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Friday, May 21, 2021


The one sentence remark I made about the violence in Gaza triggered a long, complex anonymous three – part comment that in turn has provoked some responses. I do not really want to engage with the author, especially since he or she fails to identify himself or herself. It had occurred to me to make a comment about Native Americans, who have been on the North American continent for roughly 15,000 years, during the first 14,500 of which they were the sole human occupants, but someone got there first. Surely the impassioned author of that long comment will at least agree that Americans are under no obligation to contribute annually to the military expenses of Israel. But what struck me most powerfully was the unexamined assumption that there is something called “the Jewish people” who in all of their diasporic wanderings and intermarriages have remained unified, unadulterated, and somehow during all of this time the rightful owners of some particular stretch of land. That is not in any shape or form a political or historical or geographic observation, it is a religious claim and one therefore, as an atheist, I have nothing to say about.


I am nominally Jewish although neither I nor my father nor my father’s father was bar mitzvah. I have no idea at all whether I can trace my patrilineage to the people of the Old Testament. My father’s father’s family came from Northeast Poland by way of Paris in the last third of the 19th century. Their name then was Zarembovitch (changed to Wolff by an immigration official at Castle Garden in 1879). That is not a Hebrew name but a Slavic name of some sort. My father’s mother’s maiden name was Nislovski, also Slavic, and the family came from Vilna. My mother’s parents’ names were Ornstein and Perlmutter, and they came from Romania. If I could construct a family tree going back 2500 years, for all I know somewhere on it one would find Julius Caesar but I do not think I would lay claim to squatter’s rights in the Coliseum. Thirty of my relatives on my father’s side died in Auschwitz, a fact I only discovered 10 years ago when I met the two remaining members of the Zarembovitch clan in Paris. I am saddened and angered by that discovery but it would never cross my mind to think that it gave me a right to hold 2 million Palestinians prisoner.




s. wallerstein said...

I believe that a large part of our identity comes from others and if others see me as a Jew, with a Jewish name and a Jewish nose, having been brought up by two Jewish parents, I'm a Jew whether or not I have any interest in the Jewish religion and I don't. Like you, I refused to be bar-mitvah and I have not set foot in a synagogue since the last time my parents obliged me to go to one about 60 years ago.

That being said, as a Jew, the behavior of the Israeli state towards the Palestinians makes me ashamed. Count-less international human rights organizations have condemned Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, some call it apartheid. That Hamas probably also violates human rights is no excuse. Ethics for me begins with putting one's own house in order first, not with blaming others.

Numerous UN resolutions have called for Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and from East Jerusalem, to their pre-1967 war borders. They should do that as a first step towards peace.

Anonyous is, I suspect, one of our old friends come back for a visit.

LFC said...

Unfortunately anonymous's comment and the ensuing back and forth sort of drowned out comments on the main subject of that post, incl my observation, wrt the phrase "collective ownership of the means of production," that very large portions of so-called advanced economies actually do not *produce* anything. Hospitals, doctors' offices, schools, universities, law firms, accounting firms, PR firms, advertising firms, local and state governments, foundations, think tanks, sports teams, Amazon, Walmart, Target, Uber and Lyft, Google, the NYT, the WaPo, etc etc the list goes on. With a few isolated exceptions, most of these entities don't produce anything tangible. True, the NYT produces a hard copy newspaper, which is a commodity, but most of the labor involved does not relate to actual production of the physical thing. So collective ownership of the means of *production* might well leave large parts of so-called advanced economies relatively unaffected.

Btw this is also why the measurement of "productivity," output per person hour, in a so-called advanced economy poses problems, which clever economists seem to think they have solved, but that's a separate issue.

John Rapko said...

Yes, S Wallerstein, 'Anonymous's' hyper-intelligence, formidable analytic powers, exhausting scrupulousness in detail, lengthy multi-part contributions, and uncanny accuracy in diagnosing the cognitive deficiencies of other commentators do remind one of the recently departed.

s. wallerstein said...

John Rapko,

What you say and a tendency to insult the other party, often accusing them of hypocrisy, in the last paragraph of their comments, as if, after a long, impecable and courteous argument, they were unable to resist the impulse to stick in the knife.

aaall said...

"... it is a religious claim and one therefore, as an atheist, I have nothing to say about."

