[OPE-L:2263] Re: Re: Re: : value-form theories

From: Michael J Williams (michael@williamsmj.screaming.net)
Date: Fri Jan 21 2000 - 08:23:13 EST

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----- Original Message -----
From: riccardo bellofiore <bellofio@cisi.unito.it>
To: Michael J Williams <mike.williams@dmu.ac.uk>;
Sent: Friday, January 21, 2000 11:06 AM
Subject: [OPE-L:2259] Re: : : value-form theories

> Have you a little (not too much) longer answer which does not appeal to
> authority. I thought that you, as me, are not interested as such in the
> word of the master.

Quite. Marx is an inspiration not a final authority, so my short answer is:

Because 'labour' is *my* answer to the question How does M => (M + dM)

This indicates quite clearly that we are dealing in capitalism-specific
categories, and that this question is not answered adequately in Chapter 1
of capital alone, but only in the arguments developed over Parts I-VI as a

> BTW: take whatever theory, which admits that (money) profits exist in
> capitalism. *Assume* that commodities are only produced by labour
> l., or whatever kind of labour), so that labour is the only 'productive'
> factor. Marx' answer would still fit this situation , which I understand
> it's not yours.

I'm not quite sure where this is going. A theory of capitalism does indeed
have to account for the empirical existence of profits. Labour is indeed the
only value-productive 'factor' - but this has to be argued for, and indeed
Marx provides arguments (not all elements of which may be satisfactory).
> Now, go and give a look at Sraffa in the 1960 book. He puts the net
> in prices equal to 1. Then he also put the direct labour of the society
> equal to 1. Then assume that there is a wage (share) higher than zero.
> is Sraffa's implied answer to "How does M => (M + dM)?", at the systemic
> level (don't worry about relative prices!). Labour.

I think Sraffa was seriously trying to provide a Marx-inspired critique of
the 'text-book' theory of value.
> Of course, you may answer me that here you don't have the dialectical
> systematic presentation, etc. Is this necessarily a weakness?

I try to avoid making my arguments *rest* on my methodological
pre-conceptions (even though imo they are defensible). That is, I want to
present my arguments so that even Hegel-phobes may find them persuasive or
at least interesting.

>Or to put in
> a different way: don't should we explain why we must take a difficult,
> roundabout, complicate way to give the same answer?

My answer to that is that systematic dialectics encourages one to view
capitalism as a putatively self-reproducing socio-economic system, and there
are good reasons for thinking that is what it is! Taking the Value-form as
the most abstract starting point is motivated to investigate the
'hypothesis' that that system is indeed dominated by the Value form: to
investigate the everyday notion that 'money makes the (capitalist) world go
round'. Tony Smith is good on the pragmatic virtues of dialectics.
> Similar train of thought may be applied to a lot of other thinkers:
> Kalecki, Kaldor, Robinson, even Keynes, and so on, and so on.

There is a strong synthetic element to systematic presentation - it
critically incorporates the 'partial truths' of as much serious
(non-vulgar, etc) political economy as it can.

> Also for Smith? I was talking about Smith.

It is a long time since I did serious detailed work on Smith, but it can be
argued that Smith at least sometimes seems to argue with empty abstractions:
if the beaver/deer hunting economy is to be more than a thought experiment,
then it fails, since in a hunter-gathering society there are not the social
mechanisms (no money, no system of markets, no concept of private property,
perhaps) to ground the systematic exchange of beaver for deer in accordance
with the respective times taken to hunt them.

> I'll give you my answer in the (next?) future. But don't you think that I
> may give you a similar answer as yours above, that is: "I mean what Marx
> means when he says that (abstract) labour is the substance of value, and
> that it can also be measured in hours"?

I think there is reason to doubt whether Marx sustained this beyond the
arguably merely convenient assumption that there is a fixed mapping of
labour hours onto a quantity of gold. Even if he did, there are reasons,
rehearsed amongst other places in my arguments against any necessary
commodity basis for Money, that it cannot be validly so sustained.

> But the converse is true: the commodity is a commodity because it
> is the product of(potential) abstract labour, i.e. the living labour of
> the wage worker.

I agree

>look at
> Marx in the Grundrisse when he speaks of the living labour of the wage
> worker as abstract labour 'dunamei'.

I think that Geert has tried to deal with this confusion in his recent
posts. The labour of wage labourers embedded within the value-form
determined system is immediately use-value producing labour and ideally
(potentially) value-producing labour. Thus if we wish to view a single
labour process in isolation, then this potential is only realised to the
extent that a *successful* commodity is in the event produced. But it is the
fact of the systemic location of all such labour processes that enables the
real abstraction of specific direct labour into abstract labour, taking into
account intensity, skill, use-value of product ('demand') etc.

Reverting to your query above, the systematic presentation attempts to
facilitate the presentation of this 'inter-play' between system and
cognitively isolated elements of it. That is, it has to deal with the fact
that the actuality is the whole system that is always present, even when we
are cognitively abstracting from it.

> I claim that abstract labour is value in motion.

Sounds good - could you unpack 'value in motion' a little?
> I'm not sure that what you say it's true. Because what I'm saying implies
> that *after* the labour mkt + immediate production, and *before* exchange
> on the commodity mkt, it is possible to give a measure (in abstract
> hours + (expected) money) of (potential) exploitation.

See above on system and moments. The elements are reproduced only as a
moment of the system. They are reproduced by their interconnections into the
system, grounded in their links to input commodity and labour markets and
output commodity markets. Before exchange (above) new value creation is
still only potential until the downstream link into the value-form system
has been 're-established' anew in the process of system reproduction.

> I would like to maintain that it is
> (theoretically, not empirically) measurable.

Well, 1) until it has demonstrated its potential as value creating labour,
by the sale of its commodity, concrete labour has not established its
contribution on this occasion to the abstract labour/value economy. But 2)
The capitalist entrepreneur undoubtedly attempts, normally successfully, to
measure the value-contribution of her labour process in advance - what Geert
calls 'pre-commensuration'. This is possible precisely because the specific
labour process is an element of a reproducing system and this fact
legitimates a working belief that the short term future will be
approximately like the past and present.

> I'm happy about that. Is this 'substantial' abstract labour (also)
> measurable in hours? Then we two have almost the same position!!

Why 'substantial? And yes we can guesstimate the contribution of concrete
labour to the value-economy in advance of the actual sale of its commodity
on this occasion - but in the process of systemic reproduction this
contribution will typically change.

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