jamiller at igc.apc.org
Wed Nov 15 16:53:11 MST 1995
TECHNOLOGICAL COMPOSITION OF CAPITAL
Juan Inigo and I had argued that quantitative measures
of the technical composition of capital are impossible
because there are so many qualitatively distinct elements
that must be brought together to get production going.
Various tools, equipment, factory infrastructure, power
supplies, auxiliary materials, different kinds of raw
materials, etc. As long as we are considering them as
use values, we cannot measure them as representatives
of this or that quantity of socially-necessary labor. They
can only be measured as yards of tape, tons of grain,
kilowatts of electricity, gallons of oil, etc. And how does
one measure machines? It can't really be done in such
a way as to provide some practical, all-inclusive measure
of the "means of production," considered as use values.
Now John Ernst says, "but remember one set of inputs
was at least part of a prior set of outputs. Thus, if you
can make a comparison of outputs, it seems to me you
should be able to compare inputs."
Yes, you can quantitatively compare particular inputs,
in a sequential way, as long as they are all of the same
type, and serve the same function in production, but only
in specific ways that are applicable to the physical nature
of the particular equipment. For example, in a steel mill,
you can measure tons of coal (as input) per worker. Then,
with new methods of production, you can remeasure the same
ratio again and note the difference. Or you can count the
number of spindles per worker in a textile mill. And this
ratio changes as well with new technology. But these
measures are by no means complete measures of the technical
composition of capital. They are only material indicators
of the improvement of the productivity of labor.
John then refers back to Tugan-Baranowsky's model of
production, wherein supposedly Tugan was able to "compute
the same rate of profit whether he used the materials or the
values," once having assigned values to inputs and outputs.
Thus Tugan is supposed to have been able to reduce all use
values to one commensurable quality. This, John notes, makes
the concept of value, at best, redundant, as with Steedman
and the Ricardians.
Without either embracing or rejecting Tugan's theory,
John maintains that it forms the basis for a "powerful
criticism of the falling rate of profit." Here John is
mistaken. This is but another way of saying Ricardo's book,
_The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation_, stands as
a "powerful criticism" of Marx's _Capital_.
After referring to Sweezy, Dobb, etc., John then states:
"in the models of all the Marxists mentioned above, the
technical composition of capital increases faster than
productivity as techniques change." Yet he gives no indication
as to how the TCC can be comprehensively quantified. In effect
he is arguing that since a Ricardian made a "powerful
criticism" in which the technical composition of capital was
quantified, therefore we have to accept this, no matter how
absurd it is from the standpoint of Marx's labor theory of
value. John is adapting to the Ricardian point of view, but
doesn't explain why.
Yet John maintains that he wrote a paper in 1982 against
Okishio and other neo-Ricardians. There he says that "crucial
to my argument is the notion that values cannot be assigned
to inputs and outputs simultaneously ex post." Then he talks
about the work he is doing on the turnover of fixed capital
in relation to the periodicity of crises.
But there is nothing of substance in John's post on the
question of the quantification of inputs and outputs as use
values. Is that 1982 paper available on the internet? I'd
like to see it.
Steve Keen sent me a reminder about a passage from the
_Grundrisse_ that figured in his debate with John. Here it
is (I think): "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."
I can see why Ricardians would try to make something of
this. But keep in mind, this book is an unedited manuscript.
The phrase "use value...greater than value" is not consistent
with Marx's views. But then he clarifies it, in effect
correcting himself, with the phrase following the "i.e."
So we see that what he is talking about is the effect of the
use value of the machine on its exchange value.
What he means is that the introduction of the new machine
has two results from the standpoint of value: 1) how much
the product is devalued by the use of the new machine (due
to the greater output per hour of labor), and 2) how rapidly
the value materialized in the machine passes into the value
of the product of labor. And these two value effects are not
proportional to each other.
The effect a machine has on the productivity of labor
depends on technical matters regarding the machine's design
and function. As I mentioned before, some innovations increase
productivity a lot, some only a little. This is an engineering
problem. But the bigger effect on productivity, the more it
devalues the product of labor.
