political implications of labor theory of value

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Wed Nov 2 11:05:33 MST 1994


On Wed, 2 Nov 1994, Fred B. Moseley wrote:

>
> I want to second Hans Ehrbar on the importance of the political
> implications of the labor theory of value.
>
> In my view, the main implication of the labor theory of value is that
> workers are exploited in the precise sense that they produce more value
> than they are paid, i.e. that profit is produced by the surplus labor of
> workers.

This claim can be expressed and defended without an LTV.

  The labor theory of value destroys the illusion of an equal
> exchange between capitalists and workers, i.e. that the wages workers
> are paid are equal to the value they produce.  The fact that workers are
> paid a money wage makes it appear that the relation between capitalists
> and workers is one of equality, that all the workers' hours of labor are
> paid for (no surplus labor) and that workers receive an equivalent to
> what they produce.  This appearance of an equal exchange between
> capitalists and workers is the single most important justification for
> capitalism, among workers as well as capitalists and economists.  All
> notions of the justice and fairness of capitalism are based on this
> notion of an equal exchange between capitalists and workers.

Not so. Nozick's defense of the justice of capitalism turns on the
voluntariness of contractual agreements and the inviolability of property
rights, not on equal exchange. Rawls' defense of welfare state capitalism
turns on the idea that WSC can best realize justice by making the least
well off as well off as they can be, regardless of issues of equal
exchange. (Though Rodney Peffer of USD tells me Rawls has a manuscript in
which he argues against capitalist and for either petty commodity
production or market socialism.) Utilitarian defenses of capitalism turn on
the idea that capitalism maximizes social welfare, issues of equality in
exchange aside. Of course you might say that utilitarians don't care about
justice except derivatively. And "Churchillian" defenses of capitalism
like Scott Arnold's (that capitalism is the worst system except for all
the others) turn not on equal exchange or lack of exploitation but on the
absence, as these defenders see it, of a better alternative.

So even if unequal exchange is granted, it doesn't follow that it is
unjust; even if it is unjust, it doesn't follow that justice trumps; even
if justice trumps, it doesn't follow that you can do better. There is a
whole chain of argument which must be made out to demolish the
justification of capitalism. Establishing an LTV is neither necessary nor
sufficient for this purpose.

>
> The labor theory of value destroys this illusion and reveals the reality of
> exploitation beneath the appearance of an equal exchange.  The
> payment of wages is only the first phase of the relation between
> capitalists and workers; the second phase is the process of production.
> The labor theory of value argues that in production workers produce more
> value than they are paid.  Without the labor theory of value, one
> cannot oppose the notion of an equal exchange in terms of value between
> capitalists and workers.

Perhaps, but you don't have to do it in terms of value (where that is
identified with labor content). And even if you do it in terms of value,
you don't need a labor theory of value as theory of price and capitalist
dynamics. The labor theory of SURPLUS value, that all value is due to
labor (actually a definition for Marx) is logically independent of the idea
that labor time is the appropriate measure of value and the determinant of
price.

>
> Without the labor theory of value, exploitation can be defined more
> broadly in terms of the capitalists' appropriation of the surplus
> product (because of their ownership of the means of produciton), but
> this alternative definition says or implies nothing about the value
> produced by workers.

No, but if you want to go Jerry Cohen's route you can say that the workers
produce the surplus, what HAS value, however determined. What follows from
that, however, is unclear, unless you think that producing something
entitles you to it. Which Cohen does. I don't.

  Therefore, it cannot dispel the illusion of an
> equal exchange between capitalists and workers in terms of value.  At
> best, exploitation without the labor theory of value can be explained
> as a general phenomenon common to all class societies (appropriation of
> surplus product).  The specific features of exploitation in capitalism -
> the payment of a money wage and the production of a value greater than
> this wage - can be explained only on the basis of the labor theory of
> value.

That's what the LTV is supposed to do. But since it's inconsistent, how
can it do this?

--Justin Schwartz




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