Re: [OPE-L] SV: [OPE-L] what is irrational in the functioning of capitalism?

From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Tue Nov 28 2006 - 15:39:13 EST

Hi Ajit

Let me try to think through your question. I don't have definitive
answers, so I may stumble.

> Actually, I do not understand why "labor" is
> particularly important in the context of production of
> profit. Do we think that "surplus" cannot be produced
> without labor? But why can't we imagine a system of
> production completely operated by robots? In this
> case, why can't we imagine the system producing a
> "surplus" and a market with prices of commodities with
> a rate of profits to boot. The question is, can we
> make a logical claim that a system of production
> without labor will not be able to produce "surplus".
> If not, then there is a serious problem with Marx's
> concept of "surplus value". Cheers, ajit sinha

First, let's distinguish between production of a physical surplus and
production of surplus-value. The former can exist without the latter.
For example, consider a completely automated terra-forming factory
that is preparing a planet for humans. It extracts energy from raw
materials, processes them, and outputs oxygen as a physical surplus.
And it reproduces itself on an ever-expanding scale. We can imagine
that this factory might be composed of all kinds of special-purpose
machines and robots. Let's assume its productive activity is entirely
planned in advance. The factory has special-purpose responses to
throttle its output according to local availability of extracted
energy etc. In this kind of system, there is no need to continually
allocate a general-purpose resource to new kinds of activity. So there
is no need for the value-form. There is no need for commodity
production with prices. The system lacks general-purpose labour-power.
The human designers decided not to implement a price-based market
allocation strategy for the internal operation of the factory for this
reason. Stretching terminology, the factory is composed solely of
"constant capital" (scare quotes because in this example there isn't
money-capital to represent the value of parts of the factory). There
is no agent that functions as "variable capital", and hence no
production of surplus -value.

My point is that it would be wrong to divorce money as a technique for
organizing production from the existence of particular kind of causal
power, that is human labour, and a particular kind of social relation,
that of equal and independent producers lacking a global plan. So a
thought experiment that considers the existence of a value-form,
without including the existence of a causal power that the value-form
refers to, may cause confusion. (I do feel that the static, linear
algebra approach of the "surplus school" distracts our attention from
the dynamism of real economies, particularly ongoing innovation, and
the causal role of money flows in the process of continually
reallocating social labour over time.)

More to say, but I'll stop here and await your feedback. The
interesting case is a mixed economy with highly adaptive robots and
human labour. The less interesting case is an economy consisting of
highly adaptive robots that are independent producers without human
labour. In this case, subject to certain caveats, there might be value
and surplus-value. The contemporary case is an economy consisting of
non-adaptive, special-purpose machinery and human labour.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu Nov 30 2006 - 00:00:06 EST