improvements in AI can only occur incrementally. Brian Leitner predicts, for example, that the next great disruption in the labor market will be the development of self-driving trucks, which will displace thousands of truck drivers. They will not be happy. As in the above scenario, those humans who are still working in professions that AI has not displaced will regard the time they spend in their profession as work and resent sharing the fruits of the AI economy with those who are unable to adapt to that intellectually refined economy. Second, even as AI improves to the point that the work of most professions is performed by AI operated robots, there will, I believe, be some professions that even AI technology cannot replace. My profession, for example, the practice of law. While an AI robot may be able to “read” and absorb all of the cases and statutes in all of the case reports and law books, and may be able to write excellent briefs that correctly apply the law to the facts of particular cases, I do not believe that any AI robot will be able to present a case in a trial before a human jury (and I do not foresee robots replacing human jurors), or replace a judge to evaluate and make rulings on the admissibility of evidence. Being a trial lawyer requires abilities in observation of the demeanor of witnesses, for example, that I do not believe the most highly developed AI robot can replicate. Moreover, I do not believe human jurors will be able to relate to robots examining and cross-examining witnesses. So, those humans who will still be required to perform trials will resent and resist sharing the bounty of the economy with those whom they regard as inferior. There may be other professions which require skills that AI robots cannot displace, and whose practitioners will harbor the same resentment. While AI robots may be able to perform cardiac surgery, for example, I doubt they could replace psychologists/psychotherapists.

The prospects for the education system propounded by the author of the article referenced by Jerry Fresia are not encouraging. He foresees teachers and professors being replaced by comprehensively knowledgeable AI robots. Perhaps to forestall this, educators should be removing educational tools from the internet which the robots can engorge in a matter of minutes, and reiterate to future students. In the interest of protecting the jobs of your academic heirs, Prof. Wolff, perhaps you should consider deleting your lectures on Kant, Marx, Freud, and Ideological Critique from the internet.

What this analysis envisions is a society reminiscent of the stratified society between the Morlocks and the Eloi in H. G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.” Unfortunately, in Wells’ version, the Eloi have become spoiled and weak and are a food source for the Morlocks. What measures can be taken to mitigate against this social Armageddon? No effective means come to mind. Forsaking the advances that AI technology promises? Not likely to happen given the human penchant for scientific progress. Moreover, efforts like the Chinese Cultural Revolution, forcibly returning the intelligentsia to agrarian life styles proved disastrous. Militant opposition and rebellion by the displaced workers is not likely to succeed. They will have little hope of prevailing against highly sophisticated and destructive AI weaponry.

MS said...

(M.S., Part Three)

Nor am I optimistic that human nature can evolve to the point that the jealousy that I avert to above can be eliminated. Some have compared Marxism/communism to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, minus the deity. See, e.g., the article “Christianity is Communism,” However, 2000 years of Christian theology, even with the added threat of a God who rewards saints and punishes sinners, has not succeeded in markedly improving human nature, as demonstrated by the current crisis in the Catholic Church relating to the transgressions by those who have taken holy vows to practice the Church’s tenets.

I have my own theory regarding the limitations on human nature to be sufficiently benevolent to share the bounty of an AI economy with those less able to adapt, and it derives from Darwinian evolution. What if human beings, as a species, are constitutionally, genetically incapable of achieving this utopian ideal? According to Darwinian theory, we have essentially evolved from apes, from, indeed chimpanzees, not the fun-loving, sexually obsessed bonobos. And chimpanzees can be pretty mean and vicious creatures. They are highly territorial and, contrary to the popular notion that humans are the only species that kill their own kind, have been reported to engage in what appears to be premeditated murder of other chimpanzees. (For a wonderful and well-written description of their behavior, I would recommend the novel “Brazzaville Beach,” by William Boyd.) What if the human DNA is such that it is biologically impossible for humans to realize the ideal that Marxism aspires to?

In sum, I am not optimistic about the future that our Brave New World portends.

MS said...


"avert" should be "advert"

s. wallerstein said...


Your critique of Marxism merits a long answer and I don't have time for that, but to some extent I share your vision of human nature. However, a socialism economy does not mean that people love one another or share their space, toothbrushes and spouses with strangers. It just means that the surplus product which now goes to the capitalist will be divided among those who work. There may be incentives for those who work harder, but nowhere on the scale of the differences in income that now exist. There may be managers who don't do physical work, but there's no need to pay managers more than the workers. There still will be jealousy, envy, crimes, rivalries and competition, but once again, that surplus which goes to the capitalists (whom we should not confuse with managers and executives and inventors) will be divided among those who do the work and their families. As AI increases, there will be less work to do, but that work which remains should be fairly divided among people.

Jim said...

Just had to weigh in on Dean's comment that Dave Grohl is "utterly devoid" of soul. Now, what exactly "soul" means is up for debate, as evidenced by the endless struggle to determine who is (or was) the queen or king of soul. Aretha Franklin's recent death has once again raised this issue. However, there is no debate that Dave Grohl and his band mates have struck an extremely personal chord in hundreds of thousands individuals (see, for example, David Letterman's account of the strength he drew from the Foo Fighters while recovering from heart bypass surgery). Finally, I think it would be difficult to assert that the person who inspired what can been viewed via the link below is "utterly devoid" of soul:

s. wallerstein said...


