[OPE-L:4458] Re: Re: Technical change and general truths

From: Steve Keen (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Date: Tue Nov 07 2000 - 01:57:28 EST

Hi Andy,

I've since found the relevant quote from Marx:

"Thus, although in selling their commodities the capitalists of the various
spheres of production recover the value of the capital consumed in their
production, they do not secure the surplus-value, and consequently the
profit, created in their own sphere by the production of these
commodities... So far as profits are concerned, the various capitalists are
just so many stockholders in a stock company in which the shares of profit
are uniformly divided per 100." (Marx 1894)

I would actually let Marx get away with this to some degree if he was
talking about what I call the realisation problem--the problem of
converting surplus-value into monetary profit--rather than simply trying to
justify a numeric fudge to sidestep the transformation problem.

But as it stands? Sorry, I simply can't take it seriously.

At 10:44 AM 11/6/2000 -0000, you wrote:
>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
>> >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
>> >>>
>> >>> as one of the greatest kludges he ever attempted to pull. That
>> >>> 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
>> >>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
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/

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