Indeed. Even though it's clear by now that we are the descendants of apes + a chromosome who wandered out of the East African plains a few times over the past few hundred thousand years, we are still having to deal with the consequences of the often unacknowledged belief in a creator deity who cares deeply about our sex lives and gives fee title to parts of our planet's real estate.

David Palmeter said...


I suspect that the NYT is no longer printed in NYC. Several years ago, when the WaPo moved its printing plant from 15th and L streets to northern Virginia it was noted that at the the Post was the largest manufacturing operation in DC. I don't know who or what is now--maybe a microbrewery.

My father worked on the assembly line in a typewriter plant in upstate NY, as did his brother, his brother-in-law and his father before him. The entire next generation went into the service economy. A cousin on my mother's side worked in a factory, but that was it for that side of the family; all the rest were in services. At this point I don't personally know--or even know of--anyone who produces physical "things." When I was growing up, the father of just about every kid I knew worked in manufacturing.

Jerry Brown said...

David Palmeter, I produce things like buildings, or parts of them to be more accurate. So you at least sort of know of one person that still produces physical things :)

Howie said...

All right Professor Wolff, the two million Palestinians held in prison by the Israelis tried to kill all the Jews of Israel and still harbor a death wish for us- I mean I hate the Likud and Hamas and Netanyahu deserve each other- but to decide the fate of the Israelis on the vagaries of your last name, let's call it your Christian name- is very whimsical to say the least, if not arrogant-
was it Baldwin who wrote if black English isn't a language what is? Well we're as much a people as the Germans, Russians and Egyptians and the Americans, not to leave out the Palestinians-
You show the vice of the Philosopher- confusing your passionate opinion with fact and that is called emotional reasoning and I know some good CBT practitioners who can straighten your thinking out- you're never too old

Jerry Brown said...

All two million of them wish your death and tried to kill you? Little kids too? I guess you have a problem if that's true.

s. wallerstein said...

For those who think that all Palestinians are homicidal fanatics, here's an interview from a few days done by Robert Wright from Blogging Heads TV with a young Palestinian involved in the protest movement for Palestinian rights.

LFC said...

Howie wrote that:

"the two million Palestinians held in prison by the Israelis tried to kill all the Jews of Israel and still harbor a death wish for us"

First of all, not all residents of Gaza are supporters of Hamas.

Second, who harbors a death wish for whom is sort of irrelevant, because what matters right now is who is doing what to whom, and more important, what the root and proximate causes are.

I'm not going to get into all of this b.c it would prolong a probably pointless debate.

However, the broad outlines of a settlement have been obvious for a while. First, Netanyahu has to leave or be forced from office. He has basically no interest in an equitable long-term settlement. Then, a different Israeli p.m. has to sit down with Mahmoud Abbas and, with the U.S. or someone pressuring both sides as necessary, they have to reach a two-state solution that won't completely satisfy anyone but will be saleable to the majority of constituents of both leaders.

Once this is in hand and a Palestinian state in what is now the P.A.'s territory is a reality, chances are that support for Hamas will start to dwindle and politics inside Gaza will start to change.

The key point is that all the details that have hung up negotiations in the past -- the exact boundaries, the status of Jewish settlements, water rights, whether a Palestinian state will have its own army, the status of Jerusalem (and E. Jerusalem in particular) etc. etc. -- are of secondary importance. The important thing is to establish a Palestinian entity with enough of the accoutrements of sovereign statehood to be presentable to the world and to the Palestinians as a Palestinian state, not an "authority" existing in the shadow of occupation as is the case now.

Because this is all quite obvious, the obstacle has been the cost-benefit calculations of the leaders on both sides. Both Abbas and his Israeli counterparts have preferred stalemate and conflict to a settlement that they fear will harm them politically with their own constituents. Abbas and his Israeli counterparts have to be shamed and called out for what they are -- selfish, self-centered, short-term-oriented politicians who have prioritized their perceived political health and survival over the long-term interests of their people.

That successive negotiations (not including the Trump years, which were completely wasted b.c of Trump's obvious bias) have resulted in failure is a direct indictment of the leaders on both sides. This conflict is not permanently intractable. It is not irresolvable. It just requires leaders who are willing to put important things above their own short-term political calculations. Such leaders have existed in the region before, and one hopes they will appear again, eventually if not soon.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Wolff,

I hope that you have the intellectual integrity not to delete this post.

