[OPE-L:4453] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Technical change and general truths

From: Ian.Hunt (Ian.Hunt@flinders.edu.au)
Date: Mon Nov 06 2000 - 02:26:37 EST

The harshness of the language does not matter much. As to the theoretical
issue, the question is whether the capacity of the capitalist system to
extract surplus labour is a more fundamental feature of the sytem than how
comepiteively profit is distributed among capitalists. If it is, then the
total of surplus value (which is given by the rate of surplus value and
employment) is determined 'prior' to whether there is an equal rate of
profit. ( an analysis that assumes varying industry rates of profits which
may or may not converge depending on competitiveness conditions would be
more general than one that assumes a uniform rate of profit).

On the question Steve has raised about labour poweer and machines, this is,
I think, essentially the same point that Brody made many years ago, that
there is nothing in terms of productivity to distinguish labour from any
other basic commodity (commodity used directly or indirectluy in the
production of every other). Steedman and Wolff also emphasised this point:
you can have  steel or wheat theory of value on the same footing as a
labour theory of value. In a sense it is obvious that surplus does not come
entirely from labour: how productive labour is, that is whether it is
possible to have a surplus at all and how big that surplus is, depends not
only on how many hours workers work but on the the resources and techniques
of prouduction that they use.

I think labour can be distinguished from machines only because labour-power
produces its use value, labour, only because of the control exercised over
labourers under capitalist social relations of production: these social
relations of production are themselves, in that sense, a productive force.
It is because of this 'contradiction' - in the case of labour power, social
relations of production are an immediate factor inherent in the productive
force of labour - that we can speak of a capitalist system of production. I
always thought Steedman's argument, that you could have capitalism without
labour, was funny - not that you can't have a system of production or even
commodity production without labour (the owners would be independent
propritors 'petty-bourgeois' of a marvellously productive mechanised
resource, just like letting the sun shine on plants to make one's living) -
but that it is not capitalism if it is not a system through which need
drives exploitation of labourers by capitalist owners of means of

On the point that capitalism is 'disaggregated', I think it is and it
isn't: clearly it is organised on the basis of private property but this
gives rise to the problem that every theorist strives to solve: how does a
private property system cohere? Capitalism is in fact a more aggregated
system of production than before it: as Engels used to say, we have a
'contradiction' between the socialisation of production under capitalism
and private ownership.

>Hi Fred,
>Yes, I agree that I used harsh language, and I stand by it.
>As you put it, this argument is that "the total amount is LOGICALLY
>DETERMINED prior to the determination of the individual
>parts". My systems-oriented mind can't help but ask 'by what mechanism?'.
>To me, this argument is as specious as the one Friedman used to define
>uncertainty, that individual incomes are unknown, but aggregate income is
>known and never changes.
>Both propositions are balderdash, irrespective of the politics of the
>authors who uttered them. Unless these 'variables' are determined in some
>aggregate fashion by some meaningful system, and then split up between
>individuals, then the alleged mechanism is nothing other than a nonsense
>abstraction used to sustain a nonsense theory--again, whether that theory
>be marxian or neoclassical.
>In other words, if capitalism is a disaggregated system of production and
>distribution, then you have to work from the units up, and not from the top
>down. This is not an argument for methodological individualism of course,
>nor a denial of the fact that perceptions and magnitudes at the systemic
>level affect its components.
>At 05:00 PM 11/3/2000 -0500, you wrote:
>>This is a belated response to Steve K's (4371).
>>On Tue, 31 Oct 2000, Steve Keen wrote:
>>> Sorry Rakesh,
>>> But I regard this particular argument of Marx's:
>>> "As Fred says, the macro magnitudes are determined  prior to, and are
>>> determinative of, the micro magnitudes of the rate of profit and the
>>> prices of production (see also Blake, 1939; Mattick, 1983)."
>>> (for once I can't quickly locate the original by Marx, but I do know it)
>>> as one of the greatest kludges he ever attempted to pull. That capitalism,
>>> which is inherently a competitive class system, should somehow operate as a
>>> true collective of capitalists as to the division of surplus-value, I
>>> regard as pure nonsense.
>>Steve, this is harsh language.  Are you saying that it is logically
>>impermissible to assume that the total amount of surplus-value produced in
>>the economy as a whole is determined prior to the division of this total
>>amount into individual parts?  If so, on the basis of what grounds?
>>Marx did not argue that capitalists consciously act to collect all the
>>surplus-value before they divide it up.  But rather that the total amount
>>is LOGICALLY DETERMINED prior to the determination of the individual
>>parts.  The reason why Marx determined the total amount first is that,
>>according to his theory, all the individual parts of surplus-value have
>>the same source: the surplus labor of workers.  Capitalists certainly
>>compete over this division of the total surplus-value; but that does not
>>preclude the logical determination of the total prior to its
>>Marx called capitalists "hostile brothers": they are brothers in that they
>>all live off the surplus labor of workers, but they certainly have their
>>hostilities over the division of this booty.
>>Why is this method of determination not permissible?
>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
>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/

Associate Professor Hunt,
Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
Flinders University

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Nov 30 2000 - 00:00:04 EST