[OPE-L:5179] Re: the transfer and depreciation of the value of means of production

From: Steve Keen (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Date: Thu Mar 15 2001 - 21:15:58 EST

Hi Jerry,

The discussion with John was informative--in fact, John spotted the 
numerical example which I had missed in my first reading of the Grundrisse. 
But it failed to satisfy me for the same reason that your comment fails to 
satisfy me, in that John would not accept the contention that use-value 
could be quantitative.

The precise context of Marx's discussion was of technical change; the 
general context was of his discussion of the dialectic between use-value 
and exchange-value. On this issue you state:
At 05:21 PM 3/15/01 -0500, you wrote:
>(NB: as the magnitude of use-value can not be
>measured as in marginalist theory by the
>artificial measure of "utils",  what Marx writes in
>the quote above is confusing. I.e. there *is no way
>of determining* whether the "use value of the
>machine is significantly greater than its value").

No, it is not confusing if you appreciate Marx's interpretation of 
use-value. However, as I have said too many times to count, most Marxists 
do not understand Marx on this issue--and with that misunderstood, 
virtually nothing else can be understood.

Remember that Marx very emphatically said the following when confronted 
with Wagner's interpretation of Capital:

"... that hence with me use value plays an important role completely 
different than [it did]] in previous [political] economy, but that, *nota 
bene*, it only comes into the picture where such consideration [of value, 
use value, etc.] springs from the analysis of given economic forms, not 
from helter-skelter quibbling over the concepts or words `use-value' and 
`value'." (McLennan p. 200.)

If you attempt to interpret Marx's discussion of use-value as if it is a 
relative of the neoclassical concept of utility, then you will 
misunderstand Marx:

>If your question, however,  boils down to the following:
>isn't the postulate that there is an increase in
>use-value and value transferred to the commodity
>over and above the value of the means of production
>inconsistent with Marx's perspectives on the creation
>of surplus-value? ... then I will offer an answer.

Far from being inconsistent with Marx's perspective on the creation of 
value, it is integral to it: in the case of inputs to production, use-value 
is *quantitative*, not qualitative. This is precisely the manner in which 
he derives the result that labor-power is a source of surplus-value in Capital:

"The past labor that is embodied in the labor power, and the living labor 
that it can call into action; the daily cost of
maintaining it, and its daily expenditure in work, are two totally 
different things. The former determines the
exchange-value of the labor power, the latter is its use-value." (Capital I 

Note that in that quote, Marx is quite definitely arguing that use-value is 
quantitative. To labor the point (pardon the pun), I can quite legitimately 
extract the following statement from that paragraph: "the living labor that 
it can call into action, its daily expenditure in work, is its use-value."

So use-value can be quantitative in Marx's analysis: it applies whenever we 
are talking the sphere of the production of commodities M--C--M+, rather 
than the sphere of circulation C--M--C. To labor the point further, Marx 
makes the following statement also in Capital: "Exchange-value and 
use-value [are] intrinsically incommensurable magnitudes" (Marx, 1867, p. 
506). I acknowledge that this confusing as you state above, but it is 
confusing because Marxists have not understood how Marx used the concept of 
use-value: not because Marx himself is confused. This is not to say, 
however, that Marx is never himself confused. When you state:

>Marx does not claim here or elsewhere that the value
>transferred to output by means of production is
>greater than the *social value* of the means of
>production. He only claims that the value transferred
>by the means of production is equal to *or less than*
>(with moral depreciation, the latter), the value of the
>means of production.

in general, your statement above is an accurate statement of what Marx 
claimed. However, it is *not* true of that one example I gave: there Marx 
did quite explicitly--in his use-value/exchange-value language linked to 
the issue of the *difference* between value creation and 
depreciation--consider that the value transferred to output by a machine 
could be greater than the value it contains: "It also has to be postulated 
(which was not done above) that the use-value of the machine significantly 
greater than its value; i.e. that its devaluation in the service of 
production is not proportional to its increasing effect on production."

I argue that in general, after he developed the use-value/exchange-value 
logic, Marx's treatment of the value-creating capacity of machinery was 
inconsistent with his dialectical philosophy on the commodity, since his 
treatment amounted to arguing that in the case of machinery, and only in 
the case of machinery, the use-value of machinery precisely equalled its 
exchange-value. This contradicts his general position that use-value and 
exchange-value are incommensurable, and that in the case of labor as an 
input to production, this incommensurability translates as a difference 
from which surplus value emanates.

If his philosophy is applied consistently--as he did in that Grundrisse 
example--then the conclusion arises that *any* input to production can be a 
source of surplus value. This is why I reject the labour theory of value, 
and of course TSS attempts to maintain it by arguing that economic dynamics 
rescues the LTV from the Sraffian critique. If it is bad philosophy, then 
it will be bad economics whether expressed in static or dynamic terms.



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