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

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Wed Feb 28 2007 - 22:50:00 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

Sure there is some tendency towards equalized s/v, but Marx makes
that assumption in the transformation tables for convenience of
calculation. Whether S/V equalizes matters not as to why
the redistribution of value conceals that price remains a function
of, is governed by value. If price did not generally remain a
function of value, society would not be able to allocate in
quantitative and qualitative terms social labor time so as to
reproduce itself, as any schoolchild can see upon reflection. The
question for Marx is why in the bustle of the marketplace  price
concealed that it was a function of value as it had to be--leading
Smith and others comfortably trapped on the surface of the
marketplace to abandon the labor theory of value for manifestly
illogical or absurd value theories (adding up theory is tautologous,
utility theory is metaphysical).

Having established that in spite of contrary appearances price do
indeed remain a function of value, Marx then shows that in responding
to price signals, capitalists unintentionally change the value
relations which change makes itself felt in the realm of prices and

Against this brilliant, dynamic theory the best the critics have been
able to do is drone on about a failure to transform the inputs
without the straightjacket of linear production theory or even worse
the falsity of the putative assumption about an equalized s/v.

And on it goes.


>  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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