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Friday, June 21, 2019


Chris asked me to elaborate on point 4.  I assume he refers to this:

4.  Sanders, I am afraid, won’t make it.  His best shot was as the bearer of all the hopes of young progressives, but his success has been his undoing, for too many other candidates now espouse the policies he reintroduced into Democratic politics after their half century long disappearance.

Remember, I am not offering a judgment of which candidate should make it, just a guess about which one will.  At the moment there are three or four or five candidates who seem to have some chance, and a horde who do not.  In a situation like this, it matters a lot who is voters’ second choice.  When the hordes disappear, they will free up maybe 20% of the polling, and where it will go will do much to shape the race.  I have a feeling Biden is nobody’s second choice, and as he continues to sink in the polls, as I think he will, he will not pick up the bits and pieces of votes now going to the non-starters.  I would guess Bernie is the second choice of many Warren voters, and she is the second choice of many of his, but neither of them will drop out.  If it were Bernie against Biden [as it was Bernie against Clinton in 2016] I would bet on Bernie, but it isn’t, and so I suspect he has hit his ceiling and won’t make it.

By the way, I do not think he is a terribly good candidate, which doesn’t help.


Matt said...

I'm interested in hearing why you think he's not particularly good candidate. It seems to me like he does reasonably well at appealing to the so-called white working class voters. He has a bad reputation but anybody who owns his left-wing politics like Bernie does is likely to be smeared by the media (as opposed to Warren who calls herself a capitalist). Do you take issue with his politics or his rhetoric?

RobinMcDougald said...

Isn’t there a bit of a problem, that reflection on who could make it inevitably translates into who should make it?

That’s maybe part of a larger problem? We have, so many of us, become ‘armchair pundits.’ (Since I view pundits with, to my mind, well-deserved disdain, I hesitated to invent the term, but I couldn’t think of another. Sorry.) Or to put it another way, we have, so many of us, turned to trying to game the system that we’ve added a whole other level to politics—unless, that is, we have already, in becoming armchair pundits, inadvertently destroyed that level of politics where interests and substantive evaluations of policies clashed and were resolved at least for a time.

Chris said...

Professor Wolff,
I'm quite perplexed by this analysis for several reasons.

First: In principle, making predictions about the state of the democratic primary, this far out, is probably more reckless than making economic and local weather predictions this far out. Neverthe-less, I understand why we do it.

Second: Which is also informed by my first point, we learned in 2016 that the polling data we use, and the actual facts on the ground, are divergent. I remember your favorite election predictor actu-ally ate a bug after Trump won, since he had promised that Trump's victory was so statistically im-possible, that if Trump actually won, he would eat a bug.

Third: If we are going to take polls seriously, Bernie always beats Trump in a head to head since before he lost to Hillary.

Point three, and what I'm going to say next, render me curious (to put it mildly) why you would argue that Bernie is a weak candidate? He is, after all, quite literally and consistently, the most revered senator and politician in American. His favorables are higher than any other institution or politician, and his actual constituency loves him more than any other constituency loves their re-spective rep. Finally, we know several other factors about him: He generates more individual dona-tions than anyone else, he draws larger crowds and rallies than anyone else, and more than anyone else he has fundamentally shifted the priorities of the Democratic party in a short period of (histori-cal) time.

Given the totality of these points, I can only reasonably conclude that Bernie is an EXCELLENT candidate. How could you possibly conclude otherwise? Because the facts directly contradict the obvious contrived and hand-wringing narrative the mainstream media in its visual and written form would tell you about Bernie.

Chris said...

One more point, did you see Bernie during the fox news town hall? I've literally never seen a more promising political spectacle in my entire existence. He had a fox news audience chanting, stamping, and rallying his campaign slogans back at him and the hosts by the end of the segment. Brilliant candidate...?

talha said...

Ah, there you go again, Chris, expecting rhyme or reason on this front. (Or, more charitably, pretending to for the sake of being able to make your excellent points.)

Sorry if saying that is too snarky for this blog but it really is something to behold a self-declared lifelong socialist never miss an opportunity to engage in self-fulfilling prophesizing against the only genuine left candidate to have a chance in over half a century. Just bizarre.

s. wallerstein said...

I would say that a socialist is someone whose political goal is a socialist society.

