Re: [OPE-L] Why aren't non-labourers sources of value?

From: Ian Wright (iwright@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Fri Apr 08 2005 - 16:25:33 EDT

Hi Jerry

> 1) robots are (currently) a machine tool -- part of the means of
> production.

My thought experiment, e.g. autonomous robot taxi drivers, referred to
a future scenario.

> 2) robots are privately owned.

Not in the thought experiment.

> 3) They are designed and produced by capital (and, in some cases,
> also by the state).

As opposed to humans?

> 4) So long as you have capitalism, we can expect that robots (no
> matter how sophisticated) will continue to take the commodity-
> form.

The aim of the thought experiment is to try and push concepts to their
breaking point and reveal their contradictions. Here you are saying
that the scenario described in the thought experiment couldn't occur.
I think given enough sophistication robots could lead an autonomous
existence and be hired as wage-labour. If you are willing to accept
the premiss of the thought experiment then I believe it shows that we
can quickly dismiss the idea that there is some essential property of
humans that explains why their labour and their labour alone can cause
surplus-value. I wanted to get away from that common-sense humanism I

If that is accepted, then we can devote attention to what kinds of
economic behaviours can cause surplus-value. It seems to me that what
*kind of thing* does the work that causes surplus-value is
unimportant. It is what *kind of work* that causes surplus-value which
is important.

I have previously mentioned that I think an explanation of
surplus-value in terms of social relations alone is insufficient. I am
looking for an explanation that embraces both the forces and relations
of production. I am looking for a satisfying answer to that obvious
question asked of labour theories of value.

> If you insist on an analogy, then slavery is a far better analogy,
> imo.   It is interesting to note that  the term 'robot' was first used
> by Carel Kapek in the 1921 play "RUR" to describe a mechanical
> man and that the term comes from a Czech word meaning slave.
> (See a post I wrote on 1/21/04 for more references.)

I agree with you, and this is something I've learnt from the
discussion. The problem with introducing AI and robots is that people
will get hung up on the science-fiction aspects, which obscures the
issues. I think slavery is better for this purpose, as you say,
because it is real and is economically and politically more important
than those robots waiting around the corner. I am interested in what
other listmembers may have to say about (i) why non-labourers are not
a source of value, and (ii) the relation between surplus-value and


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