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Literatur zur Politischen Ökonomie
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Burns (02.1998): Rethinking the Law
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Rethinking the Law of the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall
This paper′s aim is to reconsider some recent debates over the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPF) in light of a careful reading of Capital. Such a careful reading of Capital reveals an abundance of knowledge about the dynamics of capitalism: its dynamism alongside its vulnerability and fragility. This knowledge from Capital has been collectively ′forgotten′ due, in part, to the recent resurgence of vulgar and neo-Ricardian economics within the left.

Within the debate over the TRPF, this collective ′forgetfulness′ manifests itself in the widely heralded Okishio theorem. Though many Marxists have engaged the rhetorical claims of the proponents of the Okishio theorem, they have often taken the position that Marx′s method is different from and therefore incompatible with the method of the vulgar and neo-Ricardian economists.

The vulgar and neo-Ricardian economists on the left typically reject such a position as rubbish. Many of them adopt an essentialist methodology which believes there is only one essential truth and therefore only one ′Theory′ that can capture that truth. Any talk of multiple methods or multiple theories is rejected outright. Furthermore, they argue that since logical inconsistencies are absent from the Okishio theorem, it must embody that ′True Theory.′

My view is opposed to these theoretical essentialists and I side with the Marxist claim that Marx′s methodology is different from that of vulgar and neo-Ricardian theorists; it therefore produces different truths. However, my understanding of Marx′s method compels me to do more than simply declare its theoretical difference. My understanding is that method places great importance on Marx′s concept of critique. I understand this concept of ′critique′ as moving beyond simply declaring methods and truths as different. The role for Marxist critique is to delineate those differences: to create a new truth from these different and disparate truths. The TRPF is clearly evident within Marx′s textual development of Capital. In contrast, the TRPF is absent from the literature advanced by the Okishio theorem′s proponents. The role of critique is not simply to state and restate one position against another; critique instead produces an understanding of the differences in those positions.

This paper is motivated by just this spirit of critique and so I organize this paper into three main parts. In the first, I try to restate some of the more important aspects of the TRPF developed by Marx. In the following two sections, I turn toward a critique of the Okishio theorem; toward understanding why the TRPF is absent from its position. Section three shows how the Okishio theorem carries such persuasive power due to ambiguities surrounding its viability condition. Its persuasive power derived mainly from several ambiguities that surround its terminology. Its method is primarily a method of persuasion through confusion. These ambiguities condense in the so-called viability condition which allows the theorem′s proponents to derive their results. The theorem′s proponents have rarely justified their use of the viability condition. Even when such rare justification does arise, it has only mired the theorem in further ambiguities. Section four then examines Marx′s most unique contribution to the debate over the TRPF. We see there how Marx′s introduction of fixed assets and capitalist competition through revolutionizing the means of production lead to another TRPF; this one arising from the contradictory influence of technological innovation.

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