[OPE-L:5815] measuring time and effort

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Wed, 10 Dec 1997 19:43:43 -0500 (EST)

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Allin wrote on Wed, 10 Dec:

> For
> instance, if (on average) work has become less onerous since
> the mid-nineteenth century, then a statement that a certain
> sort of commodity now takes only 20 percent of the labour
> time to produce that it did then, may understate the
> reduction in "effort" required to produce the thing.

An interesting point. To be able to make those kinds of quantitative
comparisons we need to estimate changes in the intensity of labor.
Yet, how can we make such estimates within and across branches of
production over time? Thus, one could reasonably say that the intensity
of labor at Ford Motor Company was greater in the 1920's than today (just
watch old films), but the commodity and the commodity mix have changed.
Moreover, when we compare the intensity of labor across branches of
production things really become problematic. Not only isn't there any
accurate data on labor intensity in different branches of production, but
we would be comparing the labor effort to produce apples and oranges and
tractors and perfume. Consequently it is next to impossible to
quantitatively separate out the gain in productivity caused by an increase
in relative surplus value via technological change from a gain in
productivity due to an increasing intensity of labor. A corollary is that
estimates of gains in productivity due to new process technologies are
dubious -- especially since when there is technological change there is
often at the same time a change in labor intensity (this, of course, is
not accidental since capitalists frequently use the occasion to redefine
jobs and increase labor intensity).

In solidarity, Jerry