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

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Fri Apr 22 2005 - 17:47:22 EDT


Your view sounds pretty much like the general 'surplus approach' view.
The problem is that, if the inputs have been paid for (M-C), then why
doesn't their cost sum to the cost of the output (C-M). Why would inputs
be sold at a value less than that which they produce, in a situation of
free exchange?

Many thanks


The existence of a net surplus means that if you naively
attempt to evaluate any particular value basis - be it
labour, electricity, oil etc, you get a set of equations
whose iterative solution is that everything has a value
of zero.

I realised this when I first attempted to compute the
electricty and oil values for the UK economy using the
govt i/o tables. The reason is that you find that it
takes less than one kilowatt hour of electricity to make
one kilowatt hour of electricity. Thus if your procedure
to work out values is iterative : that is you make a
first approximation at the values for every input,
recompute using that and then substitute in the new
values, then each time round the value of electricity
gets smaller and smaller, and consequently the indirect
electricity value of everything else declines.

If one took the classical economists view of labour and
assumed that labour had a value determined by the inputs
necessary to reproduce it, they you get exactly the 
same problem. The fact that the io table has a net 
surplus means that every single commodity requires less
than one unit of itself to produce itself - labour included.
This precludes the possiblity that you suggest.

Any coherent value basis - labour, energy, the standard
commodity or what have you, requires that you treat the
basis commodity differently from everything else in your
formalism. The basis commodity has to have a value of
unity by definition and you have to exclude it from the
general formula for computing value. This is what marx
does when he distinguishes between labour and labour power,
by this means he can get an hour of labour being worth
an hour of labour, irrespective of the fact that the wage
is lower than this.

Similarly if one uses electricity as a basis you define
the kilowatt hour as the unit of account, despite the fact
that a kilowatt hour is worth - in value terms, less than
a kilowatt hour of electricity.

From the standpoint of internal consitency it does not
matter much how you chose to exclude your basis commodity.
Marx provides something of a barristers fine distinction
between labouring power and labour: pretty obviously drawn
from Watts distinction between the horse power of the '
engines he leased and the work that they actually did.
I dont think this distinction made by Marx is necessarily
dimensionally consistent, and since exactly the same 
problem arises whatever value basis you use, we should not
get too attached to this particular argument - which
had, I think essentially juridical and polemical determinants
in his arguments against Rodbertus and Lasalle.

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