[OPE-L:2226] Re: [OPE-L:1992]:value-form theories

From: Michael J Williams (michael@williamsmj.screaming.net)
Date: Wed Jan 19 2000 - 07:26:00 EST

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After revisiting II Rubin, prompted by Chris's [OPE-L1992], I can comment on
some aspects of Riccardo's message. (I am impressed, btw, with his ability
to say useful and provocative things notwithstanding that he is clearly in a
rush. I, for one, am grateful for his efforts.)

----- Original Message -----
From: riccardo bellofiore <bellofio@cisi.unito.it>
To: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, January 19, 2000 9:17 AM
Subject: [OPE-L:2218] Re: : value-form theories

>Summary: I see problems in Marx, I would like to resolve them maintaining
>both the money measure and the time measure, the answer is not the
>sequentialist la Carchedi-Freeman-Kliman or the VFT la Reuten and (the
>last) Arthur. This should be argued better and in detail, but I have to ask
>the people interested to look at my papers to understand my (unfinished!!)
>theoretical project.

The reconciliation of these measures is a real social process. II Rubin is
quite good on this, pointing out that what is measured by time is neither
abstract labour on the one hand (since that has only a social measure as
value expressed in Money) nor physiological labour on the other (since that
would have to be measured by a laboratory measure of the work expended, of
which time is but one component).

The point is that oncrete capitalist labour process has two moments:
material-technical and social. Abstractly abstracting from its specificities
(intensity, material productivity, specific use-value produced, skill,
etc.), material-technical labouring, can be quantified approximately in
simple person-hours. Thus Rubin (Rubin, I. I. 1972 {written 1927}. Essays on
Marx's Theory of Value, Detroit: Black & Red: pp 155-8):

"...in a commodity economy, the *social* equality of two labor expenditures
or their equality in the form of *abstract* labour is established through
the process of exchange. But this does not prevent us from ascertaining a
series of quantitative properties which distinguish labor in terms of its
material-technical and its physiological aspects, and which causally
influence the quantitative determination of abstract labour before the act
of exchange and independent of it."

He goes on to list "the most important of these" as:
"1) the *length of labor expenditure*, or the quantity of working time;
2) the *intensity* of labor;
3) the *qualification of labor; and
4) the *quantity of products* produced in a unit of time."

He then examines each in detail, but for now I would just like to share
Chris's concern [OPE-L1992] with the 'causal talk' here. It is, in fact,
fairly innocuous. The point is that the influence on the "quantitative
determination of abstract labor before the act of exchange" is not, imo,
'causal', but 'intentional', albeit socially conditioned. Geert's felicitous
coining 'pre-commensuration' makes this clear. The capitalist decision maker
can (and indeed must), from her location in the systemic flux of commodity
production and exchange, guesstimate the expected 'ideal' value of the
output of here workers (that is then confirmed or modified in the actual
process of exchange). It is also clear that the approximate measure of the
material-technical labour process in person-hours is at best only one input
into this pre-commensurating calculation of expected value. She is more
likely indeed under 'normal' circumstances, for short-run decisions, to
simply assume that the future will be quite like the past. (It is
interesting that, apparently, for the purposes of making comparisons of
their competitiveness with international rivals, firms sometimes, perhaps to
evade the indeterminacy of currency exchange, actually do the comparison in

It should be noted that there is only an analytical not an actual dichotomy
between the 'material-technical' and the 'social ('valorising') aspects of
the labour process. The components of the quantification of the material
technical labour process [1)-4)] all have social determinants: 1) depends on
the socially average technique of production; 2) depends on the socially
'acceptable' working conditions; 3) depends on the social (market and state)
provision of education and training; 4) depends on the social determinants
of the firm's expected demand.

In sum, there is only a social (non-commodity) monetary quantification of
abstract labour in terms of the value of the commodities it produces.
Labour-time is an approximation to the measure of on the one hand
physiological labour and on the other material-technical labour.

[An odd little wrinkle occurs to me here: is mental labour 'physiological'?
As far as I know there is no way of measuring the work done by thinking
(even in a laboratory), and casual empiricism tells me that however hard or
long I think, I never lose any weight, whereas a few hours of hard physical
work clearly involves the expenditure of energy!]

Hopefully I can get back later to Riccardo's suggestion that some variants
of VFT threaten to throw out the baby with the bath water, but the current
window of opportunity is rapidly closing in ... .

Dr Michael Williams
Economics and Social Sciences
De Montfort University
Milton Keynes
fax: 0870 133 1147
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