There may be and there always have been debates within the socialist movement about how to get there and whether the moment is ripe for socialism. For example, the debates between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in Russia, the debates between Socialists and Communists during the Allende government here in Chile (the Communists being in favor of advancing slowly and the Socialists in favor of full speed ahead), etc.

In addition, Professor Wolff sees Trump as more dangerous than you do, Talha, as far as I can see and in fact, more dangerous than I do. His fear of Trump, which may be warranted (I fear Trump less, but I'm wrong at times), leads him to be very prudent about who the Democratic candidate should be.

Now you, Chris and Talha, may be right about Sanders being the best candidate to face Trump. There are primaries ahead and we'll see how well Sanders does in the primaries.

Chris said...

Professor Wolff,
I'm not sure what happened but my post above seems to have a series of arbitrary dash marks between various words, e.g., histori-cal. I don't know if the problem is from my computer or your website.

That definition is somewhat circular/begging the question. You basically said a socialist is a socialist. I'm not a big tent socialist, and I'm more than ready to be accused of committing the no true scotsman fallacy by finger pointing at people I don't believe belong in the camp. Stalin, not a socialist. Bernie Sanders, not a socialist. People that publicly support Biden (which is different than strategically voting for him), not socialists.

I also agree with you in that I don't think Trump per se is as dangerous as Wolff claims, but I do think the economic and political machinations and developments since WWII that allowed for him to assume power are dangerous. More dangerous than he is in fact. I also think the people who he works with are more dangerous than he is. For instance Betsy Devos is more dangerous as education secretary than Trump would be if he actually oversaw the branch of government. Testament of the fact that Trump per se is not very dangerous is that he's literally the only one keeping us out of a war with Iran right now! This article literally portrays him as less interventionist than an Obama or Clinton!

Very perceptive, as usual.

s. wallerstein said...

I tend to believe that most people who say that they are socialists really believe in socialism, at least in contemporary society where there are few or no social or monetary rewards for claiming to be a socialist.

As for Sanders, it is quite possible that although he realizes that he will not be elected if he advocates socialism principles at present, he believes that the New Deal type reforms that he proposes are a first step towards socialism, which is his ultimate goal in the future.

Professor Wolff has written books on socialism, blogs about it, has a family history of supporting socialism (his grandfather) and thus, I have no reason to doubt that when he says he is a socialist, he is one.

I think that we could establish the necessary and sufficient conditions for a society to be called "socialist" and maybe that might be an interesting blog post here in the future.

No, I don't think that Stalin was a socialist. He may have begun as one, but he lost his way or got power hungry. I'd say that Lenin was one and Trotsky also was one, Fidel Castro too.

Chris said...

Wallerstein, we agree in general on everything you've said, after your first sentence, since the first sentence is still begging the question. I have a harder line than most on what constitutes socialism, which is the end of commodity production and the end of value creation, in favor of democratic management of the goods and services society needs to reproduce itself. By my definition most people who say they are socialists are not, since they basically want to maintain the production of commodities, and subsequently capital, but really pray that capital can be humanized (it cannot, capital is necessarily a dehumanizing abstraction, like God).

David Palmeter said...


I don't understand what you mean by "commodity production." To me it means things like planting and harvesting corn, or manufacturing an automobile. I'm sure you don't mean that, but I can't come up with an alternative. Where else do the goods society needs come from?

Dean said...

David Palmeter, you're talking about "commodities" as in the Chicago Board. Chris is talking about the Marxist notion of "commodity," which has use value and exchange value. The Chicago view (for the sake of this discussion) sees an object; the Marxist view sees an abstraction.

Chris said...

Correct. Goods come from labor, but they don't always come in the commodity form, i.e., with a universal exchange value.

David Palmeter said...

Chris, Dean, Thank you.

Anonymous said...

These metaphysical notions of "value" are valueless. Opportunity cost is the defining notion of economics. Any assignment of property rights comes with opportunity costs, some of which are imposed on others. If your remarks on political economy say nothing about opportunity costs, you aren't discussing economics.

Chris said...

Value isn't a metaphysical concept, thats transparently clear by page 2 of Capital... Are assignments of property rights universal in form and transhistorical ? No. Plus we were discussing socialism, not that most ideological 'science' economics.

Chris said...

