[OPE-L:4289] Re: Steve on the worthlessness of labor as the source of surplus value

From: Steve Keen (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Date: Wed Oct 25 2000 - 15:39:55 EDT

Hi Alejandro,

I take the point that you're more developing your ideas than engaging in
debate. And I agree that Marx was a historical thinker. But I argue he was
also a thinker who tried to put his historical thinking into a logical
framework--rather than doing the reverse, which you rightly observe is the
way Walras et al behave.

So, given those points of agreement and one qualification, how would you
interpret the following statements by Marx?:

"On the other hand, the obscurantist has overlooked that my analysis of the
commodity does not stop at the dual mode in which the commodity is
presented, [but] presses forward [so] that in the dual nature of the
commodity there is presented the twofold *character* of *labour*, whose
product it is: *useful* labour, i.e., the concrete modes of labour, which
create use values, and abstract *labour, labour as the expenditure of
labour-power*,... that *surplus value* itself is derived from a `specific'
*use-value of labour-power* which belongs to it exclusively etc etc., that
hence with me use value plays an important role completely different than
[it did]] in previous [political] economy" (comment on Wagner)

Does not the statement "that *surplus value* itself is derived from a
`specific' *use-value of labour-power*" imply that Marx was using a form of
logic--as well as a historical argument--to assert that labour is the
source of surplus value?

Then there are also his commentaries on Ricardo's inability to explain why
the price of labour should be such that capitalists can make a profit out
of it:

“Ricardo, by contrast, avoids this fallacy, but how? ‘The value of labour,
and the quantity of commodities which a specific quantity of labour can
buy, are not identical.’ Why not? ‘Because the worker’s product … is not =
to the worker’s pay.’ I.e. the identify does not exist, because a
difference exists… Value of labour is not identical with wages of labour.
Because they are different. Therefore they are not identical. This is a
strange logic. There is basically no reason for this other than it is not
so in practice.”

By accusing Ricardo of "strange logic", is he not asserting that he has a
logical basis for his proof? He then provides it:

“Labour capacity is not = to the living labour which it can do, = to the
quantity of labour which it can get done - this is its use-value. It is
equal to the quantity of labour by means of which it must itself be
produced. The product is thus in fact exchanged not for living labour, but
for objectified labour, labour objectified in labour capacity. Living
labour itself is a use-value possessed by the exchange value [,labour
capacity,] which the possessor of the product [,the capitalist,] has
acquired in trade”.

And there again we see the concepts of use-value and exchange-value in
conjunction with the solution to the mystery of the origin of
surplus-value. I see logic and historical analysis together, not a
preference for the latter over the former--and certainly not the former
being conducted at the level of a Walras.

