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

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Feb 21 2007 - 04:47:17 EST

This is what Mirowski meant by the field interpretation too.

Paul Cockshott

-----Original Message-----
From: OPE-L on behalf of Ian Wright
Sent: Wed 2/21/2007 12:14 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] question on the interpretation of labour values
I raised this issue because I'm currently interested in an extremely
narrow question. Given the mathematical definition of labour-value
employed by linear production theory, what are those numbers supposed
to represent?

A common interpretation of the mathematics is that labour-values
represent the "total direct and indirect labour" required to produce
unit commodities. The process of replacement of unit commodities "from
scratch" extends infinitely backwards in time. We imagine production
beginning in the infinite past, with labour alone, that eventually
terminates in the current period with output of unit commodities.
Clearly, this is an entirely hypothetical interpretation, the
unreality of which prompts critiques by Bose (and Keen drawing on

However, there are interpretations of field properties in physics that
are similar in nature. For example, when considering the potential
energy of a point in a field, a common reference point of zero
potential is defined as a point an infinite distance away from the
charge producing the field. Then the potential at the point is defined
as the work required to move one coulomb of charge from infinity to
that point. Clearly, one coulomb of charge is never moved through an
infinite distance. But that does not imply that the potential energy
at a point is not materially efficacious.

I am beginning to think in such terms: the technology matrix in linear
production theory defines a discrete, finite field. Labour values are
instantaneous properties of that field. They function as attractors
for prices (at least in the case of simple commodity production). So
there is ex ante determination of value. Under some stringent
assumptions, such as no technical change, market prices always lag the
labour values.

There are other interpretations of labour values, such as employment
multipliers, so the "dated" or "replacement" interpretation is not the
only way of viewing the numbers. Although I haven't followed this up,
and I'm sure others on the list know more about this, it seems that
labour values can also be given marginal interpretations.

Any thoughts appreciated.

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