Re: on money

From: Ian Wright (iwright@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Wed May 26 2004 - 13:25:22 EDT

>are you saying that the positing of the existence of abstract labor
>is not a mistaken ontological commitment because in the rough words
>of Hans Ehrbar abstract human labour is in fact an aspect of the
>human labour process as every labour process is the expenditure of
>brain, muscle, sense organs, etc. Do you agree with Hans when he
>writes; "The fact that same word 'labour' is used for many different
>activities shows that the abstraction can be made"?

Hi Rakesh,

I think that abstract labour is real and exists, and that money
is a representation of it.

But not because all human labour is the expenditure of brain,
muscle, sense organs etc. (There's no need to drop down to
physiology here).

But because any individual's labour is potentially interchangeable
with another's, and hence all humans can potentially perform
any concrete labour. (This is a relational rather than physiological

Basically, we are set of identical components in an economic
machine. One component pretty much works like any other, and
can be configured to perform the work of any other. (I hope my
mechanical metaphors don't tweak any humanist sensibilities.)

I am abstracting from variations present in any population. No
set of components is perfectly identical -- for example, many
characteristics are often normally distributed. But these are
second-order issues.

So, from this point of view, the equality of working people is an
objective fact rooted in their identical causal powers as members
of the same species. That complex of causal powers -- that all
humans possess -- can be called abstract labour. But it isn't a
"substance", rather it is a complex set of causal powers. But
"substance" is fine -- at least it does signify the material reality
of abstract labour.

The predominant mechanism that currently allocates abstract
labour to particular concrete tasks is a distributed algorithm
that happens to employ money, a numerical representation
of amounts of abstract labour.

There is an interesting question of why some forms of money
do in fact represent abstract labour. I personally think there is
nothing problematic here -- on condition that the concept of
representation is naturalised and not incorrectly restricted to
a capacity only of the human mind. At root, representation
is implemented via causal links, and commodity economies
instantiate the right causal relationships to support the

Static models in which prices have only a nominal rather than
a causal role will therefore fail to theorise the representation of
abstract labour in monetized economies.

Of course this is highly simplified, but I'd be interested in any
philosophical criticisms. I hope I not have a "mistaken
ontological commitment"!

I find that dialectical concepts tend to confuse matters regarding
this difficult subject, which is why I try to use different language
that I hope is clearer.



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