utopia/Freeman's dynamics

Maoist Internationalist Movement mim3 at nyxfer.blythe.org
Sat Oct 28 03:21:54 MDT 1995

On Mon, 16 Oct 1995 Steve.Keen at unsw.edu.au wrote:

> John,
> None of what I see as wrong with the labor theory of value
> rests on whether the interpretation of it is simultaneous
> or sequential. The gist of it--which I argued at length
> in the list's early days (I think before you joined)--is
> that I regard the proposition that non-labor inputs to
> production cannot be a source of surplus value as a
> fallacy.

The debate amongst Marxists, Sraffians and neo-classical
economists is interesting and informative, but this
particular question that Keen raises about the
surplus-value possibly emanating from pickles or
anything else always seemed to me an example of
spinelessness in academia. How could labor-power
NOT be the privileged commodity?

1. Which preceeded which historically-speaking?
Are you going to say that there was always something
abstract called pickle juice or machine innards
going back as far as labor does? By the way,
why privilege machines and machine-power?
Why not pickle-power? (BTW I admit that capitalism
didn't exist from the beginning of time, but having
a LTV for Robinson Crusoe is of some beauty is it not?)

You imagine that you answered this question
with your discussion of dynamic situations and
accumulation? In English, what will you say
to workers who say a pile of machines sitting
all day produce nothing?

2. Steve is correct to look at the logic of the
matter and then come up with examples
in the math. But I agree with Juan Inigo that
the labor theory of value links together
social and material things, and also politics.

The falling rate of profit was a tendency
that had obvious escape hatches for the
capitalists. I see no reason to be scandalized
if we had to give it up entirely if  Steve insists
as a matter of formal expression regarding the LTV.

The real reason the FRP happens is political.
Capitalists are rewarded in their competition
with each other to find technologies which
squeeze more out of workers. By itself this
might seem to counteract the FRP. However, if
the workers decide there are certain historical
and cultural norms, then that intra-capitalist
competition reaches its limits.

In a certain sense in the imperialist countries,
the unproductive workers have set those limits.
All those space-age things were supposed to
happen by the year 2000. We're supposed to be the Jetsons
in five years, but the adaption of technology has been
limited to a lot of junk like cigarette-lighters
in cars, and that's political.

What Steve is saying about wages--seems to be true in free market
societies where wages are negotiated freely and where they stand in
contrast to those of super-exploited workers. We differ in where that
surplus and wage movement is coming from. With every introduction of
technology that does boost s/v, the danger to the rate of profit is that
the workers may come to understand that and the political process
connected to it.

3. Perhaps Steve would like to explain how
attributing surplus to machines will not lead
to capitalist apologetics for a share of the
income? Do we have to give up wanting a fast growing
economy as the price for avoiding capitalist
apologetics ? Won't it then be for the social
good if people are rewarded for owning machines
(and not consuming their components)?

4. Comparing pickle-power with labor-power,
you say capitalists can introduce technology
and improve production results of both inputs.
OK. But look at which classes are involved
and the consequences, and I don't mean just
the social and political consequences.

If pickles or machines are the input, trade/exchange
happens within the capitalist class. Without
technical change, every capitalist will come to
know exactly how much pickleness can be gotten
out of pickle-power. There will be no surplus
because all will trade for the exact value of

If you introduce technical change, it still
remains true that pickles will be exchanged
amongst capitalists. If all capitalists are God
then there still won't be any surplus, because each
would anticipate the surplus, and none would
allow themselves to be cheated of it. If some capitalists
are less informed than others, they go under, but
as a CLASS, it still remains that capitalists can't
derive a surplus from pickle-power, even while
individual ones might get some temporary advantage
at one moment only to lose it at another.

Now look at exchange between capitalists and
the proletariat. Recall that proletarians are
by definition for our time people with nothing
to sell but their labor-power. They have no pickles.
So they sell labor-power. Now even if proletarians
have Godly knowledge of labor-power and its potential,
proletarians don't have Godly power to obtain their
rightful shares. Pickle-owners do have the power,
for among other reasons pickle-owners will not starve
if negotiations drag out too long. For this reason
labor-power is the ONLY commodity that might
exchange in such a way as to allow surplus-value,
and even so Marx found ways for workers to receive
both above and below the usual bourgeois dictatorship's
determination of the value of labor-power, the
socially necessary labor time to reproduce the workers
in a given historical/cultural context.

So it all boils down to WHO owns the commodity,
and the commodity labor-power is the only one
that can generate surplus for surplus-value.

5. One last comment just to link to some other gripes.
I see why Steve is frustrated with quick replies
to difficult questions, but like some others I am
troubled by the idea that refereed journals involve
superior reasoning processes.  The political
economy of academia impinges on us even here on this
thing called the "Marxism List." We may be
short-tempered and less reflective than professional
academics paid to think, but there are advantages in all that
as well. The anonymous INTERNET truth is still truth whether
expressed rudely or by Nobel-rewarded Chicago school economists.
The truth as determined by academia is a different
production process for different goals. The best
production process is where the proletariat pools
resources through its vanguard party and hires
professional revolutionaries who might not otherwise
have the time to study, much less study and lead movements.

Pat for MIM

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