[OPE-L:4457] Re: Technical change and general truths

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Nov 06 2000 - 05:44:13 EST

Dear Ian, Steve and all,

Brief comments below:

On 6 Nov 2000, at 8:26, Ian.Hunt wrote:

> 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).

But then everything rests on precisely what you mean by 'more 

Steve, if you accept that social structures are reproduced and 
transformed by individual activity, but not created by that activity, 
then where is the absurdity in postulating that SV be determined 
prior to its distribution? If you don't accept this then how do you 
see the relation between social structure and individual activity?

> 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.

Just because people have made the arguement doesn't mean it is 
correct. I have argued that labour is fundamentally different from 
machinery precisely in terms of the *nature* of contribution to 
production, it's *qualitative* characteristics. Labour has a universal 
and creatively transformative character. Machines don't. Further 
this difference underlies Marx's argument on exploitation, on my 
argment. Thus, if you have in mind the quantitative aspect of 
'productivity' only, you need to make this explicit, and you need to 
argue why quantity is all that matters here ... but may be I have 
misunderstood your argument....

> 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
> production.

So you pick out a qualitative characteristic of labour. But how does 
this charactersitic serve to *substantiate* Marx's argument that SV 
is soley down to labour? Hence Marx's argument on exploitation? 
To do that we need to determine tha causal processes at work 
which entail that the contribution of a machine in production is 
covered by its cost price, whereas the contribution of labour-power 

> 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.

Yes, here you touch upon my question to Steve re 'social 
structures' and 'individuals' above



> Cheers,
> Ian
> >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.
> >
> >cheers,
> >Steve
> >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
> >>division.
> >>
> >>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?
> >>
> >>Comradely,
> >>Fred
> >>
> >>
> >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/
> Associate Professor Hunt,
> Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
> Flinders University

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