Value: Joustin' for agreementlkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkksssssssss[B[B[B[B[B[B[B[B[B[B[

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Mon Jun 5 23:22:33 MDT 1995


Value: Joustin' for agreement

Justin:
-------
Chris B misrepresents my position on value. I do not concede that value
might tend to equilibrate [prices?--something is missing from his post]
in an advanced capitalist society as an unintended effect of the actions
of capitalists.

Chris B:
--------

1) There was not something missing. I was using "equilibrate" as an
intransitive verb, not as a transitive one. My dictionary says either
usage is permissible.

2) The mistake in understanding may be significant. Your more recent posting
seems to want to revert to thinking of immediate labour costs as
the determinant of value, rather than seeing value as the main
determinant of the pattern of distribution of commodity production
in a society, in the long term, working through prices of production.

3) Concerning Sraffa, I feel it is a pitfall of eclecticism to invoke
Sraffa without necessarily accepting his theory. I have yet to be
convinced this emperor is clothed, however prestigious a university
nurtured such a friend of Gramsci, and however dense the mathematics of
his followers. Bluntly, he went to the same college as Prince Charles,
and Prince Charles is not always clothed himself.

4) " Exploitation is (wrongful) appropriation of a surplus
produced by labor." While you and I may feel that
exploitation is wrong, Marx was extremely clear in his analysis that
capitalist exploitation is not wrong. That is the difference between
studying him in Sunday School and studying him in evening class.
Possibly 3/4 of the subscribers to this list may assume that Marx
thought exploitation wrong. I hope some will challenge this point so
we can clarify it. I suspect that if this point is not understood it
is not possible to understand Marx's law of value in commodity society.

5) I understand the wider meaning however of Justin's remarks. It is
about whether "Wages Price and Profit" is a valuable text for a class
of workers debunking Citizen Weston's argument that it is useless ever to
go on strike, or whether it should be called as you American's do,
"Value Price and Profit" as a good general introduction to the workings
of the law of value. (Justin has clarified the German original.)

This is why I am increasingly wary of shorthand abbreviations talking
about the Labour Theory of Value, or LTV, rather than the Law of Value or
LOV.

There is undoubtedly a serious tension here in how Marx is read, and it
has led some to think that there is even some trickery in the presentation
and Justin to argue that value is a mere heuristic concept to explain
how the enjoyment of surplus product by the capitalists so
obvious on the macro social level, comes about at the workplace.

My reply is that the demonstrations in Wages Price and Profit and in
Capital, about hours in the day, are indeed heuristic models, but it is
quite mistaken to imagine that Marx's theory is limited to a heuristic
model. There is a trap in reading of these sections of failing to
realise that the particularly concrete discussion of hours and minutes is
a discussion of abstract, not of actual labour. It is theoretically
dangerous to jump from one to the other. Actual labour varies considerably
in the extent to which it can yield the same utility per hour, both as
a result of variation in the constitution of the worker and a great
multiplier effect very relevant nowadays, from the relative degree of
productivity of the way the work is organised, including the technology.

To read Marx's account of hours and minutes and fail to be aware of the
difference between abstract and concrete labour is to fall into an
assumption that value is a quantitive property of capitalist society
whereas it is qualititative. It leads to frustrating misunderstandings
that Marx does not take into account the extra profits that come from
entrepreneurial initiative in using new technology, which reduces the
labour content of the commodity (he does under the concept of relative
surplus value).

6) In a debate that challenges us all, I therefore still welcome
the clarification Justin gave on Thursday 25th May when he wrote

>>>>
Chris B. wants me to comment on his idea that the "substrate" of the law
of value is "mental but not conscious", by which he means, if I have this
right, that the operation of this law--the tendency of production in
commodity societies to be regulated in the long run by labor costs--is an
unintended effect of the intentional actions of individuals. Is that what
you mean, Chris? I guess I can subscribe to that, as far as it goes, at
least as an interpretation of Marx.
<<<<

I append extracts from my exchanges with Justin over the last fortnight
for reference rather than blow by blow analysis.


Chris Burford, London.

______________________________________________________________________

Mon 22nd May Chris:

Anyway Justin, how far would you accept this compromise, that I can
call the substrate of the law of value mental but not conscious;
you can call it social, but you understand social to be an emergent
property of numerous individual minds. Say yes, and we can have another
Mutual Admiration Festival, officiated at by Lisa.


Thur 25th May Justin:

Chris B. wants me to comment on his idea that the "substrate" of the law
of value is "mental but not conscious", by which he means, if I have this
right, that the operation of this law--the tendency of production in
commodity societies to be regulated in the long run by labor costs--is an
unintended effect of the intentional actions of individuals. Is that what
you mean, Chris? I guess I can subscribe to that, as far as it goes, at
least as an interpretation of Marx. (As people on this list know I am no
fan of the LTV and think it is not very useful as a piece of political
economy.) But I would have to add, again as an interpretation, that Marx
characterizes the individuals in question in social terms, as commodity
producers, exchangers on a market, in capitalism as workers and bosses. So
the mental states of individuals come in, but the individuals are
considered "only insofar as they are bearers of determinate social
relations," as the old Man puts it.


Fri 26th May

Chris B
-------
Yes that is what I mean, and I am glad we are in dialogue about this.

Thanks for coming back on this.



Fri 2nd June Chris:

Justin, playing the role in my eyes of penetratingly sceptical agnostic,
conceded without necessarily abandoning his scepticism, that value might
equilibrate in an advanced capitalist society through the unconscious
social effects of the conscious decisions capitalists (and others) make
about prices.



From: Justin Schwartz <jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us>
Date: Sat, 3 Jun 1995 13:27:58 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: Value: state of play

Chris B misrepresents my position on value. I do not concede that value
might tend to equilibrate [prices?--something is missing from his post]
in an advanced capitalist society as an unintended effect of the actions
of capitalists. I said, with regard to invisible hand effects, that that's
the way Marx presents the operations of the law of value in his models.
My point was scholarly, not substantive.

My view is that as far as I can make out, values qua labor costs are not
the regulators of prices, in aggregate or otherwise, long or short term.
And if they can be tied to prices in some way, which they can in some
models, it's far from clear that they explain prices rather than being a
fifth wheel. This is a Sraffa point which one can invoke without buying
into Sraffa's story about value as presented by Steve.

I also think,
however, that the notion of value, understood more abstractly than Marx
understands it, is a useful one in the context of understanding
exploitation--in particular in the notion of surplus value as a
qualitative notion. In capitalist societies what matters is less the
physical surplus than what can best be called its value, what that surplus
is worth on the market. The source of that surplus value is largely,
though, I think, not entirely labor--not entirely because I think nonlabor
sources of value, such as temporary monopolies on the use of natural
forces, can contribute to the capitalists' aggregate share of the social
product. The measure of the relative shares can be what you like--labor
values, corn values, or just money. But the measure is an accounting
notion, not an explanatory one.

I think that this is in fact Marx's view, or close to it--Marx did define
value in terms of labor costs, so he has to say not that there are
nonlabor sources of profit but that there are nonvalue (because nonlabor)
sources of profit: some things, he says, have price but no value. If,
however, he had disambiguited the notions of the source and measure of
value, and taken value to be what he implicitly suggested it is, not labor
definitionally but whatever explains prices and is the source of profit,
he could have said what I say. I do not think that he thinks the labor
theory of value, as defended by Kliman or Cockshott, is literally true,
but rather that he uses it as a heuristic; moreover I think most of his
uses of it are eliminable in more sophisticated models, such as those he
starts to sketch in Capital, vol. 3.

- --Justin Schwartz


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