[OPE-L:8330] Re: Education and Value

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Date: Mon Jan 13 2003 - 17:27:00 EST

For what it's worth, I've always thought that the notion of "simple average 
labor" was at best redundant, and its calculation a meaningless and 
potentially misleading exercise. Correspondingly, I think that the notion 
of "reducing complex (i.e. skilled) labor to simple labor" is an utter red 
herring--even if, or perhaps *especially* if, one accepts Marx's 
quantitative definition of value on the basis of socially necessary labor 

Here's what I mean:  accept that the value magnitude of a commodity is 
determined by the labor socially necessary for its production.  In practice 
it will typically be the case that production of a given commodity requires 
different types of labor exercising different types of skills.  In practice 
acquiring those skills will in return require the expenditure of 
labor--e.g., the labor of workers teaching the skills to others.  You add 
up all the labor times required on average to produce the 
commodity--including the labor required to generate the skills exercised by 
skilled workers in the production process-- and voila, there's your 
socially necessary labor time.  No need to "reduce" the "complex" labor to 
"simple" labor.  Labor time is labor time.

A corollary of this is that accounting for labor with different skill 
levels creates no analytical issues that are distinct from dealing with 
constant capital goods in the context of value theory.  In this connection 
at least, the analogy implied in the mainstream's term "human capital" is 
applicable in the Marxian context.


>Re Paul A's [8327]:
> > To focus on overall skill levels -- I'm curious if you and others on
> > the list would agree with me: while the data are very difficult to
> > synthesize, have not the cognitive resources of US workers -- the
> > combined result of childhood socialization, education, training,
> > on-the-job learning -- increased on average over the last 100 years?
> > If you grant that these cognitive resources have increased, then as
> > marxists, we have to ask ourselves whether and where this fits with
> > our basic story. (Of course, out story also has to accomodate the
> > many cases of real deskilling we observe --such as the supermarket
> > cashiers.) It seems to me that it fits nicely with the paleo-marxist
> > story I summarized.
>How does this fit in with 'our basic story', you ask.  Presumably you
>and others will also grant that the standard for what has become
>simple average labour varies internationally and temporally.  Indeed,
>if one focuses on the effect of education on workers 'cognitive
>resources', one can easily determine that there are different standards
>internationally as a result of differing educational/social/cultural
>In describing 'simple average labour',  Marx notes that it "varies in
>character in different countries and at different cultural epochs, but in a
>particular society it is given"  (_Capital_, Volume 1, Penguin ed., p. 135).
>When we look at different social formations and expand our time horizon
>so that a society and culture can itself change, we see that the 'basic
>story' becomes more complex.
>* How would you and others explain more concretely this complexity
>vis-a-vis the 'reduction' from complex to 'simple labour' in world markets?
>* Is there any kind of  social mechanism that leads over time to  less
>international disparity for simple average labour standards in different
>social formations?
>* What has been the role of the state -- and  workers' struggles -- in
>changing social standards for simple average labour?
>In solidarity, Jerry

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