[OPE-L:2214] Re: value-form theories

From: Geert REUTEN (reuten@fee.uva.nl)
Date: Tue Jan 18 2000 - 16:49:34 EST

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RE: Value-form theories (17-01-2000)

This post is a bit long. So I enclose an identical attachement in Word.

Labour is the only one source of value added. Jerry Levy in his 2067
is right that (in VFS 69-70) this is arrived at by process of elimination.
Then Jerry quests about the connection (in VFS) between surplus-value
and surplus labour. My answer would be: S = ml-wl (and -- forgetting
about interest and rent -- profit R = ml-wl). `Eliptically', but perhaps
also when adressing an audience of labour unionists (below more on
this), I might say that socially profit is determined by surplus labour,
as it is `casually'. However, in theoretical debate I would refrain from
saying that as it risks being read in a labour-embodied way (though, I
assume, not by you Jerry). The point is that there is no sound measure
for the `eliptic' statement. One cannot add up labour and machines.

Reading determination from right to left (as always in my equations
unless stated otherwise):
(1) pq = dK + mL
(2) R = pq - dK - wL
[where pq = value product (price times quantity); dK = means of
production; R = profit]
(1) and (2) are results of the labour process together with the sale of
commodities (pq).
>From (1) and (2) it can be DEDUCED that:
(3) R = mL - wL
>From this deduction we may infer: well, if some labour is paid for
(wL) the remainder must be surplus-labour. OK. You can do that in
the aggregate and also for one company etc. (though THEN there is no
apriori reason for ending up with equal rates of profit).

Paul Cockshott (2085) writes that the formula Y=mL `is vacuous and
of no scientific value'; Fred Moseley (2163) uses the phrase
'tautology'. I contest that. First, it is the proposition of a social labour
theory of value: Y is determined by abstract labour (mL) and abstract
labour only. Of course, if your point of departure is an LTV anyway
then this may not be very telling for you (but the vast majority of
today's economists do not take that stand; for them it is worth telling -
- is is also worth telling for LTV adherents who believe that only there
own particular position within LTV's is an LTV).
     Second, it says something about the organisation of capitalist
society. m and L belong together, their divorce makes no sense in
capitalism (therefore the stress over and again: Abstract labour =
mL). Nevertheless, MERELY for clarification, I could give the
divorce a intuitive try (also for the sake of clarifying my critique of a
labour embodied LTV -- which I presume is your position):
     (a) By itself L, as measured in time, is not homogenous (it is
an abstract abstraction, in as much as the UK production of apples is --
at least if you express that in kilogramms/stones/tons). Labour and
apples are each very different, nevertheless in the usual statistics one
does the addition. Fine. No problem if you do that for the year (e.g.).
The problem is if, in a dynamic society, you do that over the years.
'Apples' today have not the same quality as 'apples' twenty years ago
(of course this is a well known problem for the construction of index
numbers). The same applies to L (labour time). I agree with Chris
(e.g. his ....) that labour time is problematical, and that time is not an
apriori constant, at least not in the face of production. "Physical labour
productivity" changes over time. We have no adequate measure for
physical labour productivity, unless in ultra simple stories.
     Therefore, also, it is highly problematical to say (Paul C.,
Fred Mosley) that (necessary) labour time predicts/explains prices (it is
also problematical for other reasons).
     (b) m is the value productivity of "concrete" labour (L); where
L is arrived at by the abstract abstraction refered to. If physical
productivity change is reflected in prices (which I take to be the
'normal' case - inflation and deflation then is 'abnormal'), then m is
     So far the intuitive try of divorce between m and L.
In Y = mL, Y has a value dimension, i.e. a monetary dimension (e.g.
$). Similarly mL (abstract labour) has that monetary dimension: L is
brought under the dimension of value, in this case $. It is this
conceptualisation of connection that is of primary concern for VFT. [I
agree with Chris Arthur [2074] that labour does *not* have a value-
form. It is, as abstract labour, brought under the value-form.]
     For a company prices are not of direct interest (only of
indirect interest). Nor are use-value qualities and quantities of direct
interest (only indirectly). What matters is p times q (of course this is
the non-ludecrous part of conventional micro-economics teaching on
elasticities). Similarly the use-value doing of labour is not of primary
interest for a company (i): the value doing is, i.e. (mL)(i). [where i is
a subscript]
     Indeed effectively the quantity of mL(i) can only be measured
in the market: pq = dK + mL [all for company i; and where dK
stands for means of production]. Nevertheless the production process
is governed by the precommensuration mL (see VFS ch 1). Or, as
Marx would say, the capitalist, at that stage, can do no more than stick
price tickets.
     I would think, Paul, that ex-ante you cannot get around these
price tickets, unless, like Fred, you predefine labour as socially
necessary labour, i.e. tickets = sales. Capitalist would love that. (Dont
tell me that this is what Marx does in Capital Vol I - of course he
excludes problems there, and rightfully so from the point of view of
his method).
     Fred, I have indicated how one gets to (mL). My hunch is that
this does not satisfy you since I rely on the market. I, for my part,
would like to know how you get to your L (see also Riccardo
Bellofiore's 2174). As I explained in my 1993 paper (ed Moseley, esp
page 97-98), in order to get to your and Marx's reduction coefficients
(reducing skill and intensity to `simple labour') you do need the
market. If you assume simple labour this is just neglecting the problem
(two hungry economist in the desert, lets assume we have bacon and
eggs). Instead of my explication above, the answer to the question of
how I get to my mL could have been, if I adopted your proceeding: I
assume mL. You would not be happy with that (rightfully), for the
same reason I am not happy with you just assuming L. So tell. At this
point I am not so much interested in what Marx does, I am interested
in your view. (You may guess that I am also not happy with the
second 'given' and the assumption about the determination of m by the
value of gold. I propose we reserve that discussion for some other
     (By the way Fred, if in your P = mL the L includes past
labour then I wonder how the issue is going to be tackled empirically.
Anyway you agree to discuss rather Y = mL.)

