Compostion of Capital (Note to Juan)
John R. Ernst
ernst at pipeline.com
Wed Nov 15 01:08:06 MST 1995
OK, let's cut to the quick.
>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.
"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?
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Let me thank you for the clarity of this post. It
was a relatively easy read.
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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