The question of how rapidly the machine's value passes into
the product of labor depends on how quickly it wears out. The
long-term technical trend under capitalism is toward more
and more durable machines. Initially, many machines had
wooden components. These gave way to iron and steel. Now
machine construction incorporates a lot of exotic alloys
designed to maximize wear resistance and rapidity of motion.
Thus modern machinery will pass only small amounts of value
to the product per hour, or per unit of product, in contrast
to machines of the past.
RELIGION AND MORALITY
Shawgi Tell made some good comments on the class nature of
the everyday conditions of life, the conditioning of individuals
within the context of class-divided society, how this affects
their expectations, judgment, morality, etc. I think his remarks
demonstrate how scientific thinking about sociological issues
can demystify social relations and clarify how ideas and actions
are shaped under the relentless pressures of class oppression.
What Peter Burns fails to recognize sufficiently is that
everyone (in modern times anyway) is raised up and acculturated
in a society which is founded on the exploitation of one class
by another. He argues for the principles of justice and morality
as though these existed apart from society, and were derived
from some higher power. But where did he learn his principles
or morality and justice? I doubt that he would claim that he
learned them directly from God, with no human mediation.
Peter says, "I think it would be unwise for marxists to think
of moral motives simply as preferences derived from biology,
culture and class struggle, since I think that that way lies
the road to a relativism that marxists should not be comfortable
If morality is not derived from biology, culture and class
struggle, then from whence is it derived? Peter doesn't say,
although he refers to "normative justification" as an alternative
to the scientific method of explaining social or ideological
phenomena. In my opinion, Peter is here thinking of the supreme
Normative Justifier as the source of moral injunctions. It
might make the discussion go a little easier if Peter would
be a little more open about this. It seems to me that I heard
that the Jesuits have a tendency to argue about divine
intervention without reference to the Deity, restricting
themselves to secular terminology. I don't understand this.
However, tactics of the Jesuits aside, the belief that
morality, and ideology in general, arises from sources other
than "biology, culture and the class struggle," can be a
secular argument, advanced by more-or-less atheistic people.
If God doesn't give us the rules, these people think, then
the rules are just "there" throughout all eternity, and can
be comprehended by human beings who first evolved from apes
and subsequently absorbed what was already "there." The
"principle" that "one should not kill," an injunction which
undoubtedly predated the trilobites, must have hovered
patiently in the methane-ammonia atmosphere until creatures
evolved who had the capacity to think about whether or not
they were killing each other. Then these creatures adopted
this eternal "principle." (Or rejected it, adopting the other
equally eternal principle that one can kill the enemy, but
not the ally. Or was that the principle that one can kill
the guilty but not the innocent? I think I need Brother
Peter's help in this. My reading of the Bible indicates that
the rules about who you can kill and who you can't are
extremely compicated.) I would add here that those secular
philosophers who uphold the existence of eternal principles
are really just bashful deists, or perhaps people who lack
the energy to think too much about the source of their
ideas. In my view, when it comes to locating the origin of
morality, or any other category of ideology, we must choose
between divine origin and human origin. There is nothing
As far as the materialistic claims of Marxism are concerned,
I don't think there is anything that can't be understood quite
readily by reading _Anti-Duhring_, by Frederick Engels. It
touches upon all the topics that tend to come up in debates
of this sort. Not only is it scientific, but it makes a lot
of sense to any person who doesn't believe in eternal
"principles." For my part, I think I've said enough on this
topic for now.
THE MARXISM LIST
Jon says the list is a list "about Marxism, not just a
list for Marxists," as opposed to Matt, who wants a list
"for Marxists, but not to exclude non-Marxists."
I agree with Jon and Matt. We don't want to exclude non-
Marxists. The list should serve the function of attracting
people who are open to Marxism. Once they sign on to the list
they might find something here that can teach them about
Marxism. That would be good. That's what we want. Let them
argue, pose questions. Those of us who are Marxists should
welcome the opportunity to influence others.
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