Paul Cockshott (2085) doubts my thesis (in 2062) that the development
of a price theory was not Marx's concern. I am puzzeled why so as to
counter my thesis he takes recourse to the manuscript of an adress
(speech) by Marx to the first International -- posthumously edited as
`Wage, price and profit'. (At risk of getting involved in a detailed
discussion on this pamphlet -- which I would prefer not to -- I should
like to remind the particular context of this adress, namely countering
the thesis of Weston that prices are determined by wages, and that
therefore wage increase does not help. Marx's general focus then is to
bring to the fore that generally wage increase results in profit decrease.
In this context, and in the face of the audience, I have no quarrels with
the passages you cite.)

In reply to Nicola Taylor's 2125 (reply in part), Hegelian logic for me
is primarily a device for systematic conceptualisation of the object of
enquiry. I dont think (now) Marx departs from that. Both 'idealist' and
materialist' science are one sided, therefore non-dialectical. I believe
some of Hegel's writings are at times non-dialectical in that respect. I
think Marx's Capital is dialectical in this respect. As you can see in
VFS I and we completely agree that 'abstract labour' is an abstraction
in practice or an actual abstraction. We take distance from the term
`real abstraction' (p.64 where there is also a ref. to Marx) to the extent
that this term might suggest that abstract abstractions (see above) are
unreal: they are real. Of course now we get to `what is real'. I cannot
reply to that brief. But a related example may help. I dont know if you
'really' belief in God or Angels. I dont. Nevertheless, in our culture
they are real. The point is the force of human language. It is
impossible for us to think angels away. Even stronger, even if you
dont belief in angels, you probably have an image of them! We cannot
think away ideological distortions, although we can criticise or try to
critique them.

I think I wrote in my 1993 chapter refered to by Nicola in her 2125
that in Marx's first chapter of Capital I the METAPHORE of
substance somewhat took over the presentation. This gave rise to
labour-embodied interpretations of Marx. In fact I am even more
convinced now than at the time that the grounds for that interpretation
are rather loose.

I think that in VFS we did take distance from Steedman. Even if we
wrote that we take the Steedman critique of labour embodied theory
seriously (p.54) we wrote on the same page: `Because [in these
approaches] money is incorporated only -- if at all -- as an afterthought
... such approaches are forced to theorise exchange as an "as if"
process ...' (I agree with Chris's 2167; Nicky (re your 2187) I did not
think you put us in the Steedman camp, that impression rather occured
via the way Paul C. (2130) responded to you; BTW VFS was not a
response to Steedman.)
Paul (re your 2130), if you accept Marx's Capital I but not Capital III,
then I suppose that in the face of Marx's method (from abstract and
simple to concrete and complex) you have quite some work of
reconstruction to do so as to arrive at grasping concrete reality.
Perhaps there is a correlation between market prices and labour time,
but untill you have developed that theory I take that as accidental.


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