[OPE-L:3999] Re: Re: Surplus value or surplus argument?

From: Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Date: Sat Oct 07 2000 - 00:23:39 EDT

On Fri, 6 Oct 2000, Steve Keen wrote:

> Subject: [OPE-L:3976] Re: Surplus value or surplus argument?
> Thanks Fred,
> Yes it is proportionality in the strict sense of the word, but it is no
> longer Marx's theory in the strict sense of the word.

Steve of course later retracted the agreement stated in the first part of
this sentence in a later post (a reply forthcoming).  As for the assertion
in the second part of this sentence:  this is Steve's opinion, of
course.  I think this proportionality IS Marx's theory, as he presented it
in Capital, as discussed further below. 

> This is where I believe the divide arises between myself, Ajit, Gil et al
> on one broadly defined side of this debate (possibly including Allin & Paul
> on this issue), and yourself. Both sides are saying that Marx's theory as
> he wrote it can't be sustained, in that strict proportionality between
> surplus value and necessary labor can't be correct.

Steve, I am NOT saying that "Marx's theory as he wrote it cannot be
sustained".  I am saying the opposite: that Marx's theory as he wrote CAN
be sustained.  

Secondly, I don't understand why you say that surplus-value value is
proportional to NECESSARY labor. Surplus-value is proportional to SURPLUS
labor.  What do you mean by "necessary labor"?   Is this a slip?

> You are saying that so long as we bring in an unobservable modifier m, then
> we can make S proportional to V when this modifier is part of the equation.
> Well, mathematically, perhaps; but what does this do to the simple Marxian
> clarion call that all surplus arises from labor (with which I don't agree,
> of course, but it's a very large part of why people are initially attracted
> to Marx)? Surplus is an unobservable number times L, minus workers' wages?

> Any potential recruits who heard that argument at a first meeting with
> the IS would wobble out of the meeting hall and go looking for a less
> confusing belief system.
> This of itself doesn't concern me too greatly, but it's a sign of the
> divide which exists between the simple message which recruits people to
> an initial interest in Marx, and the complex footwork needed to sustain
> a comparable message once you look very closely at the argument.

Steve, m is not just an "unobservable modifier", just a number, without
any theoretical content.  Rather,  m expresses quantitatively the basic
assumption of Marx's labor theory of value: that each hour of abstract
labor produces m amount of money-value (e.g. 0.5 shillings per hour).  m
is not something unrelated to labor, but is instead the rate at which
labor produces money new-value.  The labor theory of value cannot be a
theory of prices with L alone.  m is also required.  

Next, the variable explained by Marx's theory is not "surplus",
but surplus-value, which is defined as dM and illustrated as 3
shillings.  Steve, what do you mean by "surplus"?

As for the clarion call, here is how I understand Marx's theory of
surplus-value (with Marx's numerical examples from Chapter 7):

1.  Workers are paid a certain daily money-wage (V), which Marx took as
given (e.g. 3 shillings).  

2.  Workers are then put to work producing money new-value, at a given
rate per hour (e.g. 0.5 shllings per hour).  

3.  Necessary-labor-time is the number of hours required for workers to
produce money new-value that is equal to the money-wage that they are paid
(e.g.  NLT = V/m = 3 sh. / 0.5 sh. per hour = 6 hrs).

4.  Surplus-labor-time is the rest of the working day, i.e. the difference
between the total working-day and necessary-labor-time (e.g. SLT = 12
hrs. - 6 hrs. = 6 hrs).

In this surplus-labor-time portion of the working day, workers continue to
produce money new-value at the rate of 0.5 sh. per hr., but this
additional new-value no longer goes to replace (or "pay back") the
money-wage paid to workers.  Rather, this additional new-value produced in
the surplus-labor-time becomes the surplus-value of capitalists (S = mLs =
3 sh.)

Thus it is clear from this theory that surplus-value is produced by
workers in the surplus-labor time portion of their working day (and by all
workers, not just workers that produce "surplus goods").  This is not
"complex footwork", nor a "confusing belief system".  This is simple and
straightfoward logic, easily understood.  

As it happens, I presented this brief summary of Marx's theory of
surplus-value this week in a guest lecture for a politics course at Mount
Holyoke, and the students understood very well the theory and its
meaning.  I would even say that many of them were pretty fired up at the
end, some because the theory made sense of their experiences as workers
and others in order to defend capitalists and the fairness of
capitalism.  But both sides understood clearly that this theory is not
just dry mathematics.  If this theory is true, then workers in capitalism
are exploited.  

In other words, the clarion call came through loud and clear.

Steve, if you see m as just an "unobservable multiplier", without any
relation to labor, then you are missing the crucial theoretical content
that Marx gave m:  the money-value produced per hour of labor, which in
the surplus-labor-time portion of the working day, becomes
the surplus-value of capitalists.


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