[OPE-L:5597] Re: Re: Ockam's Razor

From: Rakesh Narpat Bhandari (rakeshb@Stanford.EDU)
Date: Wed May 16 2001 - 15:41:33 EDT

re Howard's 5594

>  Now
>how is aggregate social labor distributed to need in this form?  It is
>produced as concrete labor in the form of private labor, but in fact
>embodies also different aliquot portions of the aggregate labor available.
>Do these expended portions of aggregate social labor constitute value?
>Except for those that never make it to market at all -- in which case they
>are not any proportionate part of a market society's aggregate social labor
>and thus do not fit the terms of the problem -- yes.  Can we specify before
>the act of exchange the *quantity* (as distinct from quality) of value?
>No.  In the value form hours and minutes of labor are measured by ounces of
>gold, not hands of a clock.

Bravo! Succinct to say the least. Paul C seems to criticize such an 
interpretation because it does not hold out the possibility of 
directly measuring labor time. But isn't this the point of Marx's 
fetishism critique: we can't consciously measure and allocate social 
labor time since it can only be represented by way of things?

Another question: what do we do now that the link to gold has been 
broken? (There are two interesting and important Marxist analyses 
thereof in a book by John Smithin, what is money? I think one is by 
Steve Fleetwood; is the other by Michael Williams? Darn, my photocopy 
of the book is already in a box.)

>In general the whole idea that value exists only in exchange ignores the
>distinction between what is real potential, and has the ontological status
>of real, and the kind of potential we speak of when we say "anything is
>possible."  It is akin to our tendency to ignore the distinctoin between
>the existence of powers and their exercise.  Hydrogen burns.  If I keep
>hydrogen in a test tube it has the power to burn, but it is not burning.
>We don't say it is hydrogen only when its powers are being actualized.  We
>say it is hydrogen because of its atomic structure whether it is burning or
>not.  Similarly we say of labor that when it is the product of a particular
>economic structure, it is value, whether value is actualized or not.
>Labor's existence inthe value form exists as a qualitative matter prior to
>exchange, a fact shown by its nominal price -- and everything has a price
>-- but because the distribution of aggregate labor to need is an ever
>shifting process, its quantity can be measured only in exchange.

Bravo again. In a recent Historical materialism, I think John Weeks 
(whose chapter on money in Capital and Exploitation I have come to 
admire more than when I first read it) made a similar point as well.

Howard, before you joined the list, I bombarded it with a similar, 
though not as well stated, argument. Of course you may find that I 
lean too heavily on the side of actualization of value in exchange.

In short, at what point do commodities acquire value?  In A 
Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx did not evade 
the difficulty:
But the different kinds of individual labour represented in these 
particular use values, in fact, becomeŠsocial labour only by being 
actually ex-changed for one anotherŠSocial labour-time exists in 
these commodities in a latent state, so to speak, and becomes evident 
only in the course of their ex-change. The point of departure is not 
the labour of individuals considered as social labour, but on the 
contrary the particular kinds of labour of private individuals, i.e., 
labour which proves that it is universal social labour only by 
supersession of its original character in the exchange process. 
Universal social labour is consequently not a ready made 
prerequisite, but an emerging result. Thus a new difficulty arises: 
on the one hand, commodities must enter the exchange process as 
materialized universal human labor, on the other hand, the labour 
time of individuals becomes materialized universal human labour time 
only as the result of the exchange process. 

In trying to understand how the propensity of a quantum system was 
drawn out in different ways according to how it was surrounded by 
measuring devices,  Werner Heisenberg was led to think of the 
system's potential as a "quantitative version of the old idea of 
'potentia' in Aristotelian philosophy. It introduced something 
standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual 
event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between 
possibility and reality."  For Marx, value also seems to exist in 
potentia; money measurement is thus more than the passive 
ascertainment of a pre-existing property but rather the production of 
a datum (value) through the active involvement of measurer and thing 
measured. In other words, value seems to describe a system--the thing 
being measured and the measurement being made--rather than being an 
independent description of the thing being measured.
It would seem then that value is best understood not in terms of the 
now outmoded distinction between primary and secondary qualities but 
rather in terms of the contrast between possessed and latent ones. 
Until the impact of relativity theory and quantum mechanics, it was 
tenable to categorize attributes as primary and secondary (so thought 
Anaxagoras, Galileo, Descartes, Locke); the former was supposed to be 
a feature which an object possesses independent of an observer. 
Classic examples were supposed to be mass, position or size. Primary 
qualities, that is, were thought to be resident within their object; 
inalienable from it and make up  their essence. An observer simply 
measured or read a primary quality, but the quality is in no sense 
dependent upon the observer. Secondary qualities arise from the 
interaction between the object and an observer. Taste and color are 
typical of this type.
That distinction has broken down since with relativity theory: mass 
for example does vary with the relative speed of the object and 
observer. In short, if every quality is secondary, then the 
distinction between primary and secondary is simply uninformative.
As already noted, Heisenberg tried to replace the old distinction of 
primary and secondary attributes with the idea that qualities of an 
object are either essential or potential; possessed or latent. With 
the uncertainty principle latent qualities manifest themselves as 
clearly present only upon measurement; that is, position and momentum 
appear as latent qualities.
This conceptual  innovation is helpful in understanding  Marx for 
whom value is a kind of latent quality of commodities which manifests 
itself as clearly present only upon  successful monetary ex-change or 
"collapse" onto the money price "vector" (of course not everything 
which has assumed the commodity form and sold for a price possess the 
quality of value, but no commodity which has not sold for a price is 
a--or possesses--value). To extend the analogy: Monetary  measurement 
forces a collapse of commodities into one of two eigenstates: value 
or no value. That is, a commodity undergoes a change from one state 
to  another in the process of measurement.
  	There are of course at least two places where the analogy breaks down:
(1) In  quantum mechanics,   measurement supplies a determinate value 
for the observable while we are not supplied  with such a determinate 
value by money measurement. That is, we cannot go from  the price at 
which a commodity sells to its value.
(2) In quantum mechanics, we have definite probabilities for the 
values measurement will

