[OPE-L] Theoretical issues concerning variable capital

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Thu Oct 05 2006 - 14:40:25 EDT

I haven't got POCBMOC handy here to check chapter and verse, but I think
Fred put it quite well:

"The real wage in Sraffian theory is a specific bundle of goods, determined
ex-ante (prior to prices and money wages), and determined independently of
workers' consumption choices.  Moreover, it is assumed that each worker
consumes the same bundle of goods.  By contrast, the real wage in my [and
presumably Marx's] interpretation is not taken as given as a specific bundle
of goods, but is rather derived ex-post from the given money wage and prices
and workers consumption choices. And the real wage is generally different
for different workers."

I am not sure what you mean with "In other words, the nature of wage labour
can only be grasped from the perspective of reproduction, of production in
its continuous and uninterrupted flow."

When you talk about reproduction, it often seems to me as though you are
talking about procreation.

Marx evidently did not stick to the six book plan, he attempted to write and
publish what he could, in acceptable format. As I said, if somebody had paid
him 10,000 pounds sterling he would probably have changed the storyline
again and written more books. Even so he was a stroppy man who didn't always
do what was in his own best interest. Many aspects of his lifestyle and work
habits are not worth emulating.

I would say that since wage-labour requires discussion of labor legislation,
the book on the state would precede the book on wage labour. Even so, Marx
already discusses wage labor in Cap. Vol. 1. Obviously you can hardly
discuss wages in separation from state policy, and in fact Marx already
refers to several acts of parliament when he discusses wage labour.

Seems to me that all you are really saying so far is that wage-labour must
be understood as a process in movement, in the sense that Marx commented
that capital could only be understood "in motion".

We can dispute forever and a day about what Marx could/would/should/might
have written, but the question is whether we grasp what he did write, and
whether that inspires us to write something better.

I'm aware of Shaikh's and Gough's work etc. on the social wage. Here in
Holland, the CPB recently estimated that the financial benefit from the
welfare state is significantly larger for high income than low income
workers (a perverse outcome you might say of decades of social democracy) -
this becomes a neoliberal "middleclass capture" argument for reducing
welfare provision to a social safety net. As yet the Left doesn't have much
of a coherent reply to that, because few understand much about public

You haven't really responded to my points much except for hammering
reproduction. The point really is that these debates among economists about
wage theory etc. are so abstract as to be useless for any practical or
research purpose. A good economist starts with real facts and the
explanation of real facts, and then brings in theory to guide him along.
Then theory has a purpose, and it is modified by experience. Otherwise we
might as well dispute how many angels can stand on the head of a pin.

Theory means generalisations from experience which are not reducible to
particular experiences and go beyond them. Theory divorced from experience
is meta-theory, theory about theory, generalisations about generalisations,
metaphysics, or philosophy. We can sort of pontificate, and talk theory
about theory, and think we are very profound, but frankly I doubt whether it
helps anybody much. In my own opinion, the main reason why Marxist theory
globally hasn't advanced much beyond repetitions of what Marx said is
because Marxists rarely study the facts comprehensively, and maybe they
don't even know how to study the facts. There are of course a number of
honorable exceptions which prove the rule.


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