The annual Eastern Economic Association meetings ended yesterday in New York. On Saturday a session on Marx's transformation problem drew an audience of roughly 70 people, with talks by Anwar Shaikh and Duncan Foley, both of the New School, Fred Moseley of Mount Holyoke, with comments by David Laibman, formerly of Brooklyn College and longtime editor of Science and Society, the longest running (since the 30s) scholarly Marxist journal in the US. Besides the unexpectedly large crowd, there was news.
One piece of news coming from Moseley is that Karl Marx is about to have a fresh publication in the English language, his original manuscript for Volume III of Capital, which was only published in German in the 1990s. I think it is coming from Routledge and has an introduction by Fred. This is the volume in which the famous transformation problem from labor values to market prices first appeared, with many arguing that it was his inability to resolve this that kept Marx from publishing it in his lifetime, with the version posthumously published being edited by Friedrich Engels. According to Moseley, most of the changes involve ordering of topics, but apparently Engels left some things out, incluidng at least one tableau. It is not clear this new edition will resolve the transformation problem, although Fred, who has a new book on the subject himself coming out, thinks that it is solvable as a matter of definition. As it is, perhaps this new publication will help Marx hold his lead as the all time most cited economist according to Google Scholar (which notes that he does not have an available email address) at 208,688, still ahead of Andrei Shleifer at 196,355,
Both Shaikh, who also has a book coming out on the subject, in his case from Oxford University Press, and Foley, do not seem to think the problem is so easily resolved, but that one must look at the role of money and monetary prices and accounts. Shaikh seems to think that looking at financial transfers is the way to get at the problem through complicated financial system by tracking the distribution of the surplus values. Foley emphasized the role of labor mobility in his remarks, as well as economies of scale, not the usual thrust, but also working through the monetary system.
Laibman seemed unhappy with all of them as well as with the temporal sequence system approach put forward some years ago by Ernst, Kliman, McGlone, Freeman, and others (not represented among the speakers), which he described as "mush." That one involves prices simply constantly changing, which is how the problem gets resolved. Both their approach and that of Foley stress complex dynamics. Laibman hopes for a static theoretical model that somehow reconciles the whole thing, admitting he does not have the answer how to do this and not seeming to go along with Moseley's apparent solution.
So, why do we see two new books on this coming out now, well, three counting the English translation of Marx's old Volume III (which I have long thought was his most interesting and important work, and certainly the one most relevant to modern discussions, particularly of macroeconomics, although Moseley claims it is about microeconomics while the other two volumes are macoeconomics)? The answer I suspect is the big splash made by Piketty with his Capital in the Twenty-First Century last year. The title clearly genuflects to Marx and Piketty fully acknowledges that, even as his own analysis is not specifically Marxian and quite neoclassical in his theory at least, although he clearly takes Marx's concerns seriously. In any case, the old boy seems to be back, even if the transformation problem may not yet be clearly resolved.
Fred Moseley informs me that it will be probably another year before the Marx Volume III appears. It and his book (sorry, no title) will be published by Brill. One can get his quite long Introduction to it that lays out the differences between the two volumes, from him at email@example.com.
From Anwar Shaikh I have that the title of his book is Capitalism: Real Competition, Turbulent Dynamics, and Global Crises, and will be out this fall from Oxford University Press.
Further Update: Anwar Shaikh has informed me that his book does not deal with the transformation problem. He did speak about that issue during the session, however, focusing on the role of transfers in bringing about the allocation of the surplus values. Hopefully, at least I have not misrepresented that.
Further Update (3/6): Have received message from David Laibman, who saw this due to commentary on the marxism list about this post. He says that I did not do too bad a job of summarizing what was said at the session, but he does not like my use of "static" for his view, but rather that he thinks that "higher levels of abstraction" are appropriate. His comment is long and detailed, so if you want to see it, go to the marxism list, please. He also says that he would like to retract his characterization of TSSI as "mush," saying, "let sleeping dogs lie."