Compostion of Capital (Note to Juan)

John R. Ernst ernst at
Wed Nov 15 01:08:06 MST 1995

Dear Juan, 
OK,  let's cut to the quick. 
John said: 
>But when you argue against Marx, note 
>that most agree that when we say productivity 
>increased 4% for a given economy in a year, we do 
>not refer to valuation.  We somehow can compare 
>outputs from one period to the next.  I am simply saying, 
>let's compare inputs. 
Juan says: 
"Most" is quite a convenient abstraction, 
 isn't it? And what about "somehow"?  
"Somehow" how, John? Productivity is a 
 material relation that has a quantitative 
 direct expression only at the level of each 
 material production process: units of a given 
 use value/concrete living labor needed to 
 produce them (Chapter 1, to begin with). 
 Could John tell us how he adds increases in 
 productivity in the production of cannons with 
 increases in productivity in the production of 
 candies to say, for instance, that productivity 
 has risen 4% last year, when 50% of the total  
social production has been shifted from the former 
 to the latter? Let's Samuelson's "clarity"  
concerning economic reality and Marx's discoveries 
about it, invoked in this list by Captain  
Silver Keen, help John! 
John now says: 
So you are saying that we cannot say that 
productivity on average increase by some 
percent from one year to the next? Is this  
generally true?  Can we say if the real wage 
has increased since 1900 since its compostion 
has changed?  Can we get some kind of answer 
by using index numbers? 
John said:  
Note well, as some tossed bricks at Keen  
he found an example in the GRUNDRISSE in  
which Marx clearly indicated that the  
technical composition increased at a  
slower rate than outputs. (We can indeed  
learn something from those post-Keynesians  
as they pursue their rather unique theories of 
value.) (See note below.) 
Juan says: 
The supposed example follows: 
"It also has to be postulated  
(which was not done above) that  
the use value of the machine  
significantly greater than its  
value; i.e. that its devaluation  
in the service of production is  
not proportional to its increasing  
effect on production." (p. 383) 
John now says: 
This is not the example.  
Please read the next few paragraphs 
of the GRUNDRISSE. (pp383 TO 385) 
Note that I have disagreed with  
Steve's interpretation of the sentence,  
you cite. He likes to focus on what 
comes before the "i.e." and I think 
that that which comes after it in this 
sentence is  crucial.  Both of us sought 
solace in the example that followed.  
Juan says: 
Now, where does Marx say anything about  
the technical composition in the sphere  
of production that uses the machine  
(or just in any sphere) increasing  
faster, slower or at the same pace  
that the increase in productivity here? 
John now says: 
See pages 108-109 of Book III of CAPITAL. 
(Intl. Ed.) 
Juan says: 
Note well that, what actually John's assertion 
clearly indicates is that he has "indeed  
learn(d) something from those post-Keynesians"  
like Keen: how to fantasy about Marx's quotations  
until convincing themselves that those quotations 
say whatever they want them to. No wonder John was 
so willing to hop aboard Captain Silver Keen's ship! 
Their problem begins when they attempt to make, 
those that do not share with them their social 
determination as vulgar economists, uncritically  
swallow their fantasies. 
John says: 
This is silly.  My point was that Keen had  
found a rather interesting passage in the 
the GRUNDRISSE.  (p 383-85.) As I said above, 
I disagreed with him on its meaning.  Yet, 
the example itself was extremely interesting. 
I'd like to know how you read it.   
Juan says: 
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? 
John now says: 
How many electric hammers? Assuming that an electric 
has the same mass as the "ordinary" hammer and, thus, 
hammers seem to more than triple as even more 
inputs are added, it would seem that this part 
of constant capital is more than doubling,  
which means it is growing faster than output which 
is doubling.  I think this is a different way of 
describing the material side of technical change 
than that found by our colleague, Steve,  
in the GRUNDRISSE.(Perhaps logarithms are red(smile).) 
(I am assuming that the raw and auxiliary materials 
grow at the same rate as output.) 
I think it is worth pointing to the difference  
between your example and what I maintain is  
Marx's view of the matter.  For Marx, if we  
view the accumulation process in material terms, 
the inputs do not grow as fast as outputs for 
a given labor force.  Yet, when Marx views that 
same process in value terms, he sees inputs growing 
faster than outputs.  Hence, the tendency of the 
falling rate of profit.  This makes Marx's concept 
of value crucial to an understanding of accumulation. 
Neo-Ricardians who view value as redundant are  
thus unable to agree with Marx on the falling rate 
of profit or they see it only in cases where the 
material inputs increase faster than the outputs. 
Marx, to them, does, indeed, thus become a "minor 
Since I've answered the essence of your query, 
I'll ignore the bit at the end concerning  
derivatives and use values as I am unclear 
if the use value is an input or an output, 
or, indeed, if it is even a product of a human  
production process. 
Let me thank you for the clarity of this post.  It 
was a relatively easy read.   
In orthodoxy, 
Note.  I have disagreed and will, probably, 
always disagree with Keen's notion of value. 
Yet, I am unwilling to dismiss everything he 
has to say because of that.  Indeed, he reads 
Marx and, as I pointed out, in finding the  
section of the GRUNDRISSE he did help 
me in developing my ideas concerning Marx's 
notion of accumultation.   
I think what he has to say about accumulation 
might also be of interest to those of us who 
read Marx in a rather orthodox fashion.  Sadly, 
we never seemed to be able to get beyond  
the notion of value.   

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