Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Marxologiosity of TSSI

Lately, I have been delving into the debate on the supposed logical consistency of Andrew Kliman's Temporal Single-System Interpretation of Marxian Economics (see here). After reviewing the relevant literature, I am of the disposition to suggest that the supposed solution to Marx's problem of perceived incoherence in Das Kapital is indeted suspect (see here). More generally, I am a bit perturbed by the way in which TSSI advocators, in particular Kliman, promote the approach with such religiosity. For an outstanding refutation of TSSI, see Gary Mongiovi's Vulgar Economy in Marxian Garb (subscription required):
"Although Marx did make a number of errors in elaborating his theory of value and the profit rate, these missteps do not undermine his larger scientific project. Far greater damage has been inflicted by his would-be Temporal Single System defenders, who camouflage Marx's errors by detaching him from his Ricardian roots; in the process they redefine value in a way that trivializes its function in Marx's system."


  1. What do you mean when you say "it ensues unnecessary divisiveness on the Left?" Does 'the Left' need to be united under one view? What is the worth of unity except as a means of bulking up the Left's numbers? Isn't divisiveness part and parcel of the Left?

    I think claiming Kliman approaches the matter religiously is a cop-out -- it doesn't actually deal with the substance of the debate. Certainly there is something to be said about how (I quote someone on FB, can't remember who) "he is the worst proponent for his own ideas." If only debate could be carried out by robots without complex psyches.

    1. No, I mean to the point that any one who disagrees with Kliman's tssi approach is considered by him to be part of some petty bourgeois attack on Marxism, which is absurd!

    2. Yes it is. I say nothing of the sort.

  2. I discussed this with David Fields recently on Facebook. My comment is below (in parts, because I'm not permitted more than 4096 characters in one comment). He hasn't responded to my questions to him (Can you defend it more successfully than Mongiovi did? In particular, can you answer our argument that the physicalist-simultaneist interpretation of Marx should be rejected as exegetically inadequate, since it makes the text incoherent (internally inconsistent)?). Nor, to the best of my knowledge, has Mongiovi responded to the point that he assumes what he needs to prove (or anything else).


    I have replied to all of the Mongoivi article, here and there, in _Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A refutation of the myth of inconsistency_. Look in the index under Mongiovi. It’s an atrociously bad article.

    Take the point that you seem to regard as important, David: the TSSI “detach[es] Marx from his Ricardian roots.” This presupposes that Marx had Ricardian roots--in the specific sense alleged by Sraffianism. MONGIOVI’S ARTICLE MAKES NO ARGUMENT IN SUPPORT OF THAT CLAIM AT ALL. It merely repeats the claim, but carefully AVOIDS evaluating the textual evidence as to whether the claim is true. Above all, it avoids engaging our argument that the physicalist-simultaneist interpretation of Marx should be rejected as exegetically inadequate, since it fails to make the text cohere and indeed makes it incoherent (internally inconsistent).

    What’s at issue here—in the case of the presupposition embedded in Mongiovi’s claim that the TSSI “detach[es] Marx from his Ricardian roots”-- is what's true about what Marx wrote. What's true in the real world is not at issue here. I cheerfully admit that I’m emphasizing something that is not about “science” in a direct sense. It’s about COMBATTING AN IDEOLOGICAL ATTACK ON MARX’S BODY OF IDEAS, the unsubstantiated and false allegation that his value theory is internally inconsistent.

    Mongiovi is unable to defend that allegation, so he changes the subject. As I noted on pp. 167-8 of _Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”_,

    ‘Mongiovi diverts attention away from the failure of Marx’s critics to prove internal inconsistency in much the same way. Noting that proponents of the TSSI hold that “Marx’s work should be debated on the basis of an interpretation that attributes coherence to his arguments,” he responds: “The mere absence of arithmetical error does not render a model coherent, in the sense of providing a meaningful set of propositions about what the world is like” (Mongiovi 2002: 413). Of course not––but the mere absence of arithmetic error does indeed acquit Marx of the century-old charge of arithmetic error (i.e., of the charge that his aggregate equalities do not hold true).

    ‘Mongiovi substitutes one sense of the word “coherent” (meaningful) for another (internally consistent) in order to divert attention from the question of internal inconsistency. “Arithmetic error” is the overriding issue in the transformation controversy, and not because proponents of the TSSI say so, but because Marx’s simultaneist critics have made it the overriding issue for a full century. Why has this suddenly become an issue that Mongiovi no longer wishes to discuss?

