Re: [OPE-L] Enrique D. Dussel's writings online

From: Ian Wright (iwright@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Wed Apr 06 2005 - 14:12:50 EDT

Hi Rakesh

Once again you raise issues that are very interesting to me. My
apologies to other listmembers if they are getting tired of hearing me
rehash my particular obsessions.

> Ernesto raises the question of why animals cannot create value.

Didn't Sraffa also say it was mystical to think that horses cannot
create value but humans can? Steve Keen, whose work I very much like,
although I do not agree with his conclusions regarding Marx's theory
of value, also thinks that machines create value.

> This seems to me a strange question, but I am not an economist.

It is a question that many people immediately raise on encountering a
labour theory of value. I think it is a good question, all the more so
because it is the obvious and natural one. I have also yet to
encounter a fully satisfying answer to it.

Classical authors, perhaps including Marx, assumed the distinction
between machinery and labour was unproblematic, a kind of common-sense
humanism of the time. But as machinery has become more complex and
sophisticated, and able to replicate and automate a wider range of
human behaviour, the distinction does become problematic. For example,
I work with machines that learn and autonomously induce new knowledge,
and this is a very young technology: machine learning only really got
going in the 80's.

As I guess you will agree, a static approach to modelling the economy
I think cannot begin to address this question. For example, in the
Sraffian approach the surplus-product may be measured in many
different ways, labour-content being only one particular kind of
measure. The link between living labour and new value creation is not
theorised, and Marx's ideas are reduced to the dead-end of the
"fundamental marxian theorem", which, as far as I understand it, is
essentially a static measure inequality between labour-content and
profits. It is axiomatic in a static modelling approach that living
labour has no causal role in the production of new surplus-value.
"New" and "cause" are missing concepts in Sraffian-inspired
formalisms. For this, and other reasons, I think the Sraffian approach
is ill-suited to developing Marx's approach to political economy.

>   In a society in which the traditional division
> of labour and sovereign authority recede in the
> face of the economy in which relations are
> mediated through things, the determination of
> what counts as social labor and its organization
> have to happen through the imputation of value to
> those things (i.e. commodities) by which people
> alone relate; value thus representing that the
> labor objectified in that thing proved to be
> socially necessary.

You're restating a labour theory of value. But some might say: horse
labour must be socially organized.

Also, consider machines that relate and impute value to commodities,
that is enter into market relations and make decisions about money and
use it. For instance, on-line semi-autonomous auction agents that are
given a budget and bid for goods according to user-specified
preferences. For instance, future robotic taxi firms, in which the
taxi drivers are software machines that get paid a wage from the human
owners, self-monitor themselves for breakdowns and wirelessly order
their own repairs, oil changes, etc. For instance, future genetically
and cybernetically enhanced primates that have the language abilities
of, say, a six year old, and are employed to perform menial tasks, and
spend their few pennies on food and shelter. Which of these non-human
factors of production create value, which don't, and why? The latter
example is a non-human factor that partially participates in the
labour market.

Whether these scenarios are likely or not is not the point. A theory
of economic value in capitalism should be robust across these logical

> If Marx had a truly social theory of value,  what
> possibly could animals have to do with value
> (except in the indirect way that Carchedi
> mentions)? Before animals are used, social labor
> itself has to be organized.

I agree with you but I don't think your answers will convince those
that view all productive inputs as having the same status.
Neoclassical theory, as far as I understand it, does not need to make
a distinction between kinds of factors of production. Marxist theory
makes a strong distinction between human and non-human factors.
Neoclassical theory is therefore more parsimonious no? especially
given Marx's awful argument in Capital Vol 1: the common thing left
over. I have read Andrew Brown's in many ways brilliant thesis that
picks away at Marx's common substance argument, but I remained
unconvinced that the argument does the job it is supposed to.

> Second quick point: No one needs to remind Marx
> that things do not in fact possess or have value;
> the question is why in this form of life--to use
> Wittgenstein's expression--people have to involve
> themselves in this distorted way of speaking and
> acting. Simply put, it is because before anything
> else--including the use of animals--social labor
> has to be organized, and if relations are
> dissolved into commodity ones then commodities
> must be imputed with properties needed for that
> organizing.  Nothing could be more absurd than
> dismissing Marx's labor theory of value as
> metaphysical.

I agree with you, but I feel we haven't gotten to the root of Marx's
theory of value, assuming of course that he did. Many intelligent
people reject it because they do not see a good argument for giving
labour a special significance. Even Marxists have trouble with it: for
instance, I read Farjoun & Machover's discussion in "Laws of Chaos" of
why they give special sigificance to labour-content as a measure of
commodities in this light: they are basically reduced to saying that
labour is the only commodity that persists over time, and is the
productive input to almost everything. This is true, but it doesn't
seem to me a very satisfying answer, perhaps because they were also
working in a measure-oriented paradigm. Paul and Allin's empirical
work that shows that oil-content doesn't cut it compared to
labour-content is a nice injecton of reality into this debate.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu Apr 07 2005 - 00:00:02 EDT