[OPE-L:7562] Formalism and "exploitation"

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Wed Aug 28 2002 - 17:00:04 EDT

Gary--Well, we're more or less on the same page here.  I also have an issue 
with the value-laden connotations of the term "exploitation," for example. 
But putting aside problems with the term itself, it seems to me that some 
degree of formalism (beyond what can be gotten from history and 
contemporary anecdotes) is desirable for other than accounting purposes, 
i.e., to make clear how relations of *class*--and thus the indignities and 
coercion that come with them--are distinct from similarly hierarchical, 
coercive and demeaning relations of gender, race, etc.  Put another way, it 
seems absolutely central to ask how essentially unequal class relations 
might persistently emerge from formally equal relations of exchange.  To 
answer that sort of question analytically, wouldn't you need some fairly 
tight notion of (a) what is meant by essential inequality in this context, 
and (b) what economic conditions might give rise to such substantive 
inequality?   Gil

>In response to Gil:
>Good question.  Let me begin by saying that I don't much care for the term
>"exploitation," not because I don't think it is real and pervasive, but
>because I don't see how we can talk about it without coming across like
>ideologues to economists who are not Marxists. More to the point, as I
>suggested in my post, I think the term is too value-loaded to be useful in
>scientific discourse. (Please, don't anyone ask me to define scientific: it's
>too big a question.)
>Marx's definition is quite serviceable. You want to conduct an econometric
>analysis of the circumstances that influence the degree of "exploitation" 
>in a
>particular political economy? Marx's accounting system seems like a 
>starting point. But if workers' living standards (their real wages) don't
>decline monotonically with the ratio of labor values s/v you'll probably have
>some explaining to do to the typical non-Marxist referee. And remember, 
>not explaining anything other than the degree to which various factors
>influence a particular ratio, s/v. Calling that ratio the "rate of
>exploitation" doesn't constitute an insight about how the world works: all it
>does is put an ideological spin on the (possibly quite interesting) empirical
>results. Garegnani identifies exploitation (more or less) with situations in
>which workers don't get to keep all of the output they produce. In other
>contexts this might be a useful definition. But in the end, both of these
>definitions (and Roemer's as well) are too formal to capture what is really
>involved in exploitative production arrangements: one social class is
>dependent upon another for access to the means of production, and hence is
>subject to a vast spectrum of coercive, alienating and demeaning indignities.
>To get the picture one needs the history of class conflict, the anecdotal
>accounts of workplace indignities, the Blue Books, etc.  But what you
>certainly DON'T need are Marx's labor-value accounting (or Sraffa prices, for
>that matter).
> >===== Original Message From Gil Skillman <gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu> =====
> >Gary, you write, among other things,
> >
> >
> >>What insights are these, that cannot be derivable from Sraffa's model? That
> >>workers are exploited? Nope: I've got two eyes, and I read the papers
> >>(Walmart, anyone?); I know workers are exploited and I don't need Marx's
> >>labor
> >>value analysis to see that.  Sure, you can define exploitation as Marx did,
> >>from which it follows that you can't measure it without his value
> >>but definitions are ultimately arbitrary, and there are other ways to 
> define
> >>exploitation.
> >
> >I'm curious as to how you'd propose defining exploitation without reference
> >to embodied labor time; is it anything like Roemer's proposed
> >generalization of Marx's notion, e.g.?
> >
> >Gil
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >>Anyway, in the end, using such a value-loaded word as
> >>"exploitation" to describe a social process cannot help but be 
> ideological.
> >>don't doubt that there are contexts in which some interesting empirical
> >>regularities can be exposed by looking at economic processes through the
> >>of Marx's vlaue categories.  But I don't see that these categories are
> >>necessary to provide an understanding of the most fundamental
> >>processes--those
> >>relating to the determination of distribution, choice of technique, pace of
> >>accumulation, etc. For these sorts of issues, Sraffa's framework is
> >>for all the reasons Steedman mentions.
> >>
> >>All the best,
> >>
> >>Gary

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