  3. Continuing:

    ‘What he supposedly wishes to discuss instead are “meaningful . . . propositions about what the world is like.” Yet Mongiovi’s paper is diversionary in this respect, too, since it completely ignores the fact that Marx’s theory arrives at anti-physicalist results, in case after case, when understood in accordance with the TSSI. This diversion is what allows Mongiovi to claim that it is meaningless. For instance, as we have seen, a key conclusion of Marx’s account of the value-price transformation––the aggregate price rate of profit is determined by and equal to the value rate––is crucial to his conclusion that labor-saving technological change can cause the real-world rate of profit to fall. But since Mongiovi avoids any discussion of the LTFRP, and since he ignores the other important implications of the aggregate value-price equalities as well, he turns them into purely mathematical results. When the meaningful propositions that flow from Marx’s value theory are ignored, it does of course become meaningless.’

    David, you too have now claimed that the TSSI “detach[es] Marx from his Ricardian roots,” which presupposes that Marx had Ricardian roots--in the specific sense alleged by Sraffianism. This is an EXEGETICAL claim. Can you defend it more successfully than Mongiovi did? In particular, can you answer our argument that the physicalist-simultaneist interpretation of Marx should be rejected as exegetically inadequate, since it makes the text incoherent (internally inconsistent)?

    You write, “In my view, Marx does accept a long-run equilibrum position so as to emphasize a historically-specific social average, in a way similar to a classical-Keyneisan/Sraffian theory of long-period effective demand.” Everyone is entitled to their view. But in the absence of sufficient support, they’re not entitled to claim that their view is correct. There is NO valid evidence that Marx’s prices of production or general rate of profit are *static equilibrium* magnitudes based on an equality of input and output prices. Alan Freeman has discussed this a lot. I have as well, on pp. 91-4 of in _Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A refutation of the myth of inconsistency_.

    On Mongiovi’s concern, or lack of concern, for the truth in a closely related manner, please see

    including the statement by Victoria Chick that follows the article:

    “Lies usually go unpunished in economics, so it is heartening to see that MHI is gathering support for retraction of Sinha’s review –– an action which I strongly support. But I wonder whether the action should go further? It is extraordinary that Mongiovi disclaims any responsibility for the accuracy of what he is responsible for printing. If true, he should be removed from his editorship even if the review is retracted.
    –– Victoria Chick, Emeritus Professor of Economics, University College London, United Kingdom”

    1. Hi Andrew:

      You're suggestions about Gary Mongiovi are preposterous. He clearly has a concern with truth and I would appreciate if you could maintain civility with people that disagree with your views.

      His views echo those of all Sraffians, and a similar critique of your views are presented by Fabio Petri in a more recent paper here http://www.econ-pol.unisi.it/quaderni/643.pdf. At any rate, the main point, I think, is related to the lack of understanding of the algebraic problems of the labor theory of value.

      Marx suggested that the labor theory of value, if applied to the economy as a whole, provides the correct rate of profit, even if it is incorrect as a determinant of long-term relative prices. However, as we know now, one cannot assume that the aggregate ratio of profits to the means of production are the corresponds to situation in which commodities are exchanged at labor values.

      Further, the abandoning of the long-term equilibrium methodology, which is well known (Garegnani, 1976) to be a recent phenomenon, actually brings TSSI closer to mainstream Walrasian approached than to the surplus approach tradition.

      On whether Marx had Ricardian (meaning surplus approach) credentials, neither David nor Gary, must give a defense. It is well established. By the way, one needs only to read Marx's Theories of Surplus Value, where he notes that the common element of the surplus approach is that the real wage is exogenous, to understand that while critical he worked within the surplus tradition.

      I do believe that the differences between TSSI and the surplus tradition that Sraffians try to develop are insurmountable, and in my view TSSI is too close to marginalist methodologies. However, I do appreciate that as Marxist (even if from my perspective a marginalist-Marxist) you do have social preoccupations that are not necessarily the same as neoliberal economists. This suggests that perhaps in other areas, related to economic policy, if not theory, a more fruitful dialogue could take place.



    2. I’ll just deal with two issues now, and address the others later.

      First, the TSSI is an exegetical interpretation of the quantitative dimension of Marx’s value theory. As such, it is to be assessed solely on the basis of how well it succeeds in making the texts make sense (by eliminating apparent internal inconsistencies, etc.) It is not a theory or “approach” in its own right, and cannot properly be assessed as such. Things like “TSSI is too close to marginalist methodologies” and “the abandoning of the long-term equilibrium methodology …. actually brings TSSI closer to mainstream Walrasian approached than to the surplus approach tradition” don’t mean anything once this is understood.

      I’ll be happy to discuss why it often *seems* not to be understood, particularly by Marxian and Sraffian economists.

      Second, you write, “On whether Marx had Ricardian (meaning surplus approach) credentials, neither David nor Gary, must give a defense. It is well established.”