Your relationship to your Jewish roots is your business. You, s. wallerstein, and other “nominal Jews,” have every right, certainly, to reject, if you wish, claims of the existence of a Jewish people. You have every right – and it certainly is not any of my business – for you to feel a disaffection from Judaism and its religion, which you, as an atheist, find irrational.

Your belief, however, that the claim by others of membership in a Jewish people is so much hooey, that they adhere to “an unexplained assumption that there is something called ‘the Jewish people’ who in all of their diasporic wanderings and intermarriages have remained unified [and] unadulterated” is demonstrably false. In point of fact, genetic studies have concluded that individuals who identity as Jewish have “many genetic features, suggesting common roots that the team estimated went back more than 2000 years.”

And then there is this: “Using a combination of molecular genetics and mathematical analysis, the scientists arrived [at] an estimated date for the most recent common ancestor of contemporary Cohanim. According to this analysis, the common ancestor lived between the Exodus (approx.. 1000 B.C.E.) and the destruction of the first Temple (586 B.C.E.), consistent with the biblical account.”

While you have a right to feel disaffected from any sense of affiliation with a Jewish people, you do not have the right, and I find it particularly offensive, to stigmatize as superstitious and imbecilic the belief of others, who do not share your sense of disaffection, in the existence of a Jewish people – a belief grounded in and confirmed by scientific evidence.

Regarding the assertions by many members of this Jewish community who live in Israel that they have a rightful claim to ownership of the land, your assertion that this claim derives exclusively from apocryphal biblical sources is also erroneous. It derives from the fact that during the 19th and early 20th centuries, they purchased parcels of land from the Ottoman Empire – land which by virtue of the conquest by the Ottomans, did not belong to the Arab people who lived there as tenants of the Ottoman Empire. Are you going to say that this was unfair, that the Jews took advantage of the Arabs because they had the capital to purchase the land? The Jews purchased parcels in remote parts of Palestine, parcels which were not inhabited by Arabs and the purchase of which did not cause the displacement of Arabs. They then proceeded to cultivate that land – land which the resident Arabs had failed to cultivate. They made it flourish, where before it had been left fallow; they provided employment to their Arab neighbors in managing the orange groves which the Jews, through hard work and innovative irrigation techniques, made bloom. They also built medical facilities, where the medical needs of all – Jewish, Moslem and Christian – were attended to. This is not a matter of biblical legend. It is a matter of documentable fact.

If one claims to be an environmentalist, given that there is only a finite amount of arable land on Earth, what people more deserve to own that finite land than those who have been willing to cultivate that finite tract of land with their blood, sweat and tears, and make it yield food which can provide sustenance for all, regardless their religion– Jews, Muslims and Christians? Is such cultivation of the land not sufficient to give rise to a claim of ownership – regardless whether its was done by Jews, Frenchmen, Italians, or Laplanders?

Anonymous said...


Let me go back to your commodity comment.


Commodities are not necesarilly physical objects one can grasp with one's hands. If you remember Prof. Wolff's expositions, you realize he already provided an example of one such commodity: labour power.

By the way, you mention this as an aside in the second part of your comment:

Btw this is also why the measurement of "productivity," output per person hour, in a so-called advanced economy poses problems, which clever economists seem to think they have solved, but that's a separate issue.

Can you please elaborate, because the connection is not evident, to me at least.

Another Anonymous

LFC said...

Another anonymous

Of course Marx thought labor-power was a commodity, but one with very special, indeed unique, attributes.

Every other commodity discussed in Capital vol 1, to the best of my recollection, is a physical thing. I guess something might have use-value and exchange-value w.o being a physical thing, so there cd be commodities, other than labor power, that aren't physical things. But that's all tangential to the point of my comment, which was that the phrase "collective ownership of the means of production" cd quite easily be read as leaving out large parts of a so-called post-industrial economy.

On the measurement of productivity point -- I'll come back to that later. Am pressed for time today.

Anonymous said...

