Exploitation and Fact-Value Distinction

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at econ.utah.edu
Mon Oct 31 20:42:32 MST 1994


I argued that a labor theory of value, according to which money is
labor and not a symbol for past contributions in terms of use value,
makes it easier to see exploitation than neoclassical theory because,
and now I quote my earlier posting,
>   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.

Justin replied (typo corrected):

> "Deserve" is not a term of economics but of moral theory and about
> it economists as such have nothing to say.

In part I agree with you.  It is not a matter of who deserves what.
It is a matter of understanding how this society ticks.  Perhaps I was
not careful enough with my formulations, I was in a hurry.  it is my
view that it will be easier to for people to see what is going on in
this society if academic economists like myself would finally be able
to debunk the myth that exploitation through market forces is a
logical impossibility and could come up, say, with econometric proof
that money represents labor.

But I want to take issue with your appeal to the fact-value
distinction.  Roy Bhaskar, in his Possibility of Naturalism, 2nd
edition, p. 59, cites what he calls a "famous example" of Isaiah
Berlin's.  Now I am quoting Bhaskar:


Compare the following accounts of what happened in Germany under Nazi
rule: (alpha) `the country was depopulated'; (beta) `millions of
people died'; (gamma) `millions of people were killed'; (delta)
`millions of people were massacred'.  All four statements are true.
But (delta) is not only the most evaluative, it is also the best (that
is, the most precise and accurate) description of what actually
happened.  And note that, in virtue of this, all but (delta) generate
the wrong perlocutionary force.  For to say of someone that he died
normally carries the presumption that he was NOT killed by human
agency.  And to say that millions were killed does not imply that
their deaths were part of a single organized campaign of brutal
killing, as those under Nazi rule were.  ...  Now I want to argue
that, even abstracting from perlocutionary considerations, criteria
for the scientific adequacy of descriptions are such that in this kind
of case only description (delta) is acceptable.


In analogy with Bhaskar's example I want to argue here that the
statement: `there are many rich people and many poor people in the
United States' is misleading because it does not imply that the wealth
of the rich comes from the exploitation of the working poor,
exploitation in the sense that there is a very real transfer of
something very real from that minority of the population who are
productive laborers to that minority who control the means of
production.  Everybody else in society suffers under this transfer,
which by the way has not been instituted by the greed of the rich but
is a consequence of the inherent drive of value to expand itself,
i.e., it is the consequence of a social relation having obtained its
own life and running amok.  The agenda for socialism is to get control
over our own social relations.

Hans G. Ehrbar                                    ehrbar at econ.utah.edu
Economics Department, 308 BuC                     (801) 581 7797
University of Utah                                (801) 581 7481
Salt Lake City    UT 84112-1107                   (801) 585 5649 (FAX)


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