Re: [OPE-L] workers' consumption and capitalists' consumption

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sun Jun 18 2006 - 02:15:10 EDT

Allin wrote:

>On Thu, 15 Jun 2006, Ian Wright wrote:
>>Why do you think labour-values should be independent of the
>>real wage?
>"The value of a commodity, or the quantity of any other
>commodity for which it will exchange, depends on the relative
>quantity of labour which is necessary for its production, and
>not on the greater or less compensation which is paid for that
>Thus Ricardo starts Chapter 1 of the Principles.
>But seriously, this is not a trivial question to answer.  Marx
>started from Ricardo's point of view,

I think it's more accurate to say that Marx arrived at similar
laws but on the basis of a radically different labor theory of value.

The shared laws: 1. A working day of a given length always creates
the same amount
of value, no matter how much the productiveness of labor may vary. 2. Surplus
value increases as the value of labor (power) diminishes. 3. An
increase or diminution of surplus
value is the result of, and never a cause of, a corresponding change
in the magnitude
of the value of labor power."  From William J Blake and II Rubin on
Marx's debt to Ricardo.

As these laws make obvious, Marx and Ricardo cannot  be assimilated to
so called  surplus use value economics, which sometimes go under the name
neo Ricardianism.

Yet Marx underlined that Ricardo's starting point is confused because he never
clearly distinguished the labor which appears in the use value of the commodity
from the labor which is expressed by means of the exchange of the commodity.

Why did Marx consider Ricardo's starting point confused? Why did he put
so much emphasis on the superiority of his dual conception of labor?

I think the integrity of any interpretation of Capital rests on its
of Marx on this point.

The fundamental point: Marx's discovery of the duality of labor
presupposes and posits
the critique of Robinisonades with which he began the Grundrisse.

  Marx's theory of value is social and objective. Ricardo's
is not. Ricardo was a bourgeois economist subject to the Robinsonade illusions
generated by the "free" marketplace, meaning specifically
that he understood the market as the locus for free and fair
individual transactions,
so that the (objectified) labor that is exchanged is ultimately personal and
individual,  subject to social norms to ensure that the transactions
are  just.  Yet this is still at heart subjective theory of value for
the understanding of
exchange among individuals, though Ricardo is less subjective than
Smith who had people exchange equal subjective estimations of toil
and trouble (Hilferding
had some good points here).

Marx on the other asks not only why did the division of labor arise
but also whose labor is it that is divided. To the latter question
Marx answered that it society's labor that is divided. So then we
understand that while Smith and Ricardo argued that exchange of
commodities is an exchange of equal quantities of labor, Marx
analyzes the situation further to show that this labor is not
personal or individual labor but a social substance, some abstract
part of the labor at the disposal of a society.

It is, in other words, society that has labor time at its disposal
and that depends on social labor for its reproduction just as the
individual depends on society for her consciousness, individuation
and reproduction: the individual activity of every single person is
only a mode of functioning of the species, and it is this social and
abstractly general social labor time that is expressed by way of its
products in the exchange relationship.

It is only by recognizing this shared aspect of commodities,
that they each represent some abstract part of the homogenous
substance of general social labor, that we can understand how
concretely incommensurable objectifications of concretely
incommensurable kinds of labor can be commensurated (or what
they are commensurated as), leading eventually to the externalization
of this common aspect in money.

Because he did not have the concept of abstract social labor Ricardo
failed to grasp money and the value form in general.

Why there could be a generalized panic for money, i.e. why selling
may not be for purchase, had to escape him. He had no theory of the
possibility of general crisis.

That is, there is a straight line from Marx's critique of Ricardo's
confusion about the labor
that produces value to Marx's critique of Ricardo's partial glut theory.

>and was troubled by the
>discrepancy between labour-values, so defined, and prices of
>production.  He saw prices of production as a mechanism for the
>redistribution of surplus value, and reckoned that this
>redistribution left total price equal to the total of
>labour-values, and total profit equal to total surplus value.
>As we all know.  But the math didn't work out that way -- as
>again we all know.

If the math is meant to correct for the error of having left the inputs
in the form of values or simple prices, Marx did no such thing, and never
said that he did any such thing. There is another problem.

Marx's admission of error has simply been misread.


>You're offering Marx a solution, but it's not at all clear it's
>one he'd take.  In the context of the present argument (simple
>reproduction with a surplus that's consumed by the capitalists),
>you're arguing (I think) that labour-values and prices of
>production are _identical_ (even if organic compositions
>differ).  That obviously preserves Marx's two equalities, but at
>too high a cost: the distinction between labour-values and
>prices of production is effaced.  Labour-values are no longer
>"quantities of labour necessary for production", other than in
>what I see as a tricksy sense.
>In fact, I see your analysis as back-handedly supporting Smith's
>old argument: that the labour theory of value ceases to apply
>with the emergence of profits on stock.  With this twist: it's
>not that prices cease to correspond to labour-values, but that
>"labour-values" have to be redefined so that they no longer
>correspond to the labour-times required to produce things --
>which latter quantities are left orphaned, without any valid
>theoretical status ("Sraffian values", based on an accounting
>error).  Prices of production are "correct" and labour-values
>have to be redefined to match.
>I want labour-values to be based on production technology and
>direct labour-time requirements alone, as per the classics, and
>to be independent of distributional variables.  That way they're
>(in principle) capable of explaining the pattern of commodity
>exchange ratios in a particularly strong sense.  A robust
>materialist sense.  Of course, it's an empirical matter whether
>they actually do so.

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