Value again

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Mon Jun 5 17:10:05 MDT 1995


1. I'm quite aware that for Marx value is an aggregate notion which plays a
long term role; moreover that the type of labor costs involved are
expressed in terms of socially necessary abstract labor time. I don't see
how this matters for my disagreement, as I reject this view as well as
the Ricardan LTV.

2. You needn't accept Sraffa's story to see that he has an argument
against the explanatory role of value as Marx understands it. Sraffa has
botha  negative and critical account and a rather underdeveloped positive
one. It is the former I invoked. BTW you don't need any fancy maths to see
how Sraffa's story goes--even the PoCbmoC is relatively nontechnical. (And
I was at Kings', haunted by the ghost of Keynes, so I must be a bourgeois
tool. eh?)

3. Sunday school or not, I think Marx thinks exploitation is wrong. I have
argued the point at some length in my "What's Wrong With Exploitation?",
Nous 29/2 (June 1995), 158-188. The long and short of the argument is that
what Marx thinks is wrong with exploitation is not that it is unjust,
which he denies, but that exploitation objectionably curtails freedom in a
number of senses. Incidentally in the last section of that paper I make my
case for an LTV-free way of understanding Marx's theory of exploitation.

4. I think Wages Price and Profit, at least in its latter sections, is a
nice introduction to the political economy of Capital, vol. I, but it
leaves out a lot. I think Robert Paul Wolff is correct, in Moneybags
Should Be So Lucky, to argue that the literary form on Capital (tow hich
Marx devoted much work, by his own accounting) and the historical,
etc. material "extraneous" to the model so austerely set out in WPP is
just as valuable, if not more so, to his account to capitalism.

--Justin Schwartz

On Mon, 5 Jun 1995, Chris Burford wrote:

> 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
>
>
>      --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---





     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---

     ------------------



More information about the Marxism mailing list