No one has a claim to any land. Israel has been land of the caananites, then the hittites, then the jebuvites, then Araks land, then jewish, then roman, then arab, then byzantium, on to the turks, and then the Britons. Human beings practice a type of slash and burn the present occupants ever since time began. The russians took over siberia, the Japs took over russia, the penal australians took out the black aboriginies brining about kangaroo court. The americans took out the native americans. Holland took over indonesia. Nuclear testing cleared out islands and if they didn't move they got fried. South Africa aparthied. And the list goes on. Then the historians on the winning side write the history, and the philosophers on the winning side philosophise. What the israelies are doing is whats been done everywhere everytime. So when you say ENOUGH, make sure you know who the audience is.

Anonymous said...


There was a time when I agreed with you that, “This conflict is not permanently intractable. It is not irresolvable. It just requires leaders who are willing to put important things above their own short-term political calculations.”

And I agree that Netanyahu has been an impediment to peace. He has been, in my opinion, the worst Prime Minister in Israel’s history. There was a time when I supported the forceful evacuation of most of the settlements in the West Bank, and I believe that under the direction of a Prime Minister with a recognized military pedigree, e.g., Yitzhak Rabin, this could have been accomplished. But the religious zealots on both sides have made that aspiration perhaps unachievable.

Now, however, given the internecine conflict within Israel between Arab and Jewish Israelis, I believe the hopes for a two-state solution – which I have fervently supported – may be dead, for at least another generation. Jewish Israelis feel that they can no longer trust their Arab neighbors to be patriotic supporters of the State of Israel. Arab Israelis – who have even served in the IDF in the past, e.g., the Druze – will now be seen as a fifth column that cannot be trusted.

Regarding Gaza and Hamas, I assume you are correct that not all of the residents of Gaza support Hamas, but a majority of them do. And it was this majority which chose Hamas over Fatah to govern them. The claims by Prof. Wolff and others that Gaza is an open air prison is precisely the propaganda that Hamas wants the world to believe, to discredit Israel in the eyes of the world, to increase support in the U.S. to cut off funding for Israel. But it is a prison of their own making. Were they to use the millions of dollars which they receive from the international community to improve the economy in Gaza, to build schools and hospitals, and not use that money to obtain rockets and smuggle in concrete and steel to build their tunnels, which they then use to commit terrorist attacks in Israel, there would be no need for Israel to impose an embargo on Gaza. Were they not to use their children as human shields, so that they can publicize images of women and children killed by Israeli bombing raids, there would be no Gaza prison. See

The objective of Hamas is not to seek a two-state solution. The objective of Hamas is to destroy the State of Israel, to reclaim all of the land which they maintain Israel stole from them. But Israel did not steal the land from them. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected – beginning with the UN partition plan in 1948 – proposals to share the land of Palestine with the Jews who cultivated and irrigated it. And people who are unwilling to make any effort to read about the background of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the history of the Jewish people – even Jews who are disaffected from their Jewish roots – buy this claptrap and accuse Israel of war crimes. Even an atheist such as myself, can respect the right of those who choose to believe in religious rituals which I do not routinely practice, have a right to their own country, where they can defend themselves from a world full of people who despise and scorn them, and where they do not have to depend on others to protect them. A lesson they learned from the Holocaust.

So, at this point I have given up hope for a two-state solution, and I expect this tragic conflict to continue well after I have died. And I dread the possibility, that Israel, confronted by an imminent demise, in a world where anti-Semitism continues to flourish, will conclude that it has no choice but to use its nuclear weapons.

LFC said...

P.s. the discussion of commodity fetishism in chap 1 of Capital contends that capitalism and its mystifying elements misrepresent social relations between persons as relations between things. Commodities being bought and sold in the marketplace contain or embody the "homogeneous" or "abstract" human labor that has produced them and that ultimately determines their exchange value, but that fact is concealed -- "value ... does not have its description branded on its forehead." Marx contends that this mystifying aspect of capitalism, somewhat paradoxically, "reifies" (thing-ifies) persons while anthropomorphizing (attributing human qualities) to things, making them, on an analogy with deities, "appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own." According to Marx, then, "the mysterious character of the commodity-form" rests on the fact that commodities are both physical things and embodiments of "homogeneous" human labor, a combination that makes a commodity "a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties..." A commodity, as presented here, is both a physical, sensuous thing and "a thing which transcends sensuousness."

Anonymous said...


