This introductory paper examine the discussion among Marxists about the rate of profit. It employs the method of symptomatic reading – attempting to present what the protagonists are really trying to say – and in this way differs from the adversarial method that has become standard.
I begin from the fact that Marx, and his critics, draw diametrically opposite conclusions from the same premises – continuously rising productivity as a defining element of accumulation. I ask what are the presuppositions and necessary conclusions of the two opposed interpretations, with the aim of laying bare the logical world-view which underlies them.
I show that the opposed conclusions which are drawn by scholars from the two main paradigms arise not from errors of logic but from their opposed value concepts. My aim is, without presupposing which is right, to investigate what each concept actually is.
This paper is non-mathematical but contains many numerical examples and a detailed textual exegesis.
It is a good starting point for the new student of temporal approaches to value and their difference from the simultaneist (equilibrium) standpoint. It contains a more or less complete non-mathematical exposition of the temporal calculation of the profit rate, and demonstrates that the simultaneist approach leads to the creation of value without labour. This paper was presented at the International Symposium on ‘Debates on value theory Since Marx’, Greenwich, July 2000.