[OPE-L:7049] Re: the value[s] of labour power, nationally and internationally

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Tue Apr 23 2002 - 10:14:21 EDT

Re Diego's [7047] and Nicky's [7046]:

Diego wrote:

> I think that the "historical and moral element" of the VLP refers to the regional (national) definition of this commodity. All commodities are historically defined: <snip, JL>. Therefore we need to define different national levels of the VLP at each moment in historical time, 

I agree. The question then becomes (relating it to the original context of Simon's
question):  how can we make  quantitative international comparisons for the values
of labour power?   If we can't do that, then we can't really say much about the 
disparities between the values of labour power and wages globally.

> i.e. I think Marx meant that all others commodities (in the general case of the LTV) would tend to have the same price throughout the world, but this would not be the case for the labor power.

I beg to differ. There are *many* commodities that are sold at different market
prices in different markets in the global economy.  E.g. consider the price of
new (or used) housing internationally (or even often regionally within a nation.)
Or, consider the price of milk in different markets internationally.  Or, consider
the markets prices for different forms of entertainment such as ticket prices
at movie theatres. Or, consider the market price for health care (where it
isn't nationalized  or subsidized.)   Or, consider the market price of maize,
tobacco,  and coffee in different international markets. Or, consider the market
prices of  electricity, coal,  oil and gasoline  internationally. Or, consider the 
prices  of   the same pharmaceuticals *even when they  are produced by the 
same transnational  corporations* when sold in different national markets.  Etc. 
Etc. Etc.  I think  that the "law of one price" (LOOP) was *not* advanced by Marx 
(certainly not as a "law"  -- perhaps only provisionally as a simplifying assumption) 
but has instead been advanced by  some Marxist economists who want to simplify 
the quantitative calculations and have solvable equations  in models and 
illustrations.  As an empirical matter,  I think that even the much *milder* claim that
most commodities are sold at the same market price in international markets can
not be sustained  -- indeed, I suspect that the # of exceptions is greater than the #
that conform to the alleged "rule". 

[A related note: what is understood as 'simple labour' can and does vary internationally
and historically.  Thus, for instance, there can be long-run changes in what is
socially understood to be simple labor due to changes in education: e.g. in most (?)
capitalist social formations basic literacy and mathematical ability is presumed
(whereas historically and in other contemporary capitalist social formations this was
and is not considered the 'norm').  This adds an additional complexity to the  'reduction 
problem'  since what one is reducing _to_ is not the same internationally. ]

> I think that some elements in Leontief and von Neumann models are pure mathematical elements, and may and should be detached from their material components. For instance, one can dettach the instrumental way in which Alfred Marshall or Joan Robinson drew some curves and use them for different purposes without any need for sharing Marshall's or Robinson's ideas about the capitalist society.

The issue isn't one of pure mathematics. The issue is whether a particular
mathematical technique does justice or injustice to our understanding of
a particular socio-economic question.  E.g. there is nothing wrong with linear
algebra or one-sector models from a mathematical perspective -- yet they are
highly problematic tools if we are attempting to model non-linear and dynamic
social processes.  Thus, the Von Neumann model (like the Harrod model and
other one-sector models) exhibits a "knife-edge" problem which should tell us
that such models have very limited applications.  Also, on a more general note,
I think that when considering whether techniques used by marginalists should 
be adopted for convenience sake by Marxists for a particular task, we have to
be very careful that we aren't unwittingly importing marginalist assumptions and
theory  into our analysis.

Nicky wrote:

<<Even in a single social formation, how do you arrive at the 'value' of the
consumption bundle (means of consumption) in labour hours?:
1) how do you compare the different kinds of skills that go into producing
different commodities, and reducing them to simple labour hours?  Marx
himself aimed to save the trouble of making this reduction, by considering
labour time to be only an 'immanent measure' (i.e. not computable).  

Where exactly did he write that labour time isn't computable?

2) The actual measure is money; has to be.  For one thing, money wages are
paid before production but the real wage is known only after production.

Yet, as a practical matter, money wages tend to be paid  at  intervals that begin 
*after* production has commenced.   How many workers do you think receive wages 
before they have produced  anything?  Indeed,  the lag between work done and wages 
received is one of the mechanisms of control by capitalists over  wage-workers.

Thus,  the M-C-M'  description  is misleading since it doesn't begin with M 
purchasing MP and LP and _then_ there is production; rather there is M advanced
for MP and labour-power is secured, through an employment contract,  where
both workers and capitalists understand as part of that contract that the money for
LP won't be paid out to workers as wages until  *after* production has commenced.
(Perhaps Ernesto S would like to comment on this?)  

In solidarity, Jerry

PS on Alfredo's [7048]: You know as much as we do. If the US government knows,
they're not telling (us).

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