Value (to John Ernst 2/4)

Juan Inigo jinigo at
Fri Nov 10 07:23:36 MST 1995

Productivity and technical composition of capital

On replying to Jim Miller, John Ernst writes

>   John asks: "Does the technical composition
>of capital increase faster, slower, or at the
>same pace as productivity in Marx's notion of
(Snipped Jim's reply)
>John says:
>You didn't answer the question.  To be sure,
>you note that the physical mass of the means
>of production increases relative to the number
>of workers as accumulation takes place.  This
>means that inputs per worker are increasing.
>You also state that productivity grows as
>accumulation takes place.  this means that
>outputs per worker are increasing.
>I asked which is increasing faster the inputs
>or the outputs.  You did not answer.

At first sight John is presenting here a very concrete question. But, is
it? Let us get even more concrete than John by considering a concrete

As Marx shows in Chapter 1, an increase in productivity is a purely
material relation between the living labor put into action and the mass of
use-values it produces in a given time. So, to take an example, an increase
in productivity means that if a hour of living labor of 50 workers produced
100 pairs of shoes, it now produces, let's say, 200. As Marx shows in
Chapter 1 too, the increase in productivity does not add an atom to the
total value produced in a given time, since an hour of socially necessary
abstract labor embodied in the mass of commodities produced by it goes on
being such. What happens is that this mass of value, let's say  $1000, is
now materialized in a larger mass of use-values, making the value of each
pair of shoes to fall from $10 to $ 5.

Now, as Marx shows in chapter 1 too, the way to achieve this increase in
productivity (let aside a purely natural favorable change in the conditions
of production) is to provide living labor with new means of production that
materially support it. When this technical determination develops into its
specifically capitalist concrete form, it keeps its material essence
completely unchanged, to become an increase in the technical composition of
capital, "the physical mass of the means of production ... relative to the
number of workers" (actually, labor) that uses it (chapter 23). What does
this concretely mean? That the increase in productivity that makes shoes
production jump from 100 to 200 pairs per hour of living labor, has been
achieved by replacing the manual nailing of the soles with a
nailing-machine, for instance, 20 hammers have been replaced by 3
nailing-machines. But the same increase could have resulted from each
ordinary hammer being replaced by one electric hand-held hammer; or by
replacing the original 20 workers that solely nailed soles with the
original hammers with 50 workers that use electric hammers part of their
labor-time and get into other productive tasks the rest of it. And, of
course, the increase in productivity can actually result from the
replacement of nailed soles with glued soles. In such case, the 20 original
hammers could have been replaced by 2 gluing machines, or maybe by 35
brushes and glue-pots, etc. Let us assume for simplicity that in all of
these cases the rest of the means of production are duplicated to achieve
the duplicated production.

Could John tell us case by case if the replacement of 20 ordinary hammers
with a) 3 nailing machines, b) 20 electric hammers, c) 50 electric hammers,
d) 2 gluing machines, e) 35 brushes and glue-pots, is an increase in the
technical composition of capital faster, slower or at the same pace as the
increase in the material out-put per hour from 100 to 200 pairs of shoes,
that results from the increase in the productivity of an unchanged mass of
living labor on the basis of any of these new technological alternatives?

Of course, he could not. Because nobody can. There is no need to advance
into the concrete forms that mathematics takes when it is developed into
the so-called chaos theory, to know it. As it happens concerning many real
forms, all the secret lies in their most simplest determinations,
elementary mathematics in this case. The technical composition of capital
is a qualitative material relation established between two material forms
that lack any commensurable common substance. So their relation itself
lacks an immediate quantitative expression. Hence, there is no way of
placing this relation in a direct relation with the increase of
productivity or production through their magnitudes.

John's question can only be formulated by abstracting two real concrete
forms from their determinations, thus ideally turning them into two pure
abstractions. John's _is_ a really abstract question and, therefore, a
false question.

Yet, John is obviously not an ignorant, he is an economist. So, again, not
to turn our discussion into an abstract matter, we need to look for the
possible source of his confusion. Maybe he is mixing up here some purely
material relations with the way in which the change in the organic
composition of capital (that is, the change in the value composition of
capital between c and v, insofar as it is determined by the change in the
technical composition of capital - chapter 23 again) becomes reflected in
the value of each material unit produced when the productivity of labor is
increased. In that case, John is mixing up determinations that belong in
the process of production of capital insofar as it is a material process,
with determinations that belong in the production of capital insofar as it
is a process of valorization. And this can only happen when the twofold
character of the capitalist process of production (where material
production produces at the same time the general social relation) becomes
isolated from the development of its determinations and ideally turned into
an abstraction. In other words, in that case, as an economist, John is
falling to the appearances that arise from the fetishistic nature of the
simplest form of our materialized general social relation, commodities (of
course, discovered by Marx in chapter 1), as a consequence of abstracting
them from their real necessity by stopping at these appearances under the
developed concrete forms they take in the process of capital valorization.

Maybe John or someone else could believe that the technical composition of
capital can be measured by the hours of dead socially necessary labor
materialized in the means of production and the socially necessary hours of
living-labor put into action by using them. In fact, John shows to practice
such sort of believe, as I will show in a further post. So I will point out
here that, in commodity production, there is no way of determining the
amount of hours of social labor materialized in a commodity, let alone the
determination of the amount of social labor currently being put into action
as concrete living-labor. Were these computations possible,
commodity-production would not be what it is, an autonomously regulated
social system, and, actually, would not be existing at all.

By the way, it is already obvious that John's "agree(ment) to whatever you
(Juan) are saying about value" is another abstract assertion.

Juan Inigo
jinigo at

     --- from list marxism at ---

More information about the Marxism mailing list