(Nor is it a metaphysical concept in Smith, Ricardo, or Malthus).

Anonymous said...

"Are assignments of property rights universal in form and transhistorical ? No."

Precisely: any assignment of property rights comes with opportunity costs. Vary the assignments, and the opportunity costs will change with them. Of course there is nothing "transhistorical" about this--this is one half of my point. These days, a "neoliberal" is someone who insists that the prevailing system of property rights must take precedence over all others. This leaves the question of why unanswered. Likewise, any account of socialism is incomplete if it does not explain how changing the system of property rights will affect opportunity costs.

It is unfortunate that Marx did not go into this as clearly as he might have--the labor theory of value does not help here. Much of Marx's critique of capital stands without this theory, however.

Marx doesn't mention value on the first two pages of Capital, at least not in my edition: he mentions use value and exchange value.

Dean said...

"assignment" "property" "rights" "costs" -- all "metaphysical." Anonymous has no idea what s/he's talking about.

Anonymous said...

If you think opportunity cost is metaphysical, as opposed to the basic notion distinguishing economic from non-economic thought, consider reading "Economics in Too Lessons," by John Quiggin. Chris has a point when he calls economics "that most ideological 'science'." The subject hasn't emphasized opportunity cost sufficiently and has tended to take property rights as a given--for ideological reasons.

Ideology creeps in even in seemingly innocent statements such as, "economics is all about choice," as one economist said to me with considerable self-satisfaction. This characterization strikes me as anthropomorphic: it focuses on the individual, instead of the more fundamental notion of opportunity cost--which refers to foregone opportunities (surely not a "metaphysical" notion) without committing itself to some notion of cost. That people rank opportunities, or what they perceive as opportunities does not strike me as "metaphysical." Perhaps Dean has an argument why this notion is metaphysical. That some entities can limit the choices of others, for example, by denying them access to natural resources or jobs or in any other number of ways is a basic observation that anyone involved in emancipatory projects ought to be able to make--unless this is purportedly "metaphysical," as Dean insists.

But rather than take up space in the comments section of Prof Wolff's blog on this subject, I will start my own. There one might offer substantive argument, instead of mere assertion.

Dean said...

I don't have an argument, because I'm not sure what it would be about. "Economy" has to do, simply, with managing affairs, as in a household. Thus, in one respect, *of course* it's anthropomporphic. The observation that "some entities...limit the choices of others" occurs to me as abstract: entities, choices, limits ... these are general notions that depend on tighter definitions tied to particular circumstances, such as, e.g., anthropomorphic ones.

But I think I'm entirely missing your point, Anonymous. I don't get why "opportunity costs" are the key to understanding.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your replies. I'll set out formal definitions elsewhere--to be fair, I haven't given you enough to go on and it would be unreasonable to expect anyone to make the effort to independently develop the formal account I have in mind on the basis of a few blog comments, if only to criticize it. You're also correct to suggest that notions such as "property rights" are vague and tend to be ideologically loaded. Rather than get bogged down in a (or yet another) conceptual analysis of the meaning of "rights" or "assignments" or "property", another approach is to define opportunity cost as an account of forgone alternatives--including the ability to constrain the choices of others. In that way, rights or assignments or property become interpreted formally as constraints on alternatives. [There are production possibility curves in economics that treat the case of two "commodities" but this already begins the analysis somewhat after the formal machinery I have in mind is set up--or at least presumes or leaves unmentioned any "property rights assignments" that might hold.]

Focusing on the individual tends to mask questions of systemic constraints, the possibility of which should be made explicit from the beginning--this is why I used the term 'anthropomorphic' but perhaps it would be better to avoid the term. I mean to caution against overemphasis on the individual.

As for a key to understanding, I'll end by correcting a typo: John Quiggin's "Economics in Two Lessons" will explain why opportunity cost is the fundamental notion. For now that will have to do. I should heed Prof Wolff's advice to the blowhards who periodically alight here (myself included) and start my own blog.

Matt said...