I'm far from a Marx scholar, so I thought it best to provide some online resources from those who know more about Marx than I do to answer your questions.

First, another Brian Leiter dialogue on Marxism. He covers some different aspects of Marxism here than in the previous dialogue.

Second, a series of introductory lectures on Marxist economics by Professor Richard Wolff. There are 4 lectures, divided up into short videos (15 minutes each). Here is the first short video.
Richard Wolff is a trained economist (PhD Yale), so he knows mainstream economics as well as Marxist economics. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts and the New School.

Finally, here is David Harvey. Harvey is a British geographer, specializing in Marx, who teaches at CUNY.

All of the above all are clear, rational and non-fanatical. I'd appreciate hearing your impressions of them if you decide to listen to them.

LFC said...


As I understand Marx’s analysis of the interplay between capitalism and industrialization, the motive of capitalism to increase profits by maximizing the use of industrial machines, thereby reducing the need to use human labor, and in turn reducing the expense of paying for human labor, is sowing the seeds for its own self-destruction. That is, humans are needed to purchase the goods which the machines produce. But unless the humans are working, and being paid a wage, they will have no income to purchase those goods. The more that humans are displaced by machines, the fewer available humans to purchase goods, with a resulting reduction in profits.

No, not quite. Marx in Capital vol. 1 (I haven't read the posthumously published vols 2 and 3 where, or such is my impression, the analysis gets somewhat more complicated) says that the introduction of machinery puts a long-run squeeze on profits because human labor-power, and only human labor-power, is what generates profit (or surplus value, in M's terminology). To oversimplify somewhat, profit according to Marx is the difference between the wages paid by the capitalist -- which despite fluctuations will tend to hover around subsistence (with the caveat that the definition of "subsistence" changes somewhat over time, see chap.6) -- and the value created by the workers during the part of the working day that exceeds the portion required to reproduce the (value of) their means of subsistence. Put more simply, the capitalist pays a wage that covers say 6 hours of labor (if that's the amt of time it takes to reproduce the means of subsistence) and actually gets 12 hours of labor (or 8 hours or whatever). That difference is the sole source of profit, "the secret of profit-making" as M. puts it at the end of chap.6.

Machines, unlike the commodity human labor-power, don't directly produce profits. They often increase the productivity of labor (and hence, in certain specific cases, indirectly increase surplus value or profit, see the opening of chap.12) and cut the overall cost of operating a business, but in the long run they undermine profitability because only human labor-power creates more value for the capitalist than the value of labor-power itself (i.e., its means of subsistence). That's why increasing the use of machinery deepens the contradictions of capitalism and helps sow the seeds of its destruction.

I believe the foregoing is a somewhat oversimplified but basically accurate sketch of what M says in vol.1 on this point. It may be that he departed from or significantly complicated this analysis in subsequent works, but for that I'll refer you to the huge lit. on Marx or the videos mentioned by s.w. above.

p.s. I don't think I agree w the analysis of machinery in vol. 1 b/c I don't agree w the premises. And I'm really not sure to what extent R. P. Wolff's "reconstruction" of Marx salvages the theory, partly b/c I haven't gone into it all closely enough. That said, I do think M. had some brilliant insights. But it seems to me that, for all that he insisted correctly that he was doing a critique of classical political economy, he was never able to break free entirely of some of that tradition's key (and probably erroneous, or at least questionable) premises.

LFC said...

P.p.s. What you (MS) say about humans needing enough money to purchase goods or else everything collapses is certainly true, but this is not the heart of M's argument (though he might mention it -- I don't recall).

Theoretically/hypothetically, someone cd drop a load of manna from heaven and give all humans, employed or otherwise, enough money to purchase the output of factories X Y and Z, and the owners of X Y and Z wd still face the 'contradiction' involved in using machines to displace human labor, b/c, to repeat, human labor-power is the only source of profit acc to M.

Henry Ford presumably knew nothing about Marx's theories but he sensed he had to pay his workers enough to buy his model T's if he really wanted his business to take off on a mass scale. What Marx wd have thought of this "solution" I'm not sure, but David Harvey or someone else has prob written about it. The Ford Motor Co., despite periods of extreme difficulty, still makes profits, though its rate of profitability might have fallen over time (if so, I suppose that wd tend to buttress M's views, and if not, not). Well, getting into deep water here and I had better shut up.

s. wallerstein said...


MS is reporting on what Leiter says in the Meaning of Life TV dialogue. Leiter rejects the labor theory of value: he makes that explicit in the Elucidations podcast I link to above, although not, as I recall, in the Meaning of Life TV dialogue.

I confess that I haven't read all that much Marx, far less than you it seems, and for the moment, I'm a Marxist-Leiterism. Here's the Meaning of Life TV dialogue, which I had linked to in a previous thread.

LFC said...

Ok s.w. I'll try to watch the Leiter dialogue or listen to the podcast.