Perhaps you have a very good point, but it's difficult to decide without further details of what is it you have in mind. It may just be me, but I find it far from obvious what are those things the phrase "collective ownership of the means of production" could be leaving out.

At any rate, take your time. There is no rush. :-)

Another Anonymous

LFC said...

Hence, if I recall correctly, RPW's use of the analogy of transubstantiation in this connection: the bread is, for believers, both a piece of bread and the body of Christ. In a similar way, a commodity is, in Marx's view, both a physical thing and something beyond that. (I'll blame Another Anonymous, above, for making me go into all this.)

james wilson said...

“Is such cultivation of the land not sufficient to give rise to a claim of ownership”—so we’re back to John Locke, are we, whether we do it directly or via our "servants" (whom we have also somehow taken possession of)? But what is surely being ignored here is that different civilisational groups engage with nature, with the land (and the seas, I suppose) in different ways. So it may readily be imagined that group A, shall we call it, looks uncomprehendingly at group B’s way of life and tells itself, “they’re not using these resources, so we’ll move there an do our thing.” Group B then finds its way of life disrupted, even destroyed. And it resists as best it might. By the way, it’s not just whether Group A can and does apply different technology in its engagement with the rest of nature. It’s also whether certain parts of the rest of nature can be taken into private ownership—that notion too can encounter a group which has never imagined that the land, or the water, or the air can be privatised by purchase, another alien concept; and the attempt to privatise one or other of these will arouse resistance.

It’s a bit of a stretch, I know, but to my fevered imagination there lurks a link here to LFC’s concern with productive versus unproductive labour and various sorts of fetishism.

Anonymous said...

James Wilson,

And what, may I ask is wrong with John Locke?

And no, the Arabs whom the Zionist settlers employed to help cultivate the crops were not "servants." They were employees who paid for their labor. And the Zionists' cultivation of the land harmed no one. Since when does growing crops disrupt a civilization - and if it does, what kind of civilization could it be which would deserves our forbearance?

It never ceases to amaze me the contortions which the intelligentsia will twist themselves into in order to delegitimize Israel's right to exist - contortions reserved only for the Jews, but not applied to the Arabs, or any other culture, for that matter. There is a term for such selectivity - anti-Semitism. And please don't point out to me the irrelevant observation that Arabs are also Semites.

james wilson said...

Dear Anonymous, what is wrong with John Locke? Some would say lots even without going into the question of the constitution he helped write for one of the American colonies which upheld slavery. But that is bye the bye. I was actually trying to delegitimise the European take-over of the Americas.
Or to put it another way, to link colonialism with capitalism.

Anonymous said...

James Wilson,

Thank you for the clarification (which was not apparent from your comment).

To be clear, the Zionists never enslaved, neither before 1948, nor since.

james wilson said...

We're still, I fear, far from a meeting of the minds, Anonymous. I just don't understand your attempt to distinguish between servants and employees. I think going all the way back to Locke and long before him servants were employed, i.e., they received some recompense for their service. Even in some place down to the late 18th C. serfs were paid (see, e.g., studies of coal mining in Scotland). Coming down to the 19th and early 20th Cenuries, in Britain, certainly, servants in households were among the largest of the occupational categories. In our own day in the USA, the personal service category--cleaners, baby sitters, care takers, delivery people--all paid, but not nearly enough, and so also known in some circles as the precariat, has again become very large. But --when Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?--it still has to be explored how some became the (economic) masters/mistresses over others and how the labour of the servants/employees became the property of their masters/mistresses.

james wilson said...

Sorry, for this, but one final point wrt one of my previous:

Anonymous said...

james wilson,

I have enough on my plate regarding addressing issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without getting engulfed in the employer-employee-servant exploitation dispute.

However, I am somewhat perplexed by the following - how is an agricultural enterprise to get off the ground, if all of the participants are chefs, so to speak, and no one is willing to be a cook, so to speak. All are to share equally in the crop, or the proceeds from selling the crop? All simultaneously function as chefs and cooks? What if not everyone has the aptitudes necessary to be both chef and cook? Are such class distinctions unethical?

LFC said...

Another Anonymous @ 9:46 a.m.:

I guess it turns to some extent on how one defines "production" and hence "means of production," and these are perhaps more semantic than substantive points. So maybe we'll just agree to disagree here, and for the time being I'll leave it at that.