As bedtime reading (literally) for some weeks I have been slowly reading Alec Nove's excellent, if sometimes ponderous, _The Soviet Economic System_. (Despite it's name, it's not limited to just the Soviet system, but spends a good amount of time on other then-existing Socialist economic systems as well.) One thing that has come out - sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly - is that Soviet attempts to base their economic practice on what they took to be the lessons of Marx's _Capital_ were, if not always disasters, then at least not so good. In particular, and directly relevant to the discussion above, the idea of "opportunity cost" was, for many years, dismissed as merely a product of bourgeoisie economics, that would have no place in a socialist system. It was a slow and up-hill battle, often requiring significant intellectual subterfuge, to bring back in the basic idea, one that will obviously apply in any system where there isn't abundance, and so where there are trade-offs. (As I understand it, it's debated to what extent Marx - though less so Engels - though that abundance was around the corner and would be a likely result of Socialism, but in any case, it's clear that it won't obtain in any system we are ever likely to see.)

(I strongly recommend Nove's work to anyone who reads this blog. _The Economics of Feasible Socialism_ is his most accessible and relevant book, but his Economic History of the Soviet Union is also great. The one I'm reading now is more of a specialty book, especially these days, but I have somewhat idiosyncratic tastes and personal reasons for reading such things.)

Chris said...

Page 1: "the two factors of the commodity: use value and value (substance of value, magnitude of value)"

Dean said...

I'm familiar, albeit only in passing, with the concept of opportunity cost, but I don't understand why it is a critical factor largely unrecognized in economics, and thus a key to our understanding. (I'll check in with Quiggins.) What you describe, Anonymous, is akin to Coase's treatment of externalities in "The Problem of Social Cost," or for that matter, to Ellickson's Order without Law, which draws on Coase, if only to correct him. (I haven't read Ellickson, but have frequently encountered it in other reading. I should add it to the pile.) I don't know whether Ellickson refers explicitly to opportunities lost or retained, but the extra-legal norms he views that constrain individuals' and groups' behaviors imply behaviors or actions forgone.

Anonymous said...

The term "value" makes its appearance in the section heading of Chapter 1, section 1, but not otherwise in the first two pages--one has to read further. [I had naively reread the body of the classic text it was suggested I had never bothered to read, but this time overlooked the section heading--I concede.] Is this section heading the source of the transparent clarity claimed in "Value isn't a metaphysical concept, that[']s transparently clear by page 2 of Capital..."? Where in the first two pages is this transparent clarity attainable?

As for Coase, there is a connection, but Coase claims (paraphrasing) that the group affected by pollution ought to pay the polluter not to pollute. That's one "assignment" of property rights, but it isn't the only one, and each such assignment involves an opportunity cost. Quiggin points out that following Coase, [so-called "Lesson One"] economists stress property rights but have largely avoided the question of opportunity costs (200).

I have other obligations and don't want to overstay my welcome here. The opportunity cost of commenting is too high.

Chris said...

You're right, page 3.

Chris said...

Kliman may help educate you on why it's not a metaphysical concept:

I've never found the following analytic, and deductive argument, to be metaphysical, and if it isn't 'sound', it's at least valid, and as close to soundness as anyone is going to get in social philosophy:

"Exchange value, at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative relation, as the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort,[6] a relation constantly changing with time and place. Hence exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms.[7] Let us consider the matter a little more closely.

A given commodity, e.g., a quarter of wheat is exchanged for x blacking, y silk, or z gold, &c. – in short, for other commodities in the most different proportions. Instead of one exchange value, the wheat has, therefore, a great many. But since x blacking, y silk, or z gold &c., each represents the exchange value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking, y silk, z gold, &c., must, as exchange values, be replaceable by each other, or equal to each other. Therefore, first: the valid exchange values of a given commodity express something equal; secondly, exchange value, generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.

Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron. What does this equation tell us? It tells us that in two different things – in 1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities something common to both. The two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchange value, must therefore be reducible to this third. [Thhere's nothing metaphysical about this basic valid deduction - CHRIS]

A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear. In order to calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures, we decompose them into triangles. But the area of the triangle itself is expressed by something totally different from its visible figure, namely, by half the product of the base multiplied by the altitude. In the same way the exchange values of commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less quantity.

This common “something” cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities [IT'S A SOCIAL PROPERTY NOT A METAPHYSICAL ONE - CHRIS]. Such properties claim our attention only in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use values. But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised by a total abstraction from use value. Then one use value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient quantity. Or, as old Barbon says,

“one sort of wares are as good as another, if the values be equal. There is no difference or distinction in things of equal value ... An hundred pounds’ worth of lead or iron, is of as great value as one hundred pounds’ worth of silver or gold.”[8]

As use values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange values they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain an atom of use value. "

Anonymous said...

