The economists have changed Marx, in various ways; the point is to interpret him ––correctly.
This book seeks to reclaim Marx’s Capital from the century-old myth of internal inconsistency. Since internally inconsistent arguments cannot possibly be right, efforts to return to and further develop Marx’s critique of political economy, in its original form, cannot succeed so long as this myth persists. The myth serves as the principal justification for the suppression and “correction” of Marx’s theories of value, profit, and economic crisis. It also facilitates the splintering of what was, originally, a political-economic-philosophical totality into a variety of mutually indifferent Marxian projects.
Logical considerations compel none of this. As this book shows, Marx’s theories need not be interpreted in a way that renders them internally inconsistent. An alternative interpretation developed during the last quarter-century––the temporal single-system interpretation (TSSI)––eliminates all of the apparent inconsistencies. The very existence of the TSSI carries with it two important consequences. First, the allegations of inconsistency are unproved. Second, they are implausible. When one interpretation makes the text make sense, while others fail to do so because they create avoidable inconsistencies within the text, it is not plausible that the latter interpretations are correct. Thus the charges of inconsistency, founded on these interpretations, are implausible as well.
None of this implies that Marx’s theoretical conclusions are necessarily correct. It does imply, however, that empirical investigation is needed in order to determine whether they are correct or not. There is no justification for disqualifying his theories a priori, on logical grounds.
In recent years, Marx’s critics have found it increasingly difficult to defend the allegations of inconsistency against the TSSI critique. Thus they generally try to avoid this issue altogether. Instead, they now prefer to debate the pros and cons of Marx’s work and of alternative approaches to Marxian economic analysis. In other contexts, these are of course important and interesting topics, but to discuss them here and now is to fall into a diversionary trap, at the very moment when correction of the record has become a real possibility. I will be glad to discuss these topics with Marx’s critics once the record has been set straight and they have done their part to help set it straight. This book, however, purposely refrains from offering a positive case for Marx’s ideas or for Marxian economic analysis informed by the TSSI.
Yet why should readers support the book’s effort to reclaim Capital if they are provided with no positive reasons for it? My answer is that this book seeks to reclaim Capital in a very specific sense; it seeks to show that the charges of inconsistency are unproved and implausible. If it succeeds in this task, then everyone who favors integrity in intellectual discourse and opposes suppression, whether or not they favor Marx’s ideas, will support the effort to set the record straight.
The personal journey that culminated in my writing of this book began twenty years ago, when I was studying economics at the University of Utah. Ted McGlone, a friend and fellow Ph.D. student studying for a comprehensive exam, asked me to explain why Marx’s account of the transformation of values into prices of production was internally inconsistent. He had listened to our professors’ explanations, but still didn’t understand what was wrong with Marx’s account. I faithfully repeated what he and I had been taught––“Marx forgot to transform the input prices.” McGlone asked why Marx needed to transform the input prices. I found that I could not satisfactorily explain why. So I urged him to just accept the fact––after all, everyone agreed that Marx had made an error, including Marxist economists such as our professors––and I noted that it didn’t make any difference, because the error had since been corrected.
“Ah, but I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now.”
McGlone persisted in his questioning during the next few weeks. My inability to defend the allegation of inconsistency persisted as well, finally impelling me to re-examine the primary source––Bortkiewicz’s (1952) proof of Marx’s internal inconsistency.  After some study, I detected what I thought might be an error. I sat down and, within an hour, produced a refutation of Bortkiewicz’s proof (see section 8.5 below). Over the next few days, McGlone and I, working out the implications of this refutation, discovered what came to be known as the TSSI––or rather, rediscovered it, since a few other researchers had independently discovered it some years earlier.
This proved to be a life-altering experience. It taught me to think for myself, to question authority and to demand rational demonstrations instead of relying on intuition. As I continued to explore the implications of the TSSI, I found that it also eliminates the other alleged inconsistencies in Marx’s theories, and that, contrary to what his critics claim, their “corrections” do not replicate his theoretical results by different means. I became even more convinced of the need to question authority and to demand that claims be demonstrated rationally.
Of course, many people who have encountered the internal inconsistency charges have lacked the background in mathematics and economics needed to evaluate the charges for themselves, or even to fully understand the issues. This problem has been aggravated––intentionally or not––by the excessively abstruse, jargon-filled, and mathematical manner in which Marx’s critics have typically presented their case. In light of these obstacles to understanding, many non-specialists have simply chosen to take the experts’ conclusions on faith. Others have turned their backs on debates that they experience as technical and trifling. Unfortunately, this latter response also allows the experts’ conclusions to go unchallenged.
For these reasons, I have put a great deal of effort into writing this book in as non-technical and non-mathematical a manner as I can. The result, I believe, is the most accessible full-length treatment of the controversy over Marx’s value theory to date, as well as the most accessible extended presentation of the TSSI. Chapters 2 and 3 contain some introductory material on Marx’s theory, different interpretations of it, and the history of the value theory controversy. I have used numerical examples instead of algebra whenever possible. In the very few places in which I have used algebra, the reader can “read around it,” or skip it. Even readers without any prior background or mathematics beyond arithmetic will be able to understand everything of importance if they are willing to read the book slowly and carefully.
1. Throughout this book, I cite the edition of the work I have used. In the bibliography, I also indicate the date when the work was first published (in the original language) and the years in which Marx’s unpublished manuscripts were written.