But if Leiter is going to throw out a key pillar of Capital vol. 1, I'm not sure to what extent it still qualifies as Marx. Wolff says he is "reconstructing" the labor theory of value (LTV), which seems different than tossing it out wholesale, though how different might be debatable (it was a bit hard to tell from Wolff's lectures, I thought, which is probably my fault not Wolff's, so I guess I need to read Wolff's article sometime).

Btw I've run across the claim by some scholars that the "mature" Marx rejected the LTV, though I haven't run down the references. If so, then the "mature" Marx is not the Marx of Capital vol. 1. (Either that or Capital vol. 1 doesn't say what it appears to say and is an instance of "esoteric writing" in L. Strauss's sense, a position which I'd be surprised if anyone takes b/c it strikes me as ridiculous.)

Marx says in Capital vol. 1 that human labor-power is a commodity, that the value of that commodity is the socially nec. labor time required to reproduce it (i.e. subsistence for workers and their offspring), and that the source of surplus value (profit) lies in certain unique characteristics of that commodity.

Now maybe the "mature" Marx rejected some or all of this, and/or maybe you can get to some of Marx's conclusions via a different route. But that is what Marx says in Capital vol. 1 as I read it.

You may recall that Wolff in his YouTube lectures referred to the passage at the end of chap. 6 where Marx invites the reader to leave the "noisy sphere" of the market where "everything takes place on the surface" and follow him "into the hidden abode of production" (B. Fowkes translation, Penguin Books ed., p.279). Wolff, as I recall, contrasted this with Plato's Allegory of the Cave. With Plato in that allegory, you ascend from the dark into the light; with Marx, it's the opposite: you go from the misleading light of the marketplace down into "the hidden abode of production" to lay bare "the secret of profit-making" (p.280).

Well, if that "secret" turns out to be wrong, it seems to me the theory might have some problems. Still, the imagery is striking, and that's probably one reason why Capital vol. 1 can be considered a major literary achievement even if every argument in it is wrong.

s. wallerstein said...


I'm not really sure what exactly someone needs to believe to be called a "Marxist". There is a critical study by Raymond Aron called "The Marxism of Marx", Aron trying to follow the texts of the mature Marx exactly.

However, Marxism is also a political project which aims at a socialist society, and yes, "socialist society" has varying interpretations. Anyway, insofar as Marxism is not just a textual interpretation of the work of Marx, but also a project which aims at socialism whatever that means, is seems licit to reject those aspects of Marx which do not further our project of a socialist society.

If you're only going to listen to one of the Leiter dialogues, maybe try the Elucidations podcast since there Leiter explicitly rejects the labor theory of value. By the way, if you have questions, write Leiter directly. I've written him several times and he always answers polite inquiries politely even if in my inquiries I express disagreement with his positions.

I'll have to listen to Professor Wolff's lectures on Marx again. More homework for me.

LFC said...

@ s.w.

Thanks, I'll listen to the Elucidations podcast.

MS said...


Marx may have confined his concept of surplus value to the difference between the subsistence wages paid to the workers and “the value created by the workers during the part of the working day that exceeds the portion required to reproduce the (value of) their means of subsistence.” But this difference – the profit – is reflected in the difference between the subsistence wages paid and the price at which the goods which the workers manufacture are sold. Marx’s analysis, it seems to me, applies equally to the use of machines in lieu of humans. The capitalist’s profit margin is determined by the difference between the expense of manufacturing and maintaining the machinery and the price at which the goods are sold. However, while at any given time the cost of paying the workers’ a subsistence wage may remain uniform – cost of food, shelter, clothing, etc. for any given adult will remain relatively fixed for any given time period – the cost of manufacturing and maintaining machines goes down, in part because the machines can be used to manufacture duplicate machines at lower cost than that for manufacturing the original machines. And the cost of maintenance may be less than the cost of feeding and clothing humans (machines, generally, still have to be provided shelter from the elements to prevent destruction).

However, there is no profit unless the goods are sold. The capitalist makes no profit if after the goods are manufactured by the machines, they remain as inventory in a store room. In order to make a profit, the capitalist needs humans to purchase the products – something which, obviously, machines do not do. Even though the capitalist sells the goods at a higher price than s/he has paid the worker to manufacture the goods, the worker can still afford to purchase the goods s/he manufacturers, because, e.g., if the worker is making one coat per hour, and makes 8 coats per work shift, the worker needs only one coat for him/herself (and several more for the other members of the family), and can still afford to purchase the coats, even if the 8 coats s/he has manufactured are sold at a higher price than the subsistence wage s/he was paid. This analysis applies to all the other goods that the worker purchases; because the goods are manufactured in mass, the worker can afford to buy a given amount of those goods – but is required to budget those purchases within the subsistence wage s/he is paid. Even if the worker is only paid a subsistence wage, therefore, there will still be buyers for the goods. If machines or AI displace the workers, so that they do not even have a subsistence wage, then the goods do not get purchased and the capitalist has no profit. So, whether Marx endorsed this analysis or not, Prof. Leiter seems to me to be correct. I do not know that this means that Prof. Leiter is not a Marxist, since he is extrapolating from Marx’s analysis.