what is labour and what is value

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Mon Oct 31 18:15:13 MST 1994

On Mon, 31 Oct 1994, Hans Ehrbar wrote:

>   Doug asks:
>    Aside from the theoretical points, is there any practical political
>    importance to the value controversy?
>   My answer:
>   Yes, or course there is.
>   Alone on the ideological level.
>   Some people have lots of money, and some have very little.
>   From a neoclassical point of view, those with lots of money
>   have this money because they have increased the level of utility
>   of many other people;  they deserve therefore what they have,
>   their income is society's reward for their services.

You don't need value theory to puncture the idea that inequalities are due
to reward to contribution. Marx dynamited this idea in the Trinity Formula
section of Capital when he noted that capital--as a relationship of
ownership--is not a productive force, and so contributes nothing qua being
owned. Davs Schweickart extends this insight in the brilliant first
chapter of Against Capital (Cambridge 1993).

Anyway, "desert" is not a term of economics but of moral theory and about
it economists as such have nothing to say. Rawls, who buys into the
marginal productivity of capital, denies that anyone deserves anything on
the basis of contribution. Marx agrees with him: see the Critique of the
Gotha Program on what's wrong with the principle of reward according to work.

>   If money is labor, however, then the question arises how
>   these people have the command over so much of society's labor.
>   This is a question about which there is a strict taboo in
>   our society.  You are not supposed to think the obvious.
>   This is why the first pages of CAPITAL seem so hard to understand.

There are other reasons for that as well.
>   The question whether or not a precise value accounting can be done
>   in which every penny of profit by a capitalist can in principle be
>   traced back to a second of surplus labor elsewhere in society
>   also has implications for the question whether value is real.
>   Is value a social reality which has independent causative powers,
>   or is value a paradigm which organizes our thinking about complex
>   social-economic realitits, as Laibman wrote on p. 25 of his book
>   Value, Technical Change, and Crisis, Sharpe 1992?  I consider value to
>   be as real as a shark.  it does more than organize our thinking,
>   it organizes society, it subjects material production to its own
>   thirst for self-espansion.  But it cannot be real if its quantity
>   is for logical reasons not clearly definable.

Well, yes and no. Vaguely defined quantities can be real and have
causative powers, or things can have causal efficacy due to properties
which are not susceptible to precise quantitative definition. Color comes
tomind as an example. (And don't start talking about wavelengths of
light. We don't see wavelengths as such.)

But I think that value is not real because its postulation leads to
logical difficulties.

>   By the way, Justin asked me to give a substantive rundown
>   of the New Solution;  I will do that as soon as I find the time.

--Justin Schwartz


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