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

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Feb 28 2007 - 14:58:30 EST

Rakesh wrote: "Marx assumes equalized s/v for no reason other than
convenience of calculation in his transformation."

Another interpretation possible is arguably that Marx considered that his
abstractive procedure was warranted, because the general long-run tendency
in capitalism was towards the equalisation of rates of surplus-value across
industries. Solow might not see any "mechanism" for this, but obviously free
workers able to negotiate their contracts, and mobile between different jobs
within an open labour market, can in many cases exit from, or resist
super-exploitative conditions. They can bargain through trade unions. They
can engage in class struggle. And the state sets limits for the "fair"
exploitation of human labour. To this can be added the general effects of
mass production of consumer goods and services. Thus general social norms
develop for "normal" labour-compensation, standards of health, and the
satisfaction of needs.

So equalisation of s/v could be seen as an effect of the existence of a
labour market in which most workers go for the best deal they can get and in
which relative labour-compensations are constantly compared or even
juridically set.

Ernest Mandel even claimed "The main trend, crisscrossed, of course, by
several contradictory ones, is that of a growing homogeneity and not a
growing heterogeneity of the proletariat... Today, the differences in
income, in lifestyle and consumer habits, in social outlook and
perspectives, between manual and intellectual workers, between unskilled
workers and clerks or secretaries, between workers in the private sector and
state employees, between male and female workers, are less and not greater
than fifty or a hundred years ago." ("Economics", in: David McLellan, ed.,
Marx: The First Hundred Years, Fontana, 1983, p. 202.

I don't like his chosen words "homogeneity" and "heterogeneity" so much, he
uses bad English, but the general idea is that the conditions of life for
the working class become more and more similar, and it could be argued this
also includes a levelling out of differences in accepted rates of surplus
value. In a long wave of capitalist expansion, s/v differences would
equalise more, in a recessive long wave, s/v disparities would increase, but
the long-run historical trend would be a decline of s/v disparities. A
"normal" s/v would be in the order of 100% to 120%.

I think it is always worthwhile to remember that Marx rarely mentioned
"inputs" and "outputs". His concern was with how an initial capital outlay
is transformed into a larger sum of capital through production. It is
virtually meaningless to talk about "values and prices with profits
proportional to variable capital" if the variable capital changes in value
during production. You could talk about profits proportional to the organic
composition or proportional to labour-hours worked, yes.

Variable capital can be acccounted for both as a stock (i.e. the average
about of capital tied up in wages during the year) or as a flow value (the
total payments during the year). In reality, usually revenues from ongoing
sales replenish the salary fund, and thus the actual amount of capital that
has to be kept on hand at any time to pay wages is usually much less than
the annual payments.


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