My point about the measurement of productivity was that intuitively it seems it might be more difficult to measure the output of services per hour than that of goods per hour, but I've been told that economists have dealt with this problem, at least well enough to make measurements of some kind.

aaall said...

Except that the first couple of centuries of European colonialism were pre-capitalist.

"Even an atheist such as myself, can respect the right of those who choose to believe in religious rituals which I do not routinely practice, have a right to their own country, where they can defend themselves from a world full of people who despise and scorn them, and where they do not have to depend on others to protect them."

Yet folks with distinct religious and cultural traditions like Jews and Tibetans have thrived in democracies in which they are full participants not despised and scorned dependents. The nineteenth century was loaded with idealistic and utopian ideas that haven't worked out well, among them herrinvolk and cultural/religious nationalism.

BTW, Israel has received cumulatively the largest amount of US economic and military aid (~$240B) and the success of the first war depended on arms from Europe. I'm not sure how nukes would be useful in circumstances lacking in massed armies.

Anonymous said...


I am sorry. I missed that your two comments (May 22, 2021 at 8:43 AM and May 22, 2021 at 9:47 AM) were meant as replies to me.

May I suggest you open your replies to me with something like "@Another Anonymous" or something similar? That would make it easier to notice them.

You write,

A commodity, as presented here, is both a physical, sensuous thing and "a thing which transcends sensuousness."

You see my point, surely?

Likewise, you write,

Hence, if I recall correctly, RPW's use of the analogy of transubstantiation in this connection: the bread is, for believers, both a piece of bread and the body of Christ. In a similar way, a commodity is, in Marx's view, both a physical thing and something beyond that. (I'll blame Another Anonymous, above, for making me go into all this.)

I take full responsibility! :-)

Wouldn't it be conceivable, however unlikely it may sound, that your perception of a problem is an artifact of RPW's use of the analogy and not of Marx's text?

This is a more general issue. Let's recap summarily RPW's argument on his understanding of Marx. You'll remember that the story begins when a group of brilliant mathematical economists built systems of linear equations (Marx, however, did not use more maths beyond a few numerical examples, and treated them with nothing beyond arithmetics: the four basic arithmetic operations "+", "-", "/", "*"). Analysis of the systems they had built allowed those economists conclude that--contrary to Marx--all commodities, not only labor power, could produce a surplus.

Puzzled by that result, RPW noticed that among the variables those economists had included, labor power was not present. Well, little wonder then that those systems the economists had devised produced results contradicting Marx's results. Makes sense?

Let me cut to the chase. There is an unstated assumption in this whole story: those systems--perhaps with the corrections RPW introduced--provide the best, most accurate, most faithful, interpretation of Marx's work.

Are we sure of that? Is anyone sure, RPW included, that the problems RPW finds Marx's theories are not the product of his interpreters, RPW included?


Back to intangible commodities. Here is a simple model where the commodity produced has no physical existence.

Like Marx's own examples, it uses no maths beyond arithmetics.

You'll notice as well that it produces a result RPW will appreciate--as it is one of those things, RPW says, Marx got wrong: that workers on higher pay exploit workers on lower pay.

Another Anonymous

Anonymous said...


Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries the U.S. has come to assist with their military, Israel has never asked the U.S. to fight its battles for them. Israelis have defended themselves.

Anonymous said...

@LFC (May 22, 2021 at 4:15 PM)

As Britney Spears said, Ooops! I did it again! :-)

I also missed that comment, even though you addressed it to me very visibly (thanks for that). I guess I was writing my reply when your comment came up.


To be sure, there are aggregation difficulties related to services, but, to the best of my knowledge they aren't qualitatively different to the difficulties goods present.

You see, for social accounting purposes, the conceptual difference between goods and services is, perhaps surprisingly, little.

Goods are divided into capital goods, durable goods (those useful for longer than 3 years: a house, a car, for those who can't afford a new car whenever whim strikes), non-durable (< 3 years) and services (things consumed upon production). According to that classification, disposable nappies and shirts and lunches and bread and visits to the dentist or online editions of The Washington Post are the same thing.

Another Anonymous

s. wallerstein said...

what about unpaid housework and unpaid childcare generally carried out by women?

where do they fit into the big picture about value? because they certainly create value.

