Moseley’s Method of Debate: a comment from a Belgian Marxist youth

 
by Roel van de Pol
 

For some time, I have been posting comments in With Sober Senses on the debate between Fred Moseley and Andrew Kliman around Moseley’s interpretation of Marx’s value theory.[1] Before continuing to participate in this debate, I would like to draw attention to the tactics that Moseley has recently been employing. It is important that observers and participants should notice the problems they present.

Ever since the start of the debate, Moseley has been arguing that his macro-monetary rate of surplus-value remains constant in the case of technological change in luxury goods industries, because they are not wage goods. Since the appearance of Kliman’s Part 12 alone, Moseley has defended this position no less than 6 times, in his replies on November 24th, December 12th and 22nd, and January 6th, 9th, and 11th.[2]

In all of these contributions, it has been one of Moseley’s central arguments in trying to fend off Kliman’s criticisms: when Kliman demonstrated that Moseley’s economy-wide rate of profit does not change in the case of labor-saving technological change in luxury goods industries, but rather that his rate of surplus-value does, Moseley would respond that this criticism does not apply to his theory because it assumes that the rate of surplus value remains constant in such a case. He would argue that “Kliman’s *rate of surplus-value* is derived in the opposite way from Marx’s theory,” and even that “Kliman’s original argument … is clearly contrary to Marx’s theory and his explicit statements. I don’t think there can be any doubt about that.” When I argued that Moseley’s constant rate of surplus-value for this case is an arbitrary stipulation in his macro-monetary theory, he would respond that it is “a straight-forward and widely-recognized conclusion of Marx’s theory of relative surplus-value.” When Kliman demonstrated that a constant rate of surplus-value in this case means that Moseley’s input-output (I/O) coefficients in basic industries have to change in order for the economy-wide rate of profit to change, Moseley would even go so far as to contend that this means that the physical quantities Kliman derived from his macro-monetary data are not real.

On December 31st, Kliman confronted Moseley with a solid logical proof that “there are no cases in which, given Moseley’s interpretation, input-output coefficients of the basic sector remain unchanged when the economy-wide C/V changes while the economy-wide S/V remains constant.” After choosing to ignore this proof in his three consequent contributions (!) and continuing to defend the position that his rate of surplus-value remains constant, on January 17th Moseley finally conceded, albeit in a somewhat cryptic way, that the proof simply holds. In other words, what Kliman has been arguing all along––long before he produced his logical proof––has now been admitted by Moseley to be correct:

  • First, Moseley’s economy-wide rate of profit cannot change unless there is a change in the rate of surplus-value or in the I/O coefficients in basic industries.

  • Second and more importantly, Moseley’s macro-monetary data are redundant for his theory in the same way value is redundant to physicalists, since I/O coefficients and the real wage rate are sufficient to determine the rate of profit. Moseley’s results and the physicalists’ results are quantitatively equal.

Moseley has avoided the latter conclusion for a while, arguing that “Kliman’s” I/O coefficients are somehow not real, but he can now no longer defend this. In normal circumstances, this should be sufficient to settle the entire debate, or at least its central question.

But that is not what has happened. Instead, Moseley has swiftly and completely changed his entire line of argumentation. Since it can no longer be seriously argued that his rate of surplus-value remains constant in the case of a change in the economy-wide rate of profit when there is technological change only in luxury goods industries, Moseley abandoned this line of defense that has been so central to his position. On the basis of the fact that Marx allowed for “subsidiary movements” to occur (see Moseley’s reply of January 17th), he now argues that it just does not matter whether the rate of surplus-value remains unchanged.

But for Moseley, the order of presentation (which he mistakenly presents as the order of determination, but that is another discussion) has been all-important before. For example, central to his view is (or rather: was) that “the rate of surplus-value is determined first … then the rate of profit is determined … by the rate of surplus-value and the composition of capital.” With his contribution of January 23rd, however, this has been completely turned around: “Therefore the increase in the real wage [which causes the change in the rate of surplus-value] in this case is an EFFECT of ↓R [the fall in the rate of profit], not a cause.” Suddenly, the rate of surplus-value is no longer a determinant of the rate of profit, but the other way around! This seems to imply that for Moseley, “his logic” means whatever allows him to defend his position. This can hardly be considered a scholarly method.

