Academic journal article Capital & Class

Replicating Marx: A Reply to Mohun

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Replicating Marx: A Reply to Mohun

Article excerpt

'Arbitrary' stands in opposition to 'Natural' only if one is attempting to designate the manner in which signs have been established.

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things


Kliman (2001) showed that 'simultaneist' interpretations--which hold that Marx valued inputs and outputs simultaneously--contradict Marx's exploitation theory of profit, while the temporal single-system interpretation (TSSI) conforms to it. Mohun (2003) calls these demonstrations into question; this note defends them. (1)

Mohun's is the first critique of the TSSI to address the interpretive controversy in a serious, methodical way. He accepts that the relative adequacy of exegetical interpretations, such as the temporalist and simultaneist accounts, can be evaluated only on the basis of a clear 'criterion of decidability'. (2) He employs what he calls the 'criterion of replication': 'An accurate textual interpretation is one which can, on the basis of (an interpretation of) the text's premises, derive (and hence replicate) its theoretical conclusions' (pp. 96-97).

This clear, rigorous test of interpretive adequacy follows from the standard hermeneutic tenet that interpretations need to understand the text as a coherent whole. Proposed by George Stigler, the test has been embraced by other leading historians of economic thought and by proponents of the TSSI (sec Kliman, 2002). Yet the value-theory controversy has remained unresolved for decades because the TSSI's critics refuse to embrace the test. Mohun's contribution shows that there is a way out of this impasse.

Mohun's defence of simultaneist interpretations

Kliman (2001) proved that Marx's profit theory is contradicted by all simultaneist interpretations--namely the standard (Bortkiewiczian) interpretation, the 'new interpretation' (NI), and the simultaneous single-system interpretations (SSSI). Employing their definitions of surplus labour and profit, he exhibited logically possible cases in which

(1) profit is positive though surplus labour is not, which shows that surplus labour is not necessary for profit;

(2) surplus labour is positive though profit is not, which shows that surplus labour is not sufficient for profit.

These results directly contradict three decades of claims that the so-called 'fundamental Marxian theorem' (FMT) proved that the standard interpretation implies that surplus labour is both necessary and sufficient for profit.

Mohun's challenge to Kliman's results is fatally incomplete. He merely questions whether the aggregate money price of the net product (PNP) can be negative. This has nothing to do with the question of necessity. Kliman proved--without assuming a negative PNP--that all simultaneist interpretations imply that surplus labour is unnecessary for profit. By failing to address these proofs, Mohun concedes point (1): that surplus labour is unnecessary for profit under all simultaneist interpretations.

Kliman also proved, again without assuming a negative PNP, that surplus labour is insufficient for profit under the standard interpretation. The negativity of the PNP is therefore relevant only to point (2)--sufficiency--and only with respect to the NI and SSSI. The only thing that Mohun actually defends, then, is the claim that surplus labour is sufficient for profit under the NI and SSSI. We now turn to that claim. (3)

The NI and SSSI imply that surplus labour and profit must have the same sign when the PNP is positive. Assume the moment that it is indeed always positive. Does this make surplus labour sufficient for profit? No. It is insufficient, because positive profit requires something more than surplus labour--namely a positive PNP.

If the net products of all goods were always positive, as most versions of the FMT assume, then the PNP, too, would always be positive. Crucially, Mohun concedes that this assumption is false: 'That there are some negative net products is undeniable' (p. …

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