[OPE-L] Mike L's Deutscher Prize lecture

From: ajit sinha (sinha_a99@YAHOO.COM)
Date: Tue Sep 12 2006 - 07:01:20 EDT

Thanks Mike for sending me your Deutscher Prize
lecture. I read it with great interest and think that
there is a lot of food for thought in it. However, I
think there is a serious theoretical problem at its
core. Let me explain:

Your idea revolves around your hypothesis: “What,
then, determines the course of real wages? We can
represent the course of real wages as a function of
the relation of productivity to the degree of
separation (q/X).” But you cannot work out the course
of real wages without having a theory of real wages,
i.e. a theory of real wages that tells you why real
wages are so much at any given point of time. Let me
explain further: Let us keep X constant, then your
hypothesis argues that real wages, say w (t+1) =
aw(t), where a represents the proportional change (a
factor > or < than 1) in q from time t to (t+1). Now,
the question would be: how w(t) was determined?
According to the above hypothesis: w(t) must be equal
to aw(t-1). And this way, you can go back to Adam. The
point is that, if you argue that real wages change
BECAUSE OF or DUE TO changes in the productivity of
labor, then you are in effect making a claim that REAL
this was not part of the theory of wages of classical
economics, and Marx definitely did not want to make
any such theoretical proposition. Without going into
what I think Marx was doing—and all that is in
CAPITAL, let me argue that your hypothesis: w = f(q/X)
cannot yet give us a theory of wages as the dimension
of q/X will not give you the dimension of real wages.
I think the neoclassical economics was the first to
develop a theory of wages that directly relates real
wages to labor productivity, and your suggestion
appears to me to be a slippery slope towards that

As a matter of fact, at one place, in a sort of
Freudian slip, you yourself bring out the basic
problem with your hypothesis. You argue, “The answer,
simply, is that a rise in the X-factor is essential
for the growth of relative surplus value because, if
capital benefits immediately from productivity gains,
the question would remain as to why the worker is not
successful in capturing these benefits when he
‘measures his demands against the capitalist’s profit
and demands a certain share of the surplus value
created by him.’” But if workers could demand a share
in the increase of the surplus value, why couldn’t
they demand a share in the surplus value even before
the rise in the productivity. The surplus value was
produced in time t as well, so by the same logic why
didn’t the workers demand a share of the surplus in
the first place? Why were they content with the
necessary labor in the first place? Is it because the
necessary labor is determined by labor productivity?
If not, then what is the basis of the above argument?
You need a theory of wages that relates real wages to
labor productivity to make your argument. But this is
more neoclassical than Marx. There could be a Sraffian
way out, but I will leave that out for the moment.

But, of course, one can argue that the theory of wages
in Marx is not sufficient or a good guide to
understanding wage determination in modern capitalist
economies and that we need to develop an alternative
theory of wages. Now, I do think that you put this
question on agenda and it is worth pondering about.
But this has nothing to do with an interpretation of
Marx’s theory of wages or his supposed book on
wage-labor. I seriously doubt that Marx would have
developed a productivity based theory of wages even if
he wrote a book on wage-labor. I hope this was
helpful. Cheers, ajit sinha

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