[OPE-L:5231] Re: Re: [Mike W] Re: use-value as quantitative

From: Duncan K. Foley (foleyd@cepa.newschool.edu)
Date: Wed Mar 21 2001 - 17:46:34 EST

I think it's helpful to understand that "labor-power" and "capital" 
as commodities in Marx's discussion are really derived 
"meta-concepts". Basic commodities are products of human labor 
exchanged as private property. This gives rise to the fundamental 
categories of value, exchange value, and money.

Labor-power is a concept derived from the special circumstance of the 
the exchange of the potential to produce value. Capital is a concept 
derived from the possibility of M-C-M' production for surplus value 
once labor-power is available for purchase.

Thus when Marx starts talking about the "use-value" of labor-power or 
capital (say, a machine, or money) he is using a concept defined at 
one level of abstraction (in terms of ordinary produced commodities) 
somewhat metaphorically at a higher level. The "use-value" of 
labor-power to the capitalist is its ability to produce value (and 
hence surplus value). The "use-value" of a machine to the capitalist 
is the reduction in labor costs the machine permits. Note that this 
way of talking involves a subtle switch in focus. We might expect the 
"use-value" of labor-power to be its concrete abilities (to do 
carpentry, or computer programming), but that is not how Marx's 
metaphorical development works. We might also expect the "use-value" 
of the machine to have something to do with its actual productive 
capacity (to shape metal, or to execute calculations) but that's not 
how Marx uses "use-value" in context. (This last problem bedevils 
neoclassical economists like Robert Gordon, who try to derive a 
quantitative measure of "real capital" by using the methods employed 
to try to measure "real consumption" of households. So they try to 
find measures of the "qualitative improvement" of capital. (The new 
machine, which costs the same as the old one, can shape twice as many 
pieces of metal or execute twice as many instructions.) This is 
completely foreign to the Marxian/Classical (and even /Sraffian) way 
of looking at capital, and, as far as I can tell, just adds confusing 
noise to the macroeconomic data. If, as Marx argues, the use-value of 
a machine to the capitalist is the amount of wage cost it saves, 
changes in the concrete performance of the machine are irrelevant.


>Jerry pointed out to me off-list that (a) this was a post from Mike, 
>not Jerry and (b) perhaps I should not give such a dismissive reply. 
>My apologies to Jerry, and I'll pose one more question in reply to 
>Imagine that we could find a professor of linguistics who had not 
>read any Marx, and we gave her this paragraph to read. Do you think 
>she would categorically dismiss my construction, and say that yours 
>was the only justified interpretation?
>For reference, the paragraph is:
>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.* (capital I, p. 188.)

Duncan K. Foley
Leo Model Professor
Department of Economics
Graduate Faculty
New School University
65 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10003
messages: (212)-229-5717
fax: (212)-229-5724
e-mail: foleyd@cepa.newschool.edu
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alternate: dkf@ultinet.net
webpage: http://cepa.newschool.edu/~foleyd

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