[OPE-L:5202] Re: [Mike W on] use-value as qualitative?

From: Steve Keen (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Date: Sun Mar 18 2001 - 17:56:39 EST

I have two posts to reply to here which I'll try to deal with separately.

Firstly, Jerry observes:
In the quote below, you focus on the last word.
I would focus on the last three words. What I
take "intrinsically incommensurable" to mean is
that they can't be "added-up" together because
they are apples and oranges so to speak.
Actually, that's a poor analogy because both
apples and oranges have the characteristic of
being fruit whereas use-value and exchange-value
only have a general and systematic common
characteristic to the extent that they both (along
with value) represent different aspects of the

I actually focus on all three words too: "intrinsically incommensurable 
magnitudes". I emphasised the final one only to make the point that, at 
least once in Capital I, Marx explicitly stated that use-value could be a 
magnitude. It seems that you've accepted that point, so let's now check the 
phrase itself out.

Your take is quite feasible: it could be, for instance, that exchange-value 
is measured in tonnes of steel, while use-value is measured in volts. 
However, we know that the unit of measurement of exchange-value which Marx 
used (and which I accept as a measurement tool) is units of socially 
necessary abstract labor. For your argument to be sustained, you would need 
to show that--in the instances in which Marx talked of use-value as being 
quantitative--he was thinking of it in terms of units of some completely 
different entity.

So how then do you interpret how he employs use-value in the following 
crucial paragraph:
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.
The fact that half a [working] day's labor is necessary to keep
the laborer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent
him from working a whole day. Therefore, the value of labor
power, and the value which that labor power creates in the labor
process, are two entirely different magnitudes; and this
difference of the two values was what the capitalist had in
view, when he was purchasing the labor power... What really
influenced him was the specific use-value which this commodity
possesses of being a source not only of value, but of more value
than it has itself. This is the special service that the
capitalist expects from labor power, and in this transaction he
acts in accordance with the 'eternal laws' of the exchange of
commodities. The seller of labor power, like the seller of any
other commodity, realizes its exchange-value, and parts with its
use-value. (Ibid, p. 188.)

Clearly in this statement, Marx is saying that: "The past labor that is 
embodied in the labor power ... [is] the
exchange-value of the labor power" and "the living labor that it can call 
into action ... is its use-value".

Are these not both units of socially necessary abstract labor time? Notice 
that he continues, after having identified the exchange-value of labor 
power with the commodities needed to sustain labor, and the use-value with 
the labor performed during a working day, he then states that "the value of 
labor power, and the value which that labor power creates in the labor 
process, are two entirely different *magnitudes*". There's that word again, 
now stated as being "entirely different" rather than "intrinsically 
incommensurable". So Marx is here explaining the source of surplus value in 
terms of the difference between the exchange-value and the use-value of the 
commodity labor-power. He says as much, very emphatically, in response to 
Wagner's# misinterpretation of Marx:

"that surplus value itself is derived from a `specific' use-value of labor 
power which belongs to it exclusively". (Marx 1879, p. 200)

So you can argue, as you continued, that "assuming the commodity-form, 
use-value can't be measured directly", and make the (valid) points you made 
about dimunition of this over time, etc.; but I still see here Marx using 
use-value as quantitative, and measured in units of socially necessary 
abstract labor time.

Having read Michael's post as well (Hi!), I think I have dealt with the 
same issues above and won't go into them (I also agree with Michael in his 
characterisations of neoclassical economics), except one: Michael's comment 
that "Marx certainly - but imo, wrongly - wanted to characterise 
[labor-power] as a Commodity".

 From my point of view, Marx's characterisation of labor-power as a 
commodity *in the first volume of Capital* is entirely understandable. I 
believe that in the intended volume on Wage Labor, Marx would have shown 
what happened when one dropped this supposition, and treated labor-power as 
both a commodity and a non-commodity. In other words, there is a further 
dialectic which means that the rules which apply to strict commodities 
(products which are produced for a profit using other products) do not 
apply in toto to labor-power. One clear consequence of this is that the 
wage would normally *exceed* the value of labor-power, since if workers 
only received their means of subsistence in return for labor, they would be 
treated as no more than commodities.

This argument is supported by the fact that *every time* Marx discussed the 
wage and the value of labor-power in the same context, he referred to the 
*minimum wage*, not the actual wage.##


#	1879. Marginal Notes on A. Wagner, in Carver, T. , 1975, Karl Marx: Texts 
on Method, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.

##	While Marx never explicitly applied his Commodity Axioms to the question 
of labor-power, it is probable that he would have done so in the intended 
third book on wage-labor (Oakley 1983, pp. 115-116). However, whenever he 
did consider the relationship between the wage and the value of 
labor-power, the term he used was not "average", but "minimum"  (Marx 1861, 
Part I, p. 46; 1846, p. 55; 1861, Part II, p. 223; Meek 1973, pp. ix-x, 
citing correspondence from Marx to Engels)--in contrast to the practice of 
his purported followers. In a section of the Grundrisse entitled "The 
minimum of wages", Marx made it clear that in his complete analysis, the 
wage would normally exceed the value of labor-power: "For the time being, 
necessary labor supposed as such; i.e. that the worker always obtains only 
the minimum of wages. This supposition is necessary, of course, so as to 
establish the laws of profit in so far as they are not determined by the 
rise and fall of wages or by the influence of landed property. All these 
fixed suppositions themselves become fluid in the further course of 
development." (Marx 1857, p. 817.)

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