From: Andrew Brown (A.Brown@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Tue Apr 19 2005 - 11:06:02 EDT
Ian and all, Finally, a brief chance to respond to Ian's message of 14 April... Ian wrote: 'Sort of a response to Andy and Paul but this touches on other posts ... As a quick sketch, the reason I'd give why human labour alone is the substance of value is that changes in the flow pattern of money control the manifestation pattern of abstract labour.' I reply: The language you use here is terribly formal / mathematical looking to my eye. However, in conjunction with the rest of your post I do see what you are getting at, I think. You continue: ' Value refers to abstract labour, has these objective semantics, in virtue of the regular causal connections between a representation (value) and an object (abstract labour).' I reply: Again, and no doubt as a function of this being but a brief sketch of your view, there are many problems with the way you have put this. Is value only a representation? I'd say 'value' is a strange (ghostly) 'object' in itself. Strange because non-sensuous and hence value itself has to be represented - and is represented by price. Isn't 'abstract labour' an aspect of an activity or process, rather than an object? Value is 'congealed' abstract labour, not abstract labour as such. Abstract labour is, in this way, the substance of value. Anyway, I still think I understand what you are getting at here -- so the above are just quibbles. You continue: ' The flow pattern of value is the control signal of an adaptive system that functions to continually reallocate social labour in response to changes in the composition of demand. New concrete forms of labouring activity appear in response to new flow patterns of value. The continual feedback in the control system creates kinds of people, types of concrete activities, which are use-values for each other. All societies must allocate resources, and distributed money flows are the language of the unconscious plan implemented by market societies. But the language of value is understood only by humans, and its directives can only be implemented by humans. It therefore only talks to them, and therefore is only about their causal powers.' I reply: I tried to argue in my original post on this subject that it is the productively creative nature of humans, in their labour, that is the key here. True, a machine can't understand language but is this the most abstract and simple, or fundamental, point to make? I'd want to say the fundamental point is that labour is the only input to production whose actual quality and quantity is open to choice, at any given point in time, because not forever fixed by external constraints and internal structure. (The labourer changes relevant aspects of their inner structure as well as the external constraints through their labour). As you say, it is this choice of labour quality and quantity that then determines the allocation of other inputs. You continue: 'We don't need specifically capitalist relations for the above to hold, although it is capitalism, with the pursuit of profit as the overarching goal, which really makes the control relations sing.' I reply: I think we do need capitalism because in any other mode of production the market 'allocation' is peripheral relative to the dominant production relations (feudal or slave, say). Value is only 'fully developed' in capitalism. You continue: 'Hence value does not refer to machine labour-power or animal labour-power because this kind of labour-power cannot keep up with the plan -- it is non-innovating: It neither causes or responds to disequilibrium price signals by changing its concrete form in order to adapt to new economic circumstances.' I reply: Don't you mean 'machine-power' and 'animal-power'? Here you mention some aspects of the key point I want to make but mixed up with other stuff. I'd want to stress that key point alone under such constraints of brevity. You continue: 'This explanation is quite different from Marx's argument in Vol I: the common thing left over. I think most of it, however, is in Rubin: his "transmission belt" that makes an economy a functioning whole, and his strange kind of "barometer" that not only measures the weather but corrects it. It is implicit in Marx's "every child knows" letter. Andy, would you agree this general approach? Do you still think as much weight should be placed on Marx's common substance argument of Vol I, as you did in your thesis, compared to his transhistorical requirement that societies must implement schemes to organise their labour?' I reply: I think I see what you are getting at but would not commit to agreeing with your approach, even in general. The quibbles etc above (see also below) probably stem from important differences in our respective approaches; there are so many aspects involved here that aren't even touched upon in a brief email exchange. On the other hand there do seem to be interesting commonalities (one of which is the influence of realism). Regarding Marx, I'd want to stress that the trans-historical stuff in itself tells us nothing about value (since fully developed value is historical, not trans-historical). It is the common substance argument that adequately develops the historical concept of value, of course presupposing all the trans-historical aspects of the notion of 'mode of production' but starting with the *capitalist* commodity -- and so from the outset having to develop historical not trans-historical concepts. My main comment on the rest of your post (copied below) is that I would want to emphasise the need to develop a concept of capital once having developed a concept of value. All further qualitative and quantitative developments must await an adequate concept of capital. I am very uncomfortable at your attempted model building absent capital. Marx's 'Capital' does exactly this development of the concept of capital that I would want to see. Many thanks, Andy The problem is to make the Marx-Rubin qualitative theory of value quantitatively precise, and this is not helped by the fact that the majority of formalisations of Marx's theory have been static and have ignored what I take to be the central point of their theory: the causal connections between money and labour allocation out of equilibrium, and how value controls the manifestation of abstract labour. One of the more difficult points of the theory, which I am grappling with, is that value primarily refers to an absence, a negativity, rather than a positive presence. A plan is a series of steps to bring into being something that does not yet exist, and hence a plan refers to absences. If the pattern of flow of value implements a kind of plan then prices have plan-like semantics, that is somehow refer to configurations that should exist, not configurations that do exist. A clue can be found in even the simplest control systems, such as the lowly thermostat, which has a representation that refers to a temperature that does not exist, an absent temperature. I am not yet clear on this. But this seems very different to most other economic theories I have encountered, and therefore I am wary of formal theories that view prices solely as measures (either as indices of scarcity or distributional variables). From the Marx-Rubin perspective, this has got to be an incomplete picture. Paul wrote > That is why the first step in discussing this has to be to establish > that you actually do have a theoretical object : robot value. If > you don't have this as a well defined concept there is nothing to > discuss. For the sketched reasons I do not think value can refer to robot labour because robot labour (at least for the foreseeable future) will not have the causal powers of abstract labour and therefore will be restricted in the kinds of concrete labour it can manifest. Robots will not be able to do the value dance with us. So, Paul, this is the background to why I objected to your phrase about "defining" value. But I agree that the qualitative theory of value should also be quantitative and make predictions about actual prices in capitalism. -Ian. P.S. I've just read Christopher Arthur's post about "empty forms". An interesting ontological possibility ... as are "negative forms", that is representations of absences.
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