[OPE-L:1167] Re: Re: Unproductive labour income and Marxian social accounts

From: Ajit Sinha (ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in)
Date: Fri Sep 10 1999 - 02:27:52 EDT

Paul Cockshott wrote:

> 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
> >concerned
> >with allocation of given amount of resources, and the theory of value is
> >supposed
> >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
> >problematic
> >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
> surplus
> production.
> 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
> invariants
> 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
> exploiting
> 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
> general
> to the most historically concrete.
> The concepts of social labour and of abstract social labour belong to the
> general
> 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
> concept
> 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.


I agree with a lot you say here but some I'm not very clear about. The way i see it
is that there are two issues Marx's value theory is concerned with. One is the
social division of labor, and the other is the production of surplus. The
contribution to the Critique and the 1st chapter of *Capital* vol.1 are concerned
with the problem of value in the context of a social division of labor in a
commodity producing economy. Here the *law of value* and the determination of value
are supposed to solve the problem of the distribution of total labor. But this
problematic gets in conflict with the surplus production problematic because the
division of labor problematic must begin with a notion of *given* total amount of
labor that needs to be distributed, whereas the surplus problematic is about the
determination of the total amount of labor itself--so it cannot be taken as
*given*. Now, if we begin with the surplus problematic then the rationale for value
and a theory of value arises because the surplus itself cannot be measured in any
particular sector without reducing all commodities to one dimension. Thus a theory
of value thrust itself as a solution to the determination of the surplus. This is
why, I think, Marx says that surplus production must take a value-form in a
capitalist system. Cheers, ajit sinha

> 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
> respect
> 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
> >properties
> >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
> mean
> 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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