[OPE-L:1160] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Unproductive labour income and Marxian social accounts

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@dcs.gla.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Sep 09 1999 - 05:20:39 EDT

At 11:36 09/09/99 +0530, Ajit Sinha wrote:

> For example the nature of the problem of value is quite different in
>neoclassical economics from say Ricardo. The neoclassical problematic is
>with allocation of given amount of resources, and the theory of value is
>to solve the problem of allocation. Whereas Ricardo's problematic is
>concerned with
>distribution of a given income. The theory of value is needed to homogenize a
>collection of heterogeneous bundle. The problem then gets intricately
>linked with
>the question of the invariability of the unit of measure when the distribution
>changes. This problem does not arise in the neoclassical economics because
>it is
>working within a different problematic. Marx, in my opinion, is working
>within a
>problematic of exploitation and surplus production. One has to, in this case,
>develop an understanding of why a theory of value is needed within this
>and what is the nature of the problem.

I would agree with your general characterization of the Ricardian,
neo-classical and
Marxian problematic. Within this context, I think that the Sraffian
problematic is the
same as your characterization of the Marxian one.

However, I think that there are nuances to the Marxian problematic at the time
that he worked on the Introduction to the Critique, and Capital that are
not fully
brought out in a bald statement that he was interested in exploitation and

I would place this interest firmly within the context of his general
historical materialist
problematic which antedated his specific study of capitalism. This gave
Marx a historical
viewpoint in which capitalist surplus production is just one of a
historical sequence of
modes of producing a surplus. His problem then was to explain how certain
of all society - the distribution of social labour between different
activities, and invariants
of class society - the production of a surplus and its appropriation by an
class, operated in a capitalist economy. In this context his
conceptualisation of value
has a hierarchy of concepts moving from the most historically abstract and
to the most historically concrete.

The concepts of social labour and of abstract social labour belong to the
problematic of historical materialism. As a single scalar quantity which
exists in multiple
modes of production these provide the necessary precondition for the
existence of
generalised exchange value in the universal equivalent form. I take his
analysis of
the form of value to be looking at the mode of representation of abstract
social labour
in a commodity producing society.

Thus the term 'value' is used by him both to denote embodied labour - an
applicable to multiple modes of production - and the abstract scalar
exchange valuation
of a commodity; abstract here in the sense of abstracting from the labour
content of the commodity
used as a universal equivalent. If we take the latter meaning it is
specific to commodity
production. It is an excessive focus on this, that leads Williams and
others to their
historically specific interpretation of value. As I understand it, they
deny that abstract labour
exists in non-capitalist economies. This comes by working backwards with
to Marx's approach. They start out with what was for marx both a historical
and logical
result - the existence of a scalar metric for commodities in money, treat
this form of
representation of the scalar as the essence of value, say that this only
really exists
in capitalism, that this representation is a condition of existence of
abstract social
labour, and thus that abstract social labour only exists under capitalism.

In so doing, they, in my opinion, end up in the position of vulgar
political economy, taking
the representational forms of capitalist economy as paramount. Thus for
Williams any
labour which appears to increase the monetary profit of its employer is,
per se, productive,
since for him value is just in the end another word for monetary price.

>In more general terms, I think every economic theory needs a theory of value
>because quantification in economics cannot take two steps without
>confronting the
>need for a theory of value. The theory of value is intricately linked with the
>problem of unit of measure. Many on this list talk big about Marx's theory
>of value
>without even thinking about the question of the unit of measure and its
>for even two seconds. I hope this at least partially answers your
>question. Cheers,
>ajit sinha

This raises the question of what you are wanting to quantify. I take it you
that one can not quantify aggregations of different dimensions unless one has
an operation for mapping these onto a single dimension, since to do the sorts
of quantifications we are normally interested in we need a group closed under
the operations of addition and multiplication.

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