You have indeed educated me, thank you for helping to clarify my thoughts on why opportunity cost remains the fundamental economic notion. These passages deriving from Marx are of course very familiar, but somewhat irrelevant: I was referring to value as opposed to use value and exchange value. Marx is careful to distinguish these. It is the equation value = socially necessary labor time> that strikes me as "metaphysical"--or at least, a methodological misstep.

The "tensions" or "relational contradictions" between use value and exchange value (not to mention value) that might arise in a dialectical account of say, using the house that you own as oppose to selling it seem like a sterile, Ptolemaic account of weighing the opportunity cost of using the house that you own, as opposed to selling it.

As for measuring the "congealed socially necessary labor" that "constitutes" the value of the house, or considering its putative value in some relational opposition to its use value and its exchange value possibly in conjunction with the consideration of the global expenditure of labor (we're led to believe these things cannot be considered in isolation)--well, perhaps there is an equilibrium concept of "socially necessary labor time" but the details are elusive and, to my mind, do little to settle questions of opportunity cost, which for me remains the basic economic notion.

Dean said...

It seems to me that Coase is non-partisan when it comes to who legally should pay for whose harm in "The Problem of Social Cost." Rather, he observes that courts sometimes render decisions on the basis of principles foreign to economics. But, he notes, "It is always possible to modify by transactions on the market the initial legal delimitation of rights,” the latter being within the purview of the courts. In his effort to take account of all factors affected by adjustments to social arrangements, he invokes the concept of opportunity costs:

"Economists who study problems of the firm habitually use an opportunity cost approach
and compare the receipts obtained from a given combination of factors with alternative business arrangements. It would seem desirable to use a similar approach when dealing with questions of economic policy and to compare the total product yielded by alternative social arrangements."

Notably, the term “property rights” appears nowhere in TPoSC, though “property” is ubiquitous, because Coase’s examples, drawn from court cases, typically involve harms visited upon one party by a party residing at adjacent property. Of course, the courts take property rights into account.

Anonymous said...

Dean: fair enough. A carbon tax is an example relevant to your first paragraph.

Chris said...


You're doing what 99% of readers of Marx do, which is you're reading INTO the passages something that quite explicitly isn't there. The argument I presented was NOT a metaphysical argument, nor was SNLT ever mentioned. Value is first deduced as a pretty banal, but clearly operative concept. If you accept Marx's deduction of it (and you should, it's analytic, valid, and sound), then we can discuss if the NEXT step he makes is erroneous or not. Read his argument, line by line, deduction by deduction, instead of starting with previous notions of the labor theory of value, the USSR (like Matt recklessly did), dialectics, etc.

[Of course that value is not a natural category or a metaphysical one, but a social one, does lend itself to being part of SOCIAL LABOR, which isn't spooky at all - every society has social labor, which takes time, and that has to be regulated directly, indirectly, or some combination of the two. That's practically an empirical given at this point, not a metaphysical or dialectical claim].

Anonymous said...

David Harvey goes on at length in his Companion to Marx's Capital about the "tensions" or "relational contradictions" arising between use value and exchange value (not to mention value) and cites this as an example of Marx's dialectical method. This tortured discussion is a sterile, Ptolemaic account of weighing the opportunity cost of using the house that you own, as opposed to selling it.

Of course the SNLT wasn't mentioned in your excerpt. I added that for fun. Here's another one: the idea of "abstract labor" amounts to the analytically otiose predicate that takes the value 1 if a commodity has use value and exchange value, and 0 otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I didn't read anything into these banal deductions. I made some comments after I realized what was troubling me about this circle of ideas. You read overinterpretation into them. But as I said, I was (implicitly) referring to value = socially necessary labor time in my original remark. You shifted the goalposts to say that use value and exchange value are not metaphysical concepts. Whatever. The larger point is that opportunity cost is the basic economic notion. This will be the case even in the system you allude to in which there are no commodities and no markets (if I read that correctly).

Chris said...

