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April 06, 2005

A Short Dialogue on the Labor Theory of Value

Glaukon: My adviser used to say that the LTV was like LSD in the '60s--it ruined a lot of good minds. I understand the temptation to get caught up in the scholastic arcana of the Labor Theory of Value: you feel like you just have to try a little bit harder and it'll all finally become clear.

Admetos: That's a great line--LTV is like LSD! May I quote it? Who is it from?

Glaukon: Actually, it's from me. My advisor used to say it about the micro-macro problem in socialogy. But LTV is a similar phenomenon.

Admetos: Ah. And it works better with LTV. Three-letter acronyms. Alliteration.

Thrasymakhos: So you took a witty and insightful saying of your own, and attributed it to your advisor because you wanted it to carry greater weight and did not care about your reputation for lapidary brilliance?

Glaukon: That's about right.

Thrasymakhos: Boy! You have a lot to learn.

Admetos: I think that at bottom the problem with LTV is the result of a flaw in our educational system. Our past lived experience gives us no idea what to do when confronted with a morass like the Labor Theory of Value. `The problem is that ever since we started grade school we had been set problems that have solutions: a little more brainpower and a little more skull sweat applied to a puzzle would always produce answers. We have done this for seventeen years and it has always worked. Then--in graduate school--we hit the LTV, and the transformation problem, and problems where more skull sweat doesn't help because they have no solution. And what do we do?

Glaukon: Well, as people who have for seventeen years lived the success of thinking harder, and as people who are convinced that this is not a fact about how the human-made educational system is organized but a fact about how the world works, we try to think harder and immerse ourselves deeper and deeper into the scholastic arcana...

Thrasymakhos: We don't do that. They do that. We wise up and finish our dissertations on topics not related to the Transformation Problem.

Glaukon: And what happens to them?

Admetos: We still see them here in Berkeley: the Hollow Men, pouring over the Grundrisse at coffeehouses. Unable to grasp the fact that nobody has found a satisfactory solution to the Transformation Problem in 150 years means that they are not going to find one either...

Thrasymakhos: You see them in coffeehouses: you're an economist. We see them in our classes...

Posted by DeLong at April 6, 2005 07:21 PM