      OF COURSE they must give a defense. For one thing, it isn’t established at all, but argued only by the Sraffians and fellow travelers. For instance, Mark Blaug, a very serious historian of economics, argued that Sraffians have not “given us a historically compelling reconstruction”:

      “The Sraffian interpretation is just another ‘Whig interpretation of history.’ We assume that perfect truth is found in [Sraffa’s (1960)] Production of Commodities, and then we read backward, finding Sraffa in much of Ricardo and Marx …. I will not go so far as to say that the Sraffian reading is a historical travesty, but it … [does] commit the … sin of literally manufacturing a historical pedigree for neo-Ricardian linear production theory.”
      (Blaug, 1999. Misunderstanding Classical Economics: The Sraffian interpretation of the surplus approach, History of Political Economy 31:2, pp. 215-6)

      For another thing, the TSSI challenges the view that Marx was a flawed precursor of Sraffianism. It shows that Marx’s value theory can be interpreted in a manner that eliminates the apparent inconsistencies in it. When it is understood in a manner that renders his theory consistent, he emerges as very different from Sraffianism.

      Mongiovi recognizes this. What he writes in response (p. 394) is “Marx’s value analysis does contain errors.” This is an allegation that the TSSI fails to eliminate the alleged error. BUT HIS PAPER OFFERS NO SUPPORT FOR THIS ALLEGATION. Check the paper; you won't find any. Yet the case that Marx was a flawed precursor of Sraffianism stands or falls on this unsupported allegation, as Mongiovi makes clear at the top of p. 395.

      The notion that these people can assert whatever they want without having to defend it against counterevidence is unscientific and dogmatic.

    3. Good lord. Such a terrible confusion. Nothing dogmatic Andrew. The fact is that it's well established that Marx has Ricardian roots, even though he is critical of Ricardo, is based on a huge amount of research. Garegnani is the main author on this, and the point is that one does not need to reinvent the wheel every time. I'll post some of his references later.

      It's a pity you didn't take the time to reflect on how unfair you've been to Gary. At any rate, on the substantive issues, as I said I think we will have to agree to disagree.

  4. David Fields has linked to a paper by Mohun and Veneziani without also providing URLs to contributions to the controversy from our side. Given Mohun and Veneziani's pattern of mistrepresentations and mathematical errrs, this is regrettable.

    Here are some of our contributions to the debate:

    "The Truthiness of Veneziani's Critique of Marx and the TSSI" http://nongae1.gsnu.ac.kr/~issmarx/html/TheTruthiness.pdf

    "“Simultaneous valuation versus the exploitation theory of profit: A summing up.” Capital and Class 94, 107-118. http://www.cseweb.org.uk/back.shtml

    "No Longer a Question of Truth?: The Knell of Scientific Bourgeois Marxian Economics and a Positive Alternative" http://nongae1.gsnu.ac.kr/~issmarx/html/eng15_NoLongerQuestionofTruth.pdf

  5. Isn't the cornerstone of TSSI saying that: A commodity goes into production but its value is greater when it leaves?
    Therefore output price is higher than input price

  6. Greetings, Matias.

    "Religiosity" can be said to denote lack of concern for truth and preference for dogma.

    Take care.

    Vassilis Serafimakis

    1. Hi Vassilis:
      I would say that Religiosity means a certain type of sociological relation to truth, based on faith rather than logic and evidence (as in science), but not lack of concern with truth. I think that is the sense in which David used it. Not a direct attack on TSSI suggesting that they're dishonest, as what Andrew Kliman clearly implied with respect to Gary. Best,

  7. Thank you, Matías, but I'll beg to differ, though only for one more post - this one. Even though neither of us can know what exactly was David Fields' "sense" of the words he used, Kliman wrote about "lack of concern for truth": This does not necessarily mean "dishonesty". It can denote, for example, a cavalier attitude towards scientific truth.

    As to Religiosity, forgive me if what I know about religions tells me otherwise. Religion explicitly rejects any and all truths, no matter how robustly proven by Science, if they go against the Word of God. Take Christianity. A truly religious person believes all the dogmas about the Holy Trinity "without searching". (Quaestiones ad Antiochum)

    Take care.

    Vassilis Serafimakis

    1. Matias correctly explicated my usage of the word religiosity. The intention of the comment was to shed light on the overzealousness of TSSI advocation, in particular by Kliman, which, in the final instance, amounts to an excessive devotion to what I see as a blind faith that does not measure up to logic and empirical evidence.

    2. Yep I think you are simply wrong on this. Truth is revealed in religion not obtained by logical analysis and evidence (of course some of the fathers of the church did try to use rational thought to prove the existence of God, ultimately to fail miserably; Robert Paul Wolff has posted recently on the subject). And I do know religious people that do believe piously that they know the truth, even if I disagree.

      Finally, I clearly think Andrew suggested that the lack of concern is malicious, and hence dishonest.


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