I won't talk too much shit, but quite honestly Harvey's reading of Marx is obscene. See this short review of his work, which is frankly devastating:

I was asking you to read Marx, not Harvey-reading-Marx. Harvey's entire preoccupation with the tensions between use and exchange value COMPLETELY misunderstands the point of that chapter. Notice the TITLE of the chapter I already quoted to you. It's a tension between use value and value, exchange value is merely a form of appearance. Harvey has never understood this basic distinction, and I've literally seen people raise the objection to his face.

I never ONCE said use value or exchange value are not metaphysical concepts, I said VALUE wasn't a metaphysical concept. If anything you're shifting the goal post by constantly deploying new terms, new ideas, mixing and mashing, etc.

I believe I've demonstrated, for now, that value is not a metaphysical concept for Marx. Correct? If so, we are done here, or do you have more questions?

Anonymous said...

Can you stick to the subject?

Matt said...

instead of starting with previous notions of the labor theory of value, the USSR (like Matt recklessly did)

In point of fairness, I didn't offer an interpretation of Marx of my own at all. (I've read a modest amount of Marx, but not nearly enough of Capital - only brief bits - to have my own opinion on the proper interpretation of the ideas in it.)

My point was only that the notion of opportunity cost is clearly one that applies beyond market systems, and that not noting it, and thinking it was something that's not relevant, was a big problem for people who, as far as I can tell, were honestly trying to apply Marxist ideas as they understood them. As an additional point, I think it's worth looking carefully at those attempts, to see where they went wrong, and not just dismissing them as irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Matt, who made exactly the point he restates in his opinion. As for the extended quote of Marx that purportedly leads from exchange values to value, it would help if there were somewhere in the text, preferably in the vicinity of the end (where one ordinarily locates conclusions) a conclusion following from the preceding premises that had the term value in it, as distinguished from use value, which is in the extended quote. I conclude that you have not established your claim that "value" is not a metaphysical notion.

s. wallerstein said...

I've been following this discussion and I have no idea if Marx's theory of value is correct. I've never studied Marx closely.

However, I fail to see how "value" is a metaphysical notion in Marx. He might be wrong about what value is, but that's an empirical mistake, I believe, not a metaphysical one.
As far as I can see, Capital is a study of how capitalism functions and all Marx's theories in that book are based on his empirical observations (which may be mistaken at times) about that. They are not metaphysical speculations.

Chris said...

Anonymous I did stick to the subject. I was strictly responding to this:

"These metaphysical notions of "value" are valueless".

I don't even understand what this new rejoinder is:
" it would help if there were somewhere in the text, preferably in the vicinity of the end (where one ordinarily locates conclusions) a conclusion following from the preceding premises that had the term value"

Value is the 'THIRD THING' Marx identities, and he indicates that value IS the conclusion he's reaching in THE SECOND SENTENCE:

"Hence exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange "

Moreover, whether or not value is or is not present, it doesn't follow that its lack of presence renders it metaphysical. That conclusion is a complete non-sequitur.

On the next page, Marx reaches from the previous third thing conclusion:

"Let us now consider the residue of each of these products; it consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure. All that these things now tell us is, that human labour power has been expended in their production, that human labour is embodied in them. When looked at as crystals of this social substance, common to them all, they are – Values."

Look, are you asking me to literally walk you through every paragraph of Das Kapital to demonstrate that value isn't metaphysical? I mean if you press me to I will, but this is getting kinda obscene. Talk about moving the goal post.

Chris said...

Wallerstein, thank you for chiming in.

In fact Capital is not about capitalism, it's about capital. That's an important point, the book is titled On Capital: A Critique of Political Economy.

You're right that Marx is doing empirical research, but it's not a strictly empirical book. The empirical research leads to a process of abstraction and generalization (as all science does, we abstract from a set of given empirical data and try to reach general conclusions). In this sense value is the grounding mechanism, or concept, by which we can secure the interconnections of the various empirical phenomena Marx is synthesizing.

Chris said...

Sorry copied that second sentence wrong:

"Hence exchange value appears [the appearance is deceptive - Chris] to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value [Intrinsic, not an appearance], i.e., an exchange value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms.[7] Let us consider the matter a little more closely. [Let us consider the relation between this deceptive appearance, and this universal exchangeability again, so as not to reach contradictions - Chris]"

Anonymous said...

