[OPE-L:2370] Re: Re: Re: Chimps, owls and value-form theories

From: clyder (wpc@dcs.gla.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Feb 15 2000 - 06:56:23 EST

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> Nicky responds:
> Well I don't know if I'm a chimp (quite possibly!!), but the point I don't
> follow is why anyone would want to establish an 'alternative unit of
> account to money' or 'the viability of calculation in terms of labour
> time'???:

Well we are all members of the 3rd species of chimp, but the reason
why we are concerned to establish an alternative unit of account
to money is that we were polemicising against market socialism
and defending the classical conception of communism as a
moneyless economy. Mises recognised labour time as the
only viable alternative unit of account, but thought it impractical
to compute.

>(1) with regards to the Austrians, didn't Oscar Lange already
> prove your point, technically?

Yes he did. But the classical Marxian conception of planning in terms of
labour time
was effectively abandoned by western socialists in the period of the
calculation debate,
if not before. Two issues arise in relation to labour values: the economic
rationality of
using labour time as a basic metric in socialist planning, and the technical
feasibility of
so doing. We wish to reopen the argument on both of these points. We contend
that the
alleged irrationality of labour time as a basis for calculation was never
properly estab-lished,
and indeed that this conception can be sustained only by reference to an
standard of perfect rationality which has little to do with actual market
economies. We
also argue that calculation in terms of labour time is now feasible
(although admittedly
it was not at the time of the original debate). Before presenting our own
to this effect it will be useful to 'excavate' the classical Marxian
arguments which had
been forgotten or rejected by the 1920s, as these form the starting point of
our think-ing
on the matter. Lest we be misunderstood, however, we should stress that our
proposal for labour-time accounting is not made out of deference to Marx.
Rather, we
happen to agree with Mises's claims that socialist planning requires an
unit of value', and that labour time is the only serious candidate for such
a unit.

>(2) with regards to capitalism, is money
> not necessarily the only objective measure of value, *under capitalism*?

It is certainly the operational measure, this does not preclude, given
adequate statistics, the caculation of the underlying labour values.

> Of course, I agree with you that Marx doesn't need to "transform" values
> into prices, but this is because the figures in vol. 3 are already in
> prices (i.e. the transformation you talk about is what Fred says it is, a
> transformation from the analysis of capital in general to an analysis of
> many capitals in competition). Do you disagree?

Our point is rather different, our empirical studies showed, somewhat
to our surprise, that in the UK and US economies sectoral organic
compositions were negatively correlated with sectoral profit rates
contra the assumption of equalisation in volume III of capital.
Thus in practice a simple labour theory of value like that or Ricardo
or Capital vol 1 predicts sectoral rates of profit better than the
theory in volume III, and does as well as the theory in volume iii
in predicting sectoral prices.

> The main point is, of course, that I remain unconvinced of the usefulness
> of Marx's "Capital" for understanding socialist economies; and unconvinced
> by your argument that Capitalism can only be completely understood from
> vantage point of socialism.

Of course most of the discussion of the labour theory of value in Capital is
towards the nature and dynamics of capitalism (theory of capitalist
exploitation, theory
of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, and so on). But there are
several passages
which elaborate a more general conception of the proportional distribution
of labour
time as a basic necessity facing any form of economy, and which put the
labour theory
of value into context as the specific 'form of manifestation' of this
necessity under the
conditions of capitalism. Such passages are scattered, but if we collect
them together
they reveal a substantial 'vision' of the economy as a system of allocation
of labour
time to different productive purposes-a vision which is as relevant to the
of a socialist economy as it is to any other system.
Perhaps the most striking statement of this general view is contained in
letter to Kugelmann of 11 July 1868:

  Every child knows that any nation that stopped working, not for a year,
but let us say, just
  for a few weeks, would perish. And every child knows, too, that the
amounts of prod-ucts
  corresponding to the differing amounts of needs demand differing and
  determined amounts of society's aggregate labour. It is self-evident that
this necessity of
  the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is certainly not
abolished by the
  specific form of social production; it can only change its form of
manifestation. (Marx
  and Engels, 1988: 68, )

This view is amplified in various passages from Volume III of Capital. For

  For a commodity to be sold at its market-value, i.e. proportionally to the
necessary so-cial
  labour contained in it, the total quantity of social labour used in
producing the total
  mass of this commodity must correspond to the quantity of the social want
for it, i.e. the
  effective social want (Marx, 1972: 192).

A passage from p. 636 of the same work similarly expands on the law of value
it applies to "each total product of the particular social spheres of
production made
independent by the division of labour": what is required is that

  not only is no more than the necessary labour-time used up for each
specific commodity,
  but only the necessary proportional quantity of the total social
labour-time is used up in
  the various groups. For the condition remains that the commodity
represents use-value.
  But if the use-value of individual commodities depends on whether they
satisfy a par-ticular
  need then the use-value of the mass of the social product depends on
whether it
  satisfies the quantitatively definite social need for each particular kind
of product in an
  adequate manner, and whether the labour is therefore proportionately
distributed among
  the different spheres in keeping with these social needs, which are
quantitatively circum-scribed.

A similar citation in this vein is from Volume 1 of Capital (Marx, 1976: 169
Marx begins with a Crusoe story, pointing out that "Nature itself compels
to divide his time with precision between his different functions. Whether
one function
occupies a greater space in his total activity than another depends on the
magnitude of
the difficulties to be overcome in attaining the useful effect aimed at."
After discussing
the counterpart to the Robinsonian calculations in feudal and primitive
societies, Marx
comes to the case of socialism.

  Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working
with the means of
  production held in common, and expending their many different forms of
labour-power in
  full self-awareness as one single labour force. All the characteristics of
Robinson's labour
  are repeated here, but with the difference that they are social instead of
individual. . . .
  The total product of our imagined association is a social product. One
part of this product
  serves as fresh means of production and remains social. But another part
is consumed by
  the members of the association as means of subsistence.

In such a socialized economy, the (direct) apportionment of labour time
"maintains the
correct proportion between the different functions of labour and the various
needs of the
associations," and here "the social relations of the individual producers,
both towards
their labour and the products of their labour, are . . . transparent in
their simplicity."

These themes are also to be found in the well known text on planning from
(Engels, 1954: 429-30). Engels states that under socialism, "when society
enters into possession of the means of production and uses them in direct
for production, the labour of each individual, however varied its
specifically useful
character may be, becomes at the start and directly social labour." Then it
is no longer
necessary to express the labour-content of goods in the 'roundabout' form of
exchange-value. Rather, "society can simply calculate how many hours of
labour are
contained in a steam-engine, a bushel of wheat of the last harvest, or a
hundred square
yards of cloth of a certain quality." Using this knowledge, "the useful
effects of the
various articles of consumption, compared with one another and with the
quantities of
labour required for their production, will in the end determine the plan.
People will
be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of

>Is there any place in your theory for an
> analysis of the specificities of 'capitalism' and 'socialism' as 'social
> forms"?

Most certainly!

> comradely,
> Nicky

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