It should be observed that these tactics make it nearly impossible to build sound argumentation for a productive debate with Moseley. When the goalposts are constantly shifting, no point can really be made. Moseley’s evasions are accompanied by confusion he has been causing about the equality of his input and output unit prices (see my contribution of January 8th, Moseley’s reply of January 9th, and my subsequent comment of January 12th) since a certain point in the debate. And then there is his misleading misrepresentation of certain of his opponents’ arguments (see Kliman’s contribution of January 23rd, and earlier): not only has Moseley so far refused to retract these misrepresentations, he has blatantly ignored any reference to or question about them. All these questionable tactics should at least put observers and participants on their guards.
 

Roel Van de Pol is a member of Comac, the student movement of the Workers’ Party of Belgium (www.wpb.be).
 
[Editor’s Note: This is the revised, January 30, 2017 version of the article. In the original January 29 version, the sentence following “Moseley has swiftly and completely changed his entire line of argumentation” began: “Since it can no longer be seriously argued that his rate of surplus-value remains unchanged in the case of technological change in luxury goods industries.”]


[1] See the various parts (13 thus far) of Kliman’s “All Value-Form, No Value-Substance,” published in the “Miscellaneous” section of With Sober Senses, and the contributions in the comment threads that follow many of the parts.

[2] These comments, and all comments referred to below, appear in the comments section that follows Part 12 of Kliman’s “All Value-Form, No Value-Substance.”

Comments

2 Comments on "Moseley’s Method of Debate: a comment from a Belgian Marxist youth"

  1. Andrew Kliman on Sun, 29th Jan 2017 8:08 pm 

    This is an important and welcome behavioral critique.

  2. Fred Moseley on Sun, 5th Feb 2017 9:53 am 

    As I have explained several times, the reason my argument changed is that in the beginning I was following Marx’s assumption that prices = values. On the basis of this assumption, labor-saving technological change in luxury industries does not affect the rate of surplus-value.

    However, as the discussion evolved, I realized, thanks to Kliman, that Marx’s analysis should be extended to prices = prices of production. And that extension of the analysis is more complicated. Labor-saving technological change in luxury industries usually does affect the rate of surplus-value (but not always) because the initial ↓R cheapens wages goods which puts downward pressure on the price of labor power.

    This is not “changing the goal posts”. This is learning from the discussion and acknowledging the limits of Marx’s simplified analysis (prices = values) and extending Marx’s analysis to take into account prices of production and the counter-effects due to the initial ↓R.

    Roel said:
    “Suddenly the rate of surplus-value is no longer a determinant of the rate of profit, but the other way around.”

    This is not true. The rate of surplus-value is still a determinant of the rate of profit (see step #4 in my logic below), but the rate of surplus-value is also itself affected by the initial ↓R, which cheapens wages goods, etc.

    The misrepresentation that I am accused of is my response to a criticism of my interpretation of Marx’s theory (my “arbitrary condition” of a constant rate of surplus-value) with textual evidence to support my interpretation. Andrew and Roel responded that this was a misrepresentation because their criticism was not about Marx’s theory, but rather about my interpretation, as illustrated by Andrew’s Excel exercise, which is different from Marx’s theory.

    This “misrepresentation” was not intentional because at the time I was not aware of the difference between Marx’s analysis which assumed prices = values and Andrew’s illustration of my interpretation in his Excel exercise which assumed prices = prices of production. Marx did indeed assume constant rate of surplus-value (i.e. technological change in luxury goods industries did not affect the rate of surplus-value), but his analysis needs to be extended to prices of production, which I have done and in which the rate of surplus-value probably does not remain constant.

    I realize that difference now and have responded in detail to Andrew’s and Roel’s criticism, and I am glad that we have clarified this difference. Actually, their criticism also applies to Marx, in the sense that his abstract analysis of the effects of technological change in luxury goods industries assumed prices = values and needs to be extended to prices = prices of production.

    With respect to the issue of unit prices, Roel stated that I first claimed that unit input prices ≠ unit output prices and he quoted as evidence my statement that “equilibrium conditions are in terms of total prices, not unit prices”. But this statement does not say that unit input prices ≠ unit output prices. What the statement meant was that in the Bortkiewicz-Sweezy type tables of simple reproduction that I had been discussing (including Kliman and McClone’s tables), the equilibrium conditions are in terms of total prices, not unit prices. I didn’t say that unit input prices ≠ unit output prices; I just said that equilibrium conditions in terms of unit prices are not necessary in these tables.

    I later acknowledged that if simple reproduction is not assumed, then the equilibrium conditions are in terms of unit prices rather than total prices. But I never said to begin with that unit input prices ≠ unit output prices.

    But the real issue, which still remains, is whether my interpretation requires knowledge of unit prices in order to take quantities of money capital as given. I will come back to this issue in further comments on Kliman’s Part 13.







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