From: Allin Cottrell (cottrell@WFU.EDU)
Date: Mon Apr 09 2007 - 23:07:43 EDT
On Mon, 9 Apr 2007, Jerry Levy wrote: > Let's start with the following: > > "Moreover, the time spent in production counts only in so far as > it is socially necessary for the production of a *use-value*" > (Vol 1, Penguin ed., p. 303, emphasis added). > > If the time spent in production, then, does _not_ result in the > production of a *use-value*, then that time can _not_ be counted > as being socially-necessary. Yes, both Ricardo and Marx said, "no use-value, no value". And it seems fair enough to say that if a capitalist produces something totally useless (for which the there's no demand even at a price of zero) then the labour applied is just wasted, and created no value. But this is not a common occurrence, not an economically significant phenomenon. Jerry, you talk about commodities "not being sold" but it's very rare that a commodity couldn't be sold _at any price_. What is fairly common is that either demand falls short of expectation, or supply on the part of competitors exceeds expectation, so that a given capitalist's output can't be sold at a price that yields the expected profit (or perhaps, any profit at all). Marx's analysis of this situation is that the commodity sells below its value (or price of production), not that the value of the commodity itself is reduced ex post by the shortfall of demand or excess of supply. Furthermore, even some commodities that really "can't be sold" (at least, for fear of "spoiling the market") play a definite economic role, and it's a dubious exercise to read back from their non-saleability to the conclusion that the labour applied was not socially necessary. I have two sorts of cases in mind. 1. In manufacturing. For example, a proportion of computer memory chips don't pass quality control and are discarded. Does that mean the labour that went into them was not socially necessary? No, because we don't know in advance which chips will fail. I suppose that in principle one could set up a production process that would have no failures, but if the labour-time per chip of such a process would exceed the labour-time per chip of a process with some wastage, then (with only apparent paradox) it's the no-failure process that wastes labour. 2. Sectors that are expected to produce novelties and have to deal with relatively unpredictable consumer demand. Example: the fashion trade. A fashion house comes up with range of styles and fabrics for the current season. Some sell well, some do not. Towards the end of the season they can try selling the left-overs at deeply discounted prices, sell them as rags, or just discard them. Or a quality restaurant: they offer maybe a dozen dishes each night. They have to prepare enough of each so that not too many diners will be told they can't have what they want. But inevitably this means that some food will be unsold at the end of the night. In both of these case a measure of "waste" is predictable, but precisely which items will go to waste is unknown. Like the manufacturing example, a degree of waste is part of the normal cost. It's silly to say, ex post, that the seamstresses who sewed the unsold dresses, or the chefs who prepared the unsold dishes, "didn't create any value" -- their labour was a necessary part of the enterprise as a whole, without which the fashion house or restaurant could not have presented an adequate range of offerings, in a market that expects choice. If you like, there's a "socially necessary" degree of wastage in many sectors of the economy. A restaurant that wastes _too much_ food, a fashion house that produces _too many_ non-selling lines, a chip plant that produces _too many_ dud chips, relative to the social average, will go out of business. But a producer who insisted on zero wastage would also go bust. Allin.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Mon Apr 30 2007 - 00:00:16 EDT