[OPE-L] question on the interpretation of labour values

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Feb 19 2007 - 18:00:10 EST

To get back to the subject,

1) Is there just one version of TSS or several?
2) Has anybody provided a comprehensive, up-to-date list of the
transformation literature?

Reason I ask is that I am still toying with the idea of researching/writing
up a paper on the transformation problem which shows why neither the New
Interpretation nor TSS are satisfactory solutions, and that another answer
is possible which does more justice to the concepts of value, prices, labour
time, inputs and outputs, and competition. As far as I am aware, nobody has
actually explicated systematically the meaning and dynamics of the law of
value in a capitalist context, working from Marx's unfinished manuscripts.

I think Ian Wright's comment is interesting:

Yet there is
no time period during which unit commodities are produced from labour
alone. Commodities are always produced by means of labour and other
commodities. So I do not think this interpretation can be causal.

I think the argument in Marx's model is really that, as a general rule,
labour-time regulates (set limits and direction for) product values within
an interval of time, and that product values regulate production prices
within an interval of time (four dimensional, i.e. dynamic problem). Values
may however contingently be above or below production prices and market
prices, as Marx explicitly argues: "It is possible for agricultural products
to be sold above their price of production and below their value, while, on
the other hand, many industrial products yield the price of production only
because they are sold above their value."
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch45.htm The possibility
of unequal exchanges in terms of labour-time thus exists throughout.

The mutual adjustment of the three different variables mentioned across time
(more or less haphazardly, given many autonomous enterprises) can itself be
a source of profit and surplus profit. In any production period, all the
constituent elements of a product are being produced. The current value of
the product in the pure model is almost never "the direct and indirect
labour the individual product contains", but instead usually its socially
established modal value in a given spatio-temporal context.
A reduction problem therefore does not arise here.

Question is then, how can this labour-time "cause" the value of the
individual product, whatever its market price may be. Well of course all
interacting producers and consumers engaged in exchange are included in a
society, a shared social world, they adjust their own valuations and trading
behaviour according to their experience and social relations. There is a
synchronic movement there. But really the problem is what regulates (set
limits and direction for) the evolving magnitude of the socially established
value of the product, and that is all Marx is really interested in.

Since that magnitude changes continuously, within some limits of
fluctuation, up or down, I agree obviously historic costs are not so
relevant, it is usually the current modal replacement cost that is relevant.
This is also reflected in modern accounting standards. However, this latter
"cost" in Marx's model includes surplus-value (realised, or unrealised), and
the replacement cost can be stated either as a market price, a production
price, a value, or as a cost in labour-time.

Marx of course is not concerned with market prices here at all, only
production prices, i.e. a regulating price level that dominates the trade in
the product, which he argues is itself determined in the long term by value
relations that will exist and persist even independently of the exchange of
products, so long as people have to produce their means of life within a
framework of social relations that transcends particular individuals.

When Mirowski accuses Marx of vacillating between a field theory and a
substance theory of value, I think this is incorrect. The "substance of
value" refers only to what economic value is an expression of, i.e. the
socially average labour-time currently necessary. The "embodied" labour
theory is only an initial theorem to get the argument about what is really
behind the trading relationship off the ground. It may be useful for
empirical measurement purposes, but theoretically it is a simplification.


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