LFC said...

@ Another Anonymous

There is no doubt an irony here somewhere, but I'm presently occupied w/ doing my taxes (a bit late, yes; well, there's no reason you should be expected to know about U.S. tax filing deadlines), which I mention by way of explaining why I can't fully address your comment.

I will, however, say a couple of brief things.

First, I'm not really interested in getting into a big argument about which parts of Marx's analysis are right and which parts are wrong, or whether -- as you appear to think -- his analysis is entirely correct. Nor am I really that interested in debating whether RPW's take on Marx is correct or not.

Second, in writing my comment @ 8:43 a.m., I had the section of Capital ch. 1 on commodity fetishism open in front of me (the Ben Fowkes translation). My reading is that, at least in that discussion, Marx does treat commodities as, in one respect, physical things; he says they're not only physical things, but they are physical things. They are sensuous (physical) things that transcend sensuousness: the wooden table, when it emerges as a commodity, not only "stands with its feet on the ground" but "stands on its head" -- but it does stand on the ground as a physical table while also "transcending" its physicality. At least, that's how I read it. I suppose there could be alternative readings. I would direct people who are interested to the opening of the section "The Fetishism of the Commodity and Its Secret," and people can make up their own minds.

Of course, there's a question whether anyone should really care about how Marx conceived of commodities, and at this point I don't have a great answer as to why anyone should.

But again, anyone interested in this perhaps arcane point should go to Marx's text and read his words and make up their own minds. (And then, if they're so inclined, they can consult the secondary sources. But this, from my perspective, is a question about the meaning of what Marx wrote, i.e., the meaning of the words he chose to use and what he intended to say. It's not about analogies or interpretations offered by Prof. Wolff or any other interpreter.)

LFC said...

@ Another Anonymous

The above is intended as a (partial) reply to your comment @ 5:02 p.m.

Anonymous said...

@s wallerstein

Absolutely. All those things certainly create use value (just like nature also creates use value). But they are not sold and, therefore, they have no market value, so their use value cannot be aggregated:

Gross domestic product (GDP) is a monetary measure of the market value of all the final goods and services produced in a specific time period.

In that, Marxist practice is exactly the same as that applied in GDP calculations by national statistic offices.

Another Anonymous

Anonymous said...


Believe it or not, I’m neither interested in debating Marx’s inerrancy — which every single Marxist, company excluded, supposedly defend with utmost zealotry — nor am I disputing RPW’s interpretation. If I gave you that impression, then my apologies. But I’d suggest you re-read my comment.

Beyond asking people if they are sure RPW’s interpretation is the best, most accurate, most faithful, interpretation of Marx’s work, did I write a single word defending Marx?

Is asking that question an attack on RPW’s interpretation?

I suppose I should apologise yet again for asking impertinent questions … particularly after you yourself invited a discussion of your comment — while you do your taxes — because it did not receive any attention with the Israel-Palestine conflict!

Talk about ironies.

Anonymous said...


By the way, you will find in this pdf file [*] the solutions to a problem set from a microeconomics theory course from USCS. The first example is a production function for widgets. Should one conclude from that that production functions do not apply to anything but widgets?


Anonymous said...

James Wilson,

I was a bit taken aback by your assertion that Locke supported the ownership of slaves as property and had a hand in drafting a state constitution (S. Carolina) which protected slavery rights.

So I did some digging and found that the proposition you advance is disputed by several historians, most recently by Prof. Brewer at the University of Maryland in her article in the American Historical Review (2017), “Slavery, Sovereignty and ‘Inheritable Blood’: Reconsidering John Locke and the Origins of American Slavery.” According to Prof. Brewer, Locke opposed slavery as much as he opposed hereditary nobility.

james wilson said...

Thankyou, Anonymous, for your reference. Whether or not Holly Brewer—whose main aim here seems to be to proclaim ‘it was the monarchy wot done it’— is engaging in apologetics, I leave it to others to make their own judgement [sorry, this long citation is the only one I came upon]:

I do, however, want to point out, first, that Brewer herself acknowledges that very reputable scholars have pointed to Locke’s problematical relationship to slavery. And second, following on Brewer’s own implicit suggestion that the temper of the times tends to favour one interpretive inclination over another—she points to the Cold War and the post-Cold War in relation to evaluations of Locke—it may surely be pondered whether, although 2017 is not so distant in calendar time, it is now so distant in American social time as to cause people to view Locke’s generally acknowledged links to slavery (for whatever reason) to be viewed again (?) much more negatively.

