Re: value and labour (another try)

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Thu May 15 2003 - 11:42:51 EDT

My apologies, my last main post was littered with typos. I have
removed them and so please ignore the last post and read the post
below (if you should be interested). Sorry again.


A minor and dull point and then a major and interesting point:

(1) You are invalidly mixing practical with theoretical notions of
generality and simplicity. Of course, in practice, there is not a
money commodity. And, yes, no doubt exchange relations
between bundles of commodities are interesting in practice. But in
theory we gain nothing by starting off thinking about exchange
relationships between vectors, and we do not even have to
introduce money at all. This because the key conceptual issue is
that of commensurability for which the practical considerations you
make are, initially, irrelevant. This has nothing to do with barter. It
has to do with focusing upon the most important (most abstract
and simple) categories of capitalism before moving on to more
concrete and complex ones.

(2) So, then, to the key point. You state:

> The logic of the exchange process enforces the existence
> of a conserved scalar field. I agree that labour values
> act as an attractor to this field. I have never done the
> experiments to see if "standard commodity content" for example
> might also act as an attractor.

This is an interesting way of looking at it. You talk of the 'existence
of a conserved scalar field'. I think this is a *pressupposition* that
you have made. I think it needs justification. In fact I think it is
senseless until we state what constitutes the 'field'. Indeed I am
arguing that the only thing that can possibliy constitute it is
abstract labour. Let be more precise: I do not think it is a
'field' at all; it is a substance. This takes us into the metaphysics
of the (highly contested) notion of 'field', on which, I supsect,
materialist dialectics has rather alot to say. (It also raises the
notion of 'substance' of course)

> What I am saying is that incomesurablity is not absolute. Measuring
> with weight with an approximate kilo gives an answer that is not
> identical with the use of the standard kilo in Paris, but what one
> is concerned with is the error bounds. Mass is defined in terms of
> the standard kilo, all other kilo weights are distinct and only
> approximate it. Measurement theorists dont like this, but it is a
> workable arrangement.
> A small change in the commodity bundle of the standard commodity is
> analogous.

Now, perhaps, you can see what I am getting at, and where we
disagree? You are presuming, at least from my point of view, that
*something* is being measured. You have called it a field. In your
analogy it is mass. I am saying that we must first establish *what*
is being measured. What is the equivalent of notion in economics
to the notion of 'mass' in physics? We cannot just say 'it is a field',
it is a 'something' and then get on with it. Until we have established
what the thing is, economics, Sraffian or otherwise, remains
entirely senseless, irrational, meaningless, without foundation,
hocus pocus...

Marx agonised over and then refuted Bailey's argument that no
substance underlies exchange value at all. You seem to me to be
somewhere between Bailey and Marx. On the one hand you say
there is a 'third thing', with Marx. On the other, you simply call it
a 'field', which I think simply begs the question of what the 'third
thing' is, and, without an answer to this question, ends up sliding
back to Bailey's point of view.

In any case, our ultimately very different respective versions of
materialism are beginning to surface, in a very interesting way.

Many thanks,


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