Re: [OPE-L] The Use-Value & SNLT Question

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

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

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.


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