[OPE-L:5332] Re: Re: is technical change continuous or discontinuous?

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Wed Apr 04 2001 - 17:40:55 EDT

Re Rakesh's [5329]:

> Jerry, well labor productivity does indeed
> seem to improve all the  time.

Well, I don't know about that. The further one
extends the time horizon, the more it appears
to be the case.  In any event,  the way labor
productivity is conventionally measured
(output/worker/hr) doesn't tell us *what* the
increase in productivity is due to. Over the
long-term, there is little doubt that technical
change is the primary factor. Yet, if that is
how labor productivity is measured in
government publications and private research
agencies,  the increase in productivity could be
due toshort-run increases in labor intensity,
can't it? I.e. the conventional measure of labor productivity isn't limited
to measuring the
effects of  technological change.

> (snip, JL) Improvements in productivity also
> result from  better utilization of the means of
> production and re-organization of
> the work process--learning by doing, as the
> jargon goes.

That's true. It's  a reason for looking at the
diffusion of new technologies as a process that
takes place over a period of years.  And
it is easy to see that within the diffusion curve
the gains in productivity at the beginning
of the curve are frequently less than the gains
that occur as the diffusion of the technology continues (if this were not
the case, then we
wouldn't observe the familiar "S" shape of the

> Such
> incremental improvements do not require the
> scrapping of fixed
> capital. It is true that more radical innovations
> require the
> replacement of fixed capital.

Right, but improvements in capacity utilization
don't represent technical change. "Learning by
doing" (LBD) concerns gaining the benefits in
terms of productivity over time related to a
given technology. Thus, it is certainly part of
the process, but I don't think that LBD can be
considered _by itself_ to be technical change.

 >  At
> any rate, we need a distinction between
> incremental and radical
> innovation.

I think we are better able to comprehend the
importance of the timing of changes in the
age stratification of constant fixed capital
and moral depreciation on the business cycle
-- and  "long waves" -- if we look at this as a
discontinuous process.

There are other reasons for this as well. E.g.
to link-up Marx's "period analysis" with a
longer-term analysis.  If we look at change as
continuous,  we have to reject "period analysis"
and with it the separation in time of each of the
following moments: M - C - M'.  That is, such
short-term discontinuities wouldn't be observable
if we look at this as a continuous process.
I also think that a rejection of this possibility,
including the temporal separation between
production and sale (and the possibility that
the ideal value won't be actualized through sale)
played a major role in terms of why Marx
rejected Say's Law.

> Well, I certainly read Marx as emphasizing the
> continuous
> depreciation of unit values as a result of
> on-going
> techno-organizational change.

On-going, but not continuous. See previous
paragraph I wrote.

> At any rate, Jerry, I thank you for raising
> questions of empirical  relevance for as of
> late we just seem to be adding up the purely
> logical critiques of Marx.
> Most recently,  we have Marx's logical
> contradiction in his analysis  of double
> divergence and the average commodity
> (here Fred and Allin  agree) to go with his
> logical error of leaving the inputs
> untransformed (on which most people agree
> from Sweezy to Duncan to  Ajit) to go with
>  his logical failure to think through the
> implications of his use value-exchange value
> dialectic (this is  Steve) to go with his logical
> leaps in chs 5 and 6 (as Gil has argued).
>  I think Bohm Bawerk would have been
> proud of  the  concerns  and performance of
> OPE-L!

I'm not sure what Bohm-Bawerk would have
said about OPE-L.  I think that the class that he
represented would be genuinely afraid of us
because of the *potential* that we represent. I.e.
it is a very negative development from their
perspective  for Marxists from around the world
to get together in the same (cyber) space and
talk to each other seriously and critically about
the issues related to political economy that
concern them.

As for the person whose favorite motto was
"De omnibus dubitandum" (Doubt everything),
I think he would be very pleased with our
discussions -- even though I believe he would
have made some highly critical remarks about
what some of us have written (here I include myself). Indeed, I believe that
if he were alive,
he would be a member of OPE-L!!! (I would
have used all of my powers of persuasion to
get him to join!!!).

To those on _other_ lists who profess to be his
advocates and who exhibit the vice that he
detested most (Servility), he would not be so
kind. Indeed, I think that he would have been
_appalled_  by any display of servility towards
his own writings.

In solidarity, Jerry

PS: For those who believe, along with Althusser,
that he was an anti-humanist, his favorite maxim
-- "Nihil humanum a me alienum puto" (Nothing
human is alien to me) -- must see very odd indeed.

PPS: Many of those on this list also share his
favorite occupation: "Bookworming"!

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