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. Best, -Ian.
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