[OPE-L:8091] Re: Marx and the labour theory of value

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Mon Dec 02 2002 - 16:03:31 EST

Cologne 02-Dec-2002

clyder@gn.apc.org schrieb Mon, 2 Dec 2002 16:31:00 +0000:

> Quoting Michael Eldred <artefact@t-online.de>:
>  > > I would seriously dispute this. There is now a growing body
> > > of empirical literature which indicates a very close correspondance
> > > between actual sectoral prices in economies and the correponding
> > > labour values. The correlations revealed are remarkably strong
> > > by economic standards.
> >
> > Interesting caveat: "by economic standards", also echoed by Paul Cockshott's
> > qualification: "as economic theories go". How do they go?
> Clyder and Paul Cockshott are the same person using different email
> accounts.
> The correlations that I have obtained, give R^2 values of over
> 0.95 between sectoral labour values and sectoral prices. Shaik and
> Ochoa get similar results.
> The results seem robust between countries, to my knowledge there
> is published data on the UK, USA, Italy, Jugoslavia an Mexico which
> give comparable results. Steedman has published results for Ireland
> and one of the Australian lander which give lower correlations but
> this is not unexpected given the greater influence of shot noise
> in smaller samples and also the influence of rent in these economies.

I presume that "labour values" are something resembling a monetary price? If so,
then it is hard to see what such an empirical study has to do with the so-called
labour theory of value. It is stuck in the vicious circularity which Marx
discusses in the first chapter of Kapital (“value [of a commodity product of the
most complicated labour] equalizes it [the commodity] with the product of simple
labour” (Eine Ware mag das Produkt der kompliziertesten Arbeit sein, ihr Wert
setzt sie dem Produkt einfacher Arbeit gleich und stellt daher selbst nur ein
bestimmtes Quantum einfacher Arbeit dar. MEW23:59).

Marx asserts that _time_ (under a certain qualification) measures the magnitude of
value. What is being done here is measuring labour _through_ the value-form.

> > > I would contend that economists rejection of the labour theory
> > > of value draws more from bourgeois class interest - horrified at
> > > the moral consequences of accepting it - than any scientific objectivity.
> > >
> > > > If established, such a quantitative law would have
> > > > indeed
> > > > provided the foundation for a ?theory of motion? of capitalist economy
> > and
> > > > allowed reliable, predictive mathematical calculation of its movements.
> > > >
> > >
> > > It has been established so the rest of your argument falls.
> >
> > You find what you look for -- just as Galileo did when he rolled balls on
> > inclined planes. That's the way science in the modern age works: it sets up
> > its
> > experiments to interrogate what is then given to the set-up by way of data.
> > It is
> > successful precisely because it does not question its preconceptions.
> I think this is unfair on the empirical researchers. Until Shaik did his
> investigations I don't think anyone expected to get such a close fit
> between values and prices. His results certainly did not fit in with
> anyones initial preconceptions. They are so counter to the preconceptions
> of economists that their implications are only gradually being realised.
> It took considerable courage on his part to question the preconceptions
> that abounded about the labour theory of value being empirically
> invalid and ask : lets see if it really is invalid?

How does one compare "values and prices"? To take just a minor point: How does one
take into account factors such as fertility of the soil (for agricultural
products) or the differences between monetary currencies in different economies?

> It is my experience of doing empirical investigations that they almost
> always teach you something new that would not have occured to you had
> you not gone to the trouble of doing them.

My objection is that the preconceptions (i.e. one's concepts) determine in advance
what is to be empirically measured.

> > The phenomenon and experience of exchange -- and thus also its concept -- is
> > richer than you think.
> I am sure that this is true, but unless you investigate actual price data
> you are left speculating about the properties of prices.

That is assuming already that the value theory is a theory of prices. The LTV
asserts some sort of proportionality between quantities of labour measured in time
and money prices of commodities produced by that labour. These quanitities of
labour are said to be "socially necessary" and it is admitted (see Marx-quote
above) that there are differences between simple and complicated labour with
regard to their value-creating potential.

What is the empirical access to a phenomenon such as "socially necessary"? How
does one distinguish between simple and complicated labour without passing through
the monetary dimension?

This is what I meant by the reference to Galileo and his preconceptions. Galileo
writes in his Discorsi of 1638:

"Mobile super planum horizontale projectum mente concipio omni seculso
impedimento, jam constat ex his, quae fusius alibi dicat sunt, illius motum
aequabilem et perpetuum super ipso plano futurum esse, si planum in infinitum

"I conceive in my mind a body thrown onto a horizontal plane and every impediment
excluded; it follows from what is said elsewhere cumbersomely that the motion of
the body over this plane would be uniform and perpetual if the plane extended into

This is what I mean by Galileo's "preconceptions" -- he conceives his experiment
of balls rolling down an inclined plane and up another plane on the basis of what
he conceives roughly as Newton's first law of motion. The preconception dictates
the experiment. The experiment works only within the preconceptions of what a
physical body is and how motion is to be conceived. This preconception can be
called the mathematical casting of the physical world, a metaphysical casting of
beings in their being prior to any possible experiment.

With regard to the so-called labour theory of value, which asserts a
proportionality between quantities of "socially necessary labour time" and
quantitative prices, the great difficulty lies in determining the _social_
dimension. For, the only _sociation_ of labours (i.e. their social being) in a
commodity-producing economy takes place through the market, i.e. through the
monetary dimension itself. This results in the circularity which you yourself seem
to confirm.

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