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I agree. Abstract labor is unobservable and probably unmeasurable, just as
utility is unobservable and unmeasurable. Nevertheless, abstract labor and
labor values do provide empirical implications.
peace, patrick l mason
At 08:31 AM 6/1/00 -0400, you wrote:
>This is a few brief and belated comments on the recent discussion about
>Marxian empirical research, in which of course I am very interested.
>I agree with Alfredo and Andy B. and Michael P. (and others I might have
>missed) that abstract labor is not directly observable as such (and have
>argued this point in my empirical papers). The only labor-hours that we
>can count and observe is actual, concrete labor. But, according to Marx's
>theory, SKILLED labor produces more value per hour than unskilled
>labor. However, we don't know what determines the "reduction
>coefficients" between skilled and unskilled labor. Some estimates (such
>as Shaikh and Tonak's) have used relative wages as the "reduction
>coefficients", but I don't think Marx determined these "reduction
>coefficients" in this way. I think he simply took them as given, as did
>Smith and Ricardo before him. And no one has yet done anything to account
>for the different INTENSITIES of labor. Without these reduction
>coefficients, I don't see how one can derive reliable, conceptually
>rigorous estimates of quantities of abstract labor.
>But that doesn't mean that Marx's theory is not about empirical
>phenomena! No indeed! Nor that Marx's theory cannot be empirically
>evaluated. In Marx's theory, the unobservable magnitudes of abstract
>labor are used to explain the observable phenomena of prices,
>surplus-value (increment of money), the rate of profit, etc., and also to
>explain other important observable phenomena, such as inherent
>technological change, conflict of the length of the working day, conflict
>over the intensity of labor, etc. Therefore, the way to empirically
>evaluate the validity of Marx's theory is to compare its explanatory power
>with respect to these important observable phenomena with rival theories.
>Several years ago, I published a paper which provides a general empirical
>appraisal of Marx's theory, which was a response to Mark Blaug's previous
>empirical appraisal of Marx's theory. I would be happy to make this paper
>available to anyone interested. I conclude that the explanatory power of
>Marx's theory is much greater than the rival neoclassical theory.
>On Thu, 25 May 2000, Patrick L. Mason wrote:
>> If we don't measure values, how do we know if the rate of surplus value is
>> rising or falling?
>> How do we know if the organic composition of capital is rising or falling?
>I argue that these variables are defined in terms of money prices (all of
>which are determined by unobservable quantities of abstract labor).
>Surplus-value is defined as delta M for the capitalist economy as
>a whole. Constant capital and variable capital are defined as the two
>components of the initial money-capital M that begins the circulation of
>capital (M-C ... etc.); i.e. M = C + V. Therefore, all of my estimates
>of these variables have been in money terms.
>> How do we know the difference between the value rate of profit and the
>> money rate of profit? Between the rate of surplus value and the rate of
>In my view, there is no difference between the value rate of profit and
>the price rate of profit. There is only one rate of profit - the price
>rate of profit, determined of course by relative labor-times. The price
>rate of profit is determined in the volume 1 analysis of capital in
>general (the total social capital) and then taken as given in the volume 3
>analysis of competition (or the distribution of surplus-value, including
>prices of production). The assumption that there are "two rates of
>profit" is of course a key feature of the "dual system" interpretation of
>Marx's theory, from Bortkeiwitz to Sweezy to Steedman, and unfortunately
>even to Shaikh. I have argued - and this is one very important point of
>agreement between myself and the TSS interpretation - that the "dual
>system" interpretation of Marx's theory is fundamentally mistaken.
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