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Erik Olin Wright
The Value Controversy and Social Research
Debates on the labour theory of value are usually waged at the most abstract levels of theoretical discourse. [*] Frequently these debates are preoccupied with questions of the appropriate methodological stance toward social analysis, epistemological disputes about what it means to ‘explain’ a social process, and mathematical arguments about the merits of competing ways of formally deriving certain categories from others. Rarely are the issues posed in terms of their implications for the concrete investigations of social life in which social scientists would engage. This will be the central theme of this essay: the implications of the labour theory of value and its critiques for empirical investigation. In order to keep the discussion as focused as possible, I will organize the analysis primarily around one central aspect of the labour theory of value—its account of the determination of profits in capitalist societies.  In some ways this is not the most basic issue within the debates over the labour theory of value, since analysis of the determinants of profits presupposes the debates over the relationship of embodied labour times (values) to prices of commodities. Nevertheless, since the analysis of profits plays such a central role in Marxist theory as a whole, and since it has particularly important immediate empirical implications, we will centre our discussion on this particular issue.
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