However, like measurement in quantum mechanics, money measurement 
seems to invert common sense: while the commodity only possesses the 
quality of having value after that quality has been quantitatively 
measured in a successful exchange, we would find it absurd that if 
only after a quantitative measurement of a thing's quality ("it's 
eleven feet") can we say that it in fact possesses the quality ("it 
has extension").  It is as if objects do not "have" extension until 
they are forced to adopt a particular value through a measurement. 
The idealist philosopher Georg Simmel however suggested that this was 
not very strange at all:

Šthe logical difficulty that two things can only be of equal value if 
each of them has a value of its own seems to be illustrated by the 
analogy that two lines can be equally long if each of them has a 
definite length. But strictly speaking a line gains the quality of 
length only by comparison with others. For its length is determined 
not by itself--since it is not simply 'long'--but by another line 
against which it is measured: and the same service is performed for 
the other line, although the result of this act of measurement does 
not depend upon this act of comparison but upon each line as it 
exists independently of each other. Let us recall the category that 
embrace the objective value judgement, which I termed metaphysical: 
from the relationship between us and objects develops the imperative 
to pass a certain judgement, the content of which, however, does not 
reside in the things themselves. The same is true in judging length; 
the objects themselves require that we judge them, but the quality of 
length is not given by the objects and can only be realized by an act 
within ourselves. We are not aware of this fact that length is only 
established in the process of comparison and is not inherent in the 
individual object on which length depends, because we have abstracted 
from particular relative lengths the general concept of length--which 
excludes the definiteness without which general length does not 
exist. In projecting this concept onto objects we assume that things 
must have length before it can be determined individually by 

It is difficult however not to think that the line has some 
pre-existing property, viz. extension, to which we then attribute 
length in measurement; the attribute of length is then a conceptual 
representation of the line's pre-existing property of extension. The 
difficulty with value, as with quantum superposition, is that there 
seems to be no independently pre-existing property of which 
measurement yields a conceptual representation.  Indeed for 
Heisenberg and Marx quantum potential (or quantum superposition) and 
value, respectively, are  kind of shimmering mirages of dream-like 
reality, waiting to be awakened by the magical Midas touch of 
measurement. While Heisenberg with his revived Aristotelian potenia 
may have been trying to save an underlying reality when no such thing 
may indeed exist, Marx seems to have located the actualization of 
commodity value in the act of monetary measurement itself, not in 
expended labor in the hidden abode of production, and thus to have 
weakened the Marxist dogma that the expenditure of labor alone is 
necessary and sufficient for the creation of value.
However, that value can only be actualized through sale for a money 
price or, in quasi-Hegelian terms, that money price is the necessary 
form of appearance of value has important implications for the 
so-called transformation problem which putatively results from Marx 
having transformed in the ninth chapter of the third volume of Das 
Kapital only the outputs from a value form to  those money prices 
which gravitate around what he calls prices of production. Critics 
have argued that in this transformation procedure Marx left the 
inputs in the value form and that any completion of the 
transformation exercise in which the inputs and outputs are both 
transformed simultaneously by means of linear equations into 
identical unit prices of production shows that the total value and 
total surplus value in the value scheme cannot at once be the basis 
of both aggregate prices and aggregate profits in the transformed 
price scheme.  Value has thus been dismissed as an aether like 
substance and the complete transformation exercise, initially carried 
out by Ludwig von Bortkiewitz, considered to be as destructive for 
the postulation of value as the Michelson-Morley experiment  was for 
the existence of aether.
Of course the general equilibrium character of this criticism has 
failed to impress many Marxists for whom the straightjacket of 
timeless linear equations should have no place in the formalization 
of a dynamic theory. But in terms of the argument developed here: if 
it is Marx's theory that value can only be actualized in sale for 
money price, then it is not possible that the inputs in Marx's 
transformation tables are not already in price form; thus, the inputs 
do not need to be transformed from values to prices by a putatively 
more complete procedure.    For Marx, it would make no sense to speak 
of the valorization of value as parallel to the expansion of money 
which is simply the necessary (and only) form of appearance of value 
(though value is necessarily misrepresented by money price).  Value 
is necessarily represented in money; and value expansion can only 
obtain in and through money. It follows then that Marx could  not 
have written a "price-free" transformation table demonstrating the 
valorization of capital over one period in which the "inputs" would 
be  in the  form of values rather than money- or cost-prices that 
determined the initial sum of invested money capital. In short, there 
is no need (strictly speaking) then to transform the "inputs" from 
"values" to "prices".
The more important problems may remain in the nature of Marx's 
deduction of abstract labor as the common substance or "third thing" 
which commodities must share in the equivalent value form

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