Marx and Non-Equilibrium Economics

By Mavroudeas, Stavros | Capital & Class, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview
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Marx and Non-Equilibrium Economics


Mavroudeas, Stavros, Capital & Class


Marx and Non-equilibrium Economics

Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK & Brookfield, US, 1996, pp.336.

ISBN 1-85898-268-5 (hbk) L49.95

Reviewed by Stavros Mavroudeas

During the recent years there has been a remarkable rejuvenation of debates on Marxist Value theory. This volume contributes to this trend. It contains eleven essays on a wide range of issues, but which can be grouped around two major themes: 1 ) a critique of the equilibrium methodology in economic analysis in general and in Value theory in particular and, 2) a novel approach to the so-called transformation problem, branded Temporary Single System (TSS) by its adherents. The first theme represents a broader aspect with contributions not necessarily espousing the TSS project. Papers like those of M. Naples and A. Saad-Filho belong to this area. The second theme extends the critique of the equilibrium methodology to a particular approach to the transformation of values to prices and is covered in the contributions of G. Carchedi, A. Freeman, P. Giussani, T. McGlone, W. de Haan, A. Kliman, A. Ramos and A. Rodriguez.

Of the two contributions not belonging to the TSS approach, Michelle Naple's essay focuses upon three main issues. The first issue is a well-documented critique of the equilibrium methodology of orthodox economics which is extended to the Sraffian Surplus School. However, the alternative route proposed appears neither complete nor sound. By introducing a peculiar reading of Althusser's notion of overdetermination the essential relations of determination between value and price almost disappear. Naples then maintains that `the relationship between values and prices of production is mediated by the phenomenon of nominal price' (p.103). This thesis is highly controversial since the classical understanding of Marx derives market values and market prices from values and prices of production at a lower level of abstraction. The Marxian dialectics-in contrast with Ricardo's `violent abstractions'-theorise feedback relations between determining and determined elements but at clearly distinguished levels of abstraction. Naples' second issue refers to Marx's theory of money. Building upon her previous conception of disequilibrium and the relationship between values and prices of production, she argues that money is a sine qua non intermediator as a unit of account. Nominal changes (e.g. inflation) can arise because of this intermediation. Furthermore, for Naples conventional money-of-account rather than gold (i.e. commodity-money) was Marx's unit of account (p.106). This is also a highly debatable proposition and Naples fails to provide convincing textual evidence.

Alfredo Saad-Filho's contribution is a thoughtful appraisal of the `New Solution' to the transformation problem. Firstly, he provides an accurate and intuitive analysis of the transformation problem and the errors of the Sraffian approach. This is followed by a well-written exposition of the `New Solution'. But the main contribution of the paper is the following critique of the `New Solution'. Saad-Filho leaves aside the well-known problems of its net product perspective and concentrates upon `New Solution's' two other pillars: the value of money and the value of labour-power. Although he praises the introduction of the concept of `value of money' Saad-Filho argues that it entails significant problems. The absence of explicit reference to the money commodity allows-contrary to Marx-for unequal exchange and leads to a circulation-based view of price (p. 128). Additionally, the attempt to address the level of appearances from the start creates considerable methodological and analytical problems (p. 128). It could further be said in this context that the `New Solution' explicitly rejects the commodity-- derivation of money and assumes a credit-- money state-generated exogenously and determined via a `black box' class-struggle. With regard to the `New Solution's' definition of the value of labour power, Saad-Filho accurately points out that it departs from Marx's own definition and it leads to a circulation-based conception of the wage which is highly problematic since it undermines class-struggle in production (pp.

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