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 Michael Kremer

Eric, about Marx I imagine that Wolff has something like this in mind:"Wages of Labour", from the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/wages.htm.

See the part that begins "Let us take the three chief conditions in which society can find itself and consider the situation of the worker in them..."

In point (2) of this section, Marx concludes that "even in the condition of society most favorable to the worker, the inevitable result for the worker is overwork and premature death, decline to a mere machine, a bond servant of capital, which piles up dangerously over and against him, more competition, and starvation or beggary for a section of the workers." He then goes on to argue that "Eventually, however, this state of growth must sooner or later reach its peak." A bit later he describes this as "a fully developed state of society." About this state he asks "What is the worker’s position now?" and answers by quoting Smith (with no mention of a famine here...):

“In a country which had acquired that full complement of riches both the wages of labour and the profits of stock would probably be very low [...] the competition for employment would necessarily be so great as to reduce the wages of labour to what was barely sufficient to keep up the number of labourers, and, the country being already fully peopled, that number could never be augmented.” [Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Vol. I, p. 84.]

Marx concludes sardonically: "The surplus would have to die."

So, here's an attempt at a charitable interpretation of Wolff on this point. He has the above in mind. What he means when he says a subsistence wage is the "natural" rate, is that it is the ("natural") end result of capitalist economics, in the sense not only of the rate that will in then be produced, but also in the sense of the rate that the system is (teleologically -- hence "natural") aiming at. Or to quote Marx once again...

"Thus in a declining state of society – increasing misery of the worker; in an advancing state – misery with complications; and in a fully developed state of society – static misery.

Since, however, according to Smith, a society is not happy, of which the greater part suffers – yet even the wealthiest state of society leads to this suffering of the majority – and since the economic system [7] (and in general a society based on private interest) leads to this wealthiest condition, it follows that the goal of the economic system is the unhappiness of society."

Eric Schliesser

But...Michael your reading relies on attributing an equivocation to Marx about the nature of the natural rate. In Smith -- and Marx understands this fully in the passages you cite [he uses the 'natural price' in the correct Smithian sense including gravitational metaphor] -- the natural rate is not the end-state rate.

It is true that Marx uncharitably uses Smith's very distant possibility (distant in time for the UK; perhaps present in China) against Smith. (I say "uncharitably" because I think that for Smith the end-state is merely institutional-relative, and can be prevented under the right institutional regime, but my reading is controversial.) It is not uncharitable in so far as Smith (and any classical economist) agrees that the population is regulated by famines and worse.

Second, you fail to recognize that your final paragraph basically recapitulates the part after where I said 'to simplify.'

 Michael Kremer

Eric: For the most part, fair enough. Just to say: I wasn't attributing that use of "natural rate" to Marx, but trying to explain what Wolff might have had in mind...

But I don't get how my final paragraph is the same as what you say after "to simplify." What you say has to do with what Smith thinks happens in times of economic growth. I was quoting from Marx to make a point about teleology -- that the suffering of the majority is the "goal of the economic system." Did you mention that in your last paragraph?

I don't think we are far apart, again I was mainly trying to see what Wolff might have meant...

Eric Schliesser

Ah, now I see what you think I missed about Marx, Michael. It's true that in my post I did not emphasize Marx's teleological thinking and that while I present Smith & Marx as having a (an almost) largely empirical disagreement (from shared premises), it is indeed also possible to think of them as having different conceptions of the final cause of capitalism/commercial society.

Enzo Rossi

It's a very London-Oxbridge list. Cohen was brilliant and influential, sure, but his presence in that list would look extremely controversial to anyone not from that ecosystem, where a striking amount of the most desirable jobs are occupied by Cohen disciples, or disciples of disciples.

Tim Crane

Interesting post Eric. However, I really don't think Jo is trying to show any 'pride' when saying he hadn't read those parts of Leviathan; it's just his self-effacing unpretentious style. I appreciate this might not come across in an interview on a webpage.

I'd like to know why you think analytic philosophers don't take rhetoric seriously: surely it would be easy write a rhetoric handbook for articles in analytic philosophy! ('In section 1, I will...'; the appeal to authority, the summing up of what has been achieved etc.)

Jo Wolff

Many thanks Eric for this discussion (and for alerting me to it). The attention has taken me by surprise as it was a short, unrehearsed interview for what I thought was an obscure website, transcribed verbatim with only the lightest editing for grammar etc, and so I hope I can be forgiven for the occasional failure of memory under these circumstances.

Choosing five books that have shaped the field is quite a challenge, and I did think of including Nussbaum, Sen and Iris Marion Young, all of whom have been more influential on my recent work than those I do mention. But I thought, in the end, it is the dead white males that have most shaped the field in which we collectively work, in Philosophy departments anyway, like it or not.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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