At 21:32 25/10/00 -0600, you wrote:
>Re Steve 4275 and Paul 4278; related also to Gil 4250 and my 4253. 
>Please note that I'm not *stricly* engaging your arguments but rather
>drafting my ideas.
>>From Steve 4275:
>"With respect to the labor theory of value interpretation of Marx, I argue
>that it is based on incorrectly accepting the premise that labor is the
>only source of value, and working logically forward from there.
>The reason I call the premise incorrect is that, if you read Marx closely,
>after 1857 that was not his initial premise but a deduction from a prior
>set of dialectical premises about the commodity, exchange-value and
>use-value. I argue that working logically from those premises reaches a
>conclusion which contradicts the labor theory of value."
>>From Paul 4278:
>"My reference to Althusser was not entirely accidental.  If I am defending
>a non-Hegelian reading of Marx, why would I be interested your discussion
>of "dialectical premises", derivative of a Hegelian reading?"
>My comment:
>I think the idea, perhaps the wording, that the propostion "[human] labor
>is the only source of value" is "deduced" from a set of "dialectical
>premises" comes from Bohm-Bawerk's interpretation of Marx's Ch. 1. I don't
>have the book right now and cannot check this out.
>But, in any case, it seems to me that Marx doesn't "deduce" this
>proposition from "logical" or "dialectical" premises. Marx is neither a
>thinker devoted to the "abstract dialectics" nor a economist "proofing
>theorems". He didn't like abstract sandcastles.
>His arguments are essentially *historical* and thus derived from
>*observation*. Marx is not a Platonic thinker (as Walras, and contemporary
>economists are) but rather a kind of Aristotelian, concerned with the
>understanding of the "laws of motion" of real things. Throughout the
>history of wo/mankind, all social human productive organisms have spent its
>labor power in order to survive in a given natural enviroment. This can be
>verified. This expenditure is the main quantitative aspect of the
>productive vital activity of such organisms. Individuals have always been
>concerned with the accounting or book-keeping of this expenditure, whatever
>the degree in which it is/was formally organized: "In all situations, the
>labor-time it costs to produce the means of subsistence must necessarily
>concern mankind." Capital, I. p. 164, Penguin.
>In the particular productive organism Marx is most concerned with --the
>commodity producing society, capitalism-- this book-keeping is *socially
>ignored*. Here, Robinsons, equipped with watch, ledger, ink and pen and
>ready for "keep a set of books [regarding] the labor time that specific
>quantities of [their] products have on average cost [them]" (p. 170), are
>not common. Anyway, records are partial and dubious and above all not
>socially taken into account as measure of the productive organism activity.
>There is no "social Robinson" here. Yet, this expenditure is, as in other
>historic examples, quite real, observable and could be eventually recorded.
>No doubt that, without it, any human productive organism will disappear.
>Hence, the issue is that, given the features of this society ("private
>exchange"), the socially prevailing form of book-keeping is not worked out
>in terms of the real, observable expenditures of human labor power but in,
>at first sight, strange, weird, categories such as "prices" and "values",
>measured in something which everybody name as "money". In this society,
>individuals really think and *talk* about the things as if they have a
>seemingly *natural* and intrisic feature called, in general terms, "value",
>and they actually use "money" to measure this. Here, things are "valuable",
>individuals say. This is by no means a transhistorical feature, but
>something that appears in this specific human productive organism. In
>addition to this, it's easily verifiable that these "value/money" figures
>are the socially accepted and general way for accounting the things society
>produces and/or consumes in order to survive. There are no other figures
>socially available for this.
>Marx's theory or, say, conjecture, is that this bizarre accounting is only
>a particular way of doing what other productive organisms have done or
>could do, in more or less degree, in terms of the expenditure of human
>labor power. So, this theory is not "derived" from premises ("dialectical"
>or not) of any model, theorem or concept. It is a hypothesis concerning a
>particular, historic, human productive organism in which all the terms of
>the formulation have a factual support. "Value" is not a "theoretical
>entity", "derived" from "premises", or "calculated" within "models", but a
>socially used category, as "money", "commodity", "price", "capital",
>"wage", etc. are. Marx gives us a theory about what is behind this socially
>spread category, about what is the meaning of this *measuring practice* in
>which, regarding the  material reproduction, everybody is in fact involved.
>So, Marx "as an economist" is not pair of people such Walras and the like,
>who are model builders, concerned with ideal, *imaginary* theoretical
>entities whose properties have to be tested only logically or
>mathematically. Problems concerning such people are e.g.: The theoretical
>entity which, in my notation, I call "market", is it in equilibrium? Is
>this equilibrium stable? Or: Can I produce a model of capitalism with one
>premise less than other models presented by morally depreciated
>researchers? Or: The theoretical self-reproducing entity which in my
>notation I call "capitalism" (but, changing notation, can be a beehive), is
>it viable if its physical surplus product = 0? etc.
>As happens with any Platonic thinking, supporters are often mystics and
>idolize their "theoretical creatures". As Plato, they are keen to advise
>tyrants about how reach "perfect societies", now updated to "perfect
>markets"; admision to the powerful sect is as always restricted.
>Coming back to my analogy with the theory of heart attacks: Walras-like
>biologists would primarily develop a model of what they *believe* is a
>"general heart". Then, they may discover that, their model of heart does
>*not* suffer attacks, and "proof" this on the spot by using logic and
>mathematics. A highly valuable knowdlege, indeed. Platonism doesn't
>distinguish between reality and model because in its metaphysics, reality
>is the model. Observable things are proyections, or rather *distortions* of
>the everlasting model, which exists in itself and by itself.
>People like Marx would try, firstly, to have a collection of real,
>palpable, hearts (this sounds too Aztec!), observe them, and then make
>hypothesis about how do they work and why do they have failures. They seek
>to record empirical information of any kind, describe it in abstract terms,
>and make hypothesis about the thing's "law of motion".
>So, Marx "as an economist" has the eyes of a social book-keeper, recording,
>accounting for, tracing down, the *time marked* expenditure of human labor
>power, which is nothing but the vital activity of the productive organism
>in question. His mathematics are not that of the self-equilibrating
>theoretical entities, but kind of accounting mathematics. His early
>predecessors are the mycaenean book-keepers, the Inka Kipukamayokuna, and
>the like. The magnitudes he refers to have, in principle, a real,
>observable, measurable content. They are always *historic* and hence time
>determined. His theory is, actually, a sketch of a system of accounting for
>a given social organism.
>Probably thanks to Feuerbach (a rarely mentioned influence), Marx is always
>concerned with "sensous", "palpable" things. What he records as "value" has
>an objective content, it is real work *effectively done* in a given time:
>"with regard to the foundation of the quantitative determination of value,
>namely the duration of that expenditure... this is *quite palpably*
>different from its quality" (p. 164).  It's not "derived" from "models" in
>which the figure is "what would be, if the economy, remains in stationary
>state from here to doomsday (i.e. long-run)." It is rather a palpable,
>recordable magnitude and, then, not a virtual one. Neither Marx nor
>Robinson are interested in "virtual" accounting of social efforts. Robinson
>do have a watch and uses it. Indeed, Marx's "value' is the opposite of
>notions such as "oportunity cost", coming from subjective presumptions or
>arbitrary "appraisals"; it is rather the record of objective and time
>determined expenditures of human labor power, which, in the end must appear
>as "money".
>I think this Mr Robinson K. Marx is still alone in his sun-bathed island,
>keep marching and book-keeping capitalism. In the academic business, one
>Carl Walras is starring him until now, unfortunately.
>Alejandro Ramos

Dr. Steve Keen Senior Lecturer Economics & Finance University of Western Sydney Macarthur Building 11 Room 30, Goldsmith Avenue, Campbelltown PO Box 555 Campbelltown NSW 2560 Australia s.keen@uws.edu.au 61 2 4620-3016 Fax 61 2 4626-6683 Home 02 9558-8018 Mobile 0409 716 088 Home Page: http://bus.macarthur.uws.edu.au/steve-keen/

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