But there need not be any such "THIRD" thing. Here is an elementary counterexample.

Counterexample to "if two things are equal, there is a third thing to which they are equal."

Let X={a, b} be a set of two elements. Let R ={(a,a),(b,b),(a,b),(b,a)} be be an equivalence relation on X (the cartesian product of X with itself, in this case). In this example, a R b, but there is no element c distinct from a and b such that aRc and b R c. In fact, for any c, if a R c or b R c, then c = a or c = b.

The argument that there is a third thing distinct from the first two needs additional argument. The assertion that such a THIRD thing exists is what I call metaphysical.

s. wallerstein's remark that value may be an empirical notion is more to the point.


The sentence which you quote in part doesn't read like a conclusion. I will quote it in full: "Hence exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms.[7]" Readers may judge for themselves.

In any case, I disagree, given the elementary counterexample, that this purported argument establishes the existence of this third thing (or rather THIRD thing--perhaps the capitalization is needed to turn invalid arguments into valid ones, although the counterexample still holds if "third" is replaced with "THIRD.").

If this "...analytic, and deductive argument... isn't 'sound', it's at least valid, and as close to soundness as anyone is going to get in social philosophy" then this is bad news for social philosophy.

Chris said...

Right, the sentence was at the top of the deduction, and used the term value, as did the chapter heading, which is the reader's indication that value is the thing being deduced. I specifically said this was in the "SECOND SENTENCE" of the quote above. Not the conclusion itself, of the entire quoted section. Of course it doesn't matter what I said, had you just read the quote you wouldn't need me to repeat it or point to it... Seriously man, I can't keep holding your hand through the first 3 pages of what is quite obviously a quintessential work of human profundity. You need to maybe, sit down, and read those pages yourself, and not have Harvey, or preconceived notions guide you through them (as you should with any classic in the cannon worthy of scrutiny). None of your arguments that its a metaphysical term are remotely salient since they are consistently non-sequitirs of a text you clearly never even bothered to crack up or even loosely ascertain.

Wallerstein's remark is dead wrong (sorry Wallerstein!), since EMPIRICALLY commodities take on a price form, we now need to explain that empirical phenomena. Empirically animals take on diverse forms through descent, we now need to explain that empirical phenomena. Empirically the sun seems to rise and fall, we now need to explain that empirical phenomena. In each case we do not employ spooky metaphysical concepts. We ground empirical observations in concepts.

Your example is hardly elementary, if anything it's so abstruse and straying from the norm, that it's hardly constitutive of much. If we can equate a panoply of diverse use values AS EXCHANGE VALUES, and we can (Marx does it with the linen, coat, etc), we do it everyday not only when we shop but in general in the commodities market write large, we must be equating some-THING, regardless of your entirely abstract mathematical exception. Marx designates that thing value. There's no implication that that's a metaphysical concept. Moreover, since it's strictly a social concept, it's quite literally NOT metaphysical, anymore than a 'King' is metaphysical, or a 'wife' is metaphysical, or a 'senator' is metaphysical. These are social relations brought about by human practice, subject to change over time (not the norm for metaphysics which deals with timeless and ahistorical truths a la Plato, or Kant's critique of metaphysics as a science).

You're being a troll at this point whose only goal is contradiction, not elucidation and comprehension. Grow up or shut up, anonymous.

Anonymous said...

If you have an equivalence relation with at least three elements, then unless its equivalence classes each have cardinality at most two, any two distinct elements might be equivalent to a third. The condition that any two elements will be equal to a third will be guaranteed if the equivalence classes of the relation have cardinality at least three. Unless you already have the relation already in hand, the move from comparisons of individual elements to some abstraction in virtue of which the elements are in the relation is not given. We can disregard this question-begging argument by Marx. He has much better arguments elsewhere.

These aren't abstruse considerations--on the contrary, philosophy students would be expected to be familiar with elementary set theory. You may have the last fully capitalized word.

NN said...

Anonymous is almost right. In contemporary notation, Marx is defining a map V from commodities to values, which can be taken to be real numbers. Two commodities that are identified under this map are related to a third thing, the value of the map. This is a tautology. The map V does define equivalence classes of commodities, and these equivalence classes partition the domain of the map. I think this is what Anonymous is getting at.

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