I hope those more immediately concerned with the politics of accumulation by dispossesion and other aspects of Marxism will forgive this detour.

F Lengyel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LFC said...

Next up (following the criticism of Rawls for failing to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict):

A critique of Wittgenstein because the Tractatus failed to prevent World War 2.

Danny said...

I haven't read the entire comments thread, though I imagine that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict still endures. Call this a failure of imagination?

Danny said...

I think of 'foreign military aid to Israel' as a distraction, not the issue.I take it to be true that almost all US aid to Israel is now in the form of military assistance, but since the 1960s the United States has been a very strong supporter of Israel. This, while holding off the hostility from other Middle Eastern nations, especially Syria and Iran. It seems obvious, whether we like this or not, that the relations are a very important factor in the United States government's overall policy in the Middle East. Congress has placed considerable importance on the maintenance of a close and supportive relationship. My impression, in case there is debate about this interpretation, is that bilateral relations have evolved from an initial US policy of sympathy and support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in 1948 to a partnership that links a small but powerful Israel with an American superpower trying to balance other competing interests in the region, including Russia's intentions. Others maintain that Israel is a strategic ally, and that US relations with Israel strengthen the US presence in the Middle East. At least it's true that Israel is one of the United States' two original major non-NATO allies in the Middle East. The US and Israel are engaged in extensive strategic, political and military cooperation. This cooperation is broad and includes American aid, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises. Questions remains, including, perhaps, simply, 'Why does the United States support Israel?' But it's not news.

LFC said...

Danny @11:22 pm

I completely fail to understand this comment. I suppose it could be me, or it could be the comment...

Danny said...

'My point about the measurement of productivity was that intuitively it seems it might be more difficult to measure the output of services per hour than that of goods per hour, but I've been told that economists have dealt with this problem, at least well enough to make measurements of some kind.'

--noting in response to this, that there is no way to make make the value of labor measurable and applicable to the individual enterprise. I offer this on behalf of econ 101.

Danny said...

'it seems it might be more difficult to measure the output of services per hour than that of goods per hour'

Perhaps, then, this comes back to productivity—output per unit of input—

Thus, of course, recently, output per hour in the sectors of the economy producing computers and telecommunications equipment has soared. The prices of these goods have plummeted, and tens of millions of American households now have high-speed computers and cellular telephones, reflecting some of the more dramatic improvements in our standard of living in recent decades.

And one might juxtapose the point that for example, if your bakery business buys flour and yeast, rents a shop and equipment, and pays for fuel, its contribution to GDP is not the sales price of the bread made, but the difference between gross revenues and purchased materials and services except hired labor.

There is what labor productivity measures. Labor productivity measures output per labor hour.

However, the value of a good is not determined by any inherent property of the good, nor by the amount of labor necessary to produce the good.

Value is determined by.. well, but I'm not making it up, I just want to hint that there is the modern version of this theory, which was created etc. And thus, by assuming that all trades between individuals are voluntary, it can be concluded that both parties to the trade subjectively perceive the goods, labour or money they receive, as being of higher value to the goods, labor or money they give away.

An intriguing point, then, is how one can create value simply by transferring ownership of a thing to someone who values it more highly, without necessarily modifying that thing.

Also, quite notoriously in the realms of econ 101, individuals will tend to obtain diminishing levels of satisfaction, or marginal utility from acquiring additional units of a good.

Danny said...

'I completely fail to understand this comment.'

which comment? My best guess is that 'I imagine that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict still endures', which is, at least, a comment. You fail to understand it? Do you understand 'still endures'?

Danny said...

I can try offering a different remark, maybe about what I myself fail to understand. It occurs to me that the Israel-Hamas conflict that ended with a ceasefire on Friday showed the Palestinian group’s ability to build an arsenal of home-made rockets largely with civilian materials and Iranian expertise.

Might I endorse this as 'anarchy'? I fail to undestand why not..

F Lengyel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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However...see this article...Genetic markers cannot determine Jewish descent.

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