Re: [OPE-L] Question

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Apr 11 2007 - 19:14:46 EDT

 Howard said

On the point about need below, I'm not convinced.  You cannot make a
difficult problem go away by stipulation.  Yes it would be nice if we could
calculate need based on current levels of technology and I'm sure there are
monetary issues that complicate unnecessarily, but in the last analysis I
think you cannot remove the way class relations determine social need from
what counts as socially necessary labor time
You mistake what I was trying to say. I am not saying that you can calculate
need based on technology. 

What I am saying is that the word need denotes two quite distinct concepts
in this case and that using the same word for these two concepts causes

The first meaning is 'technically necessary', the second meaning approximates
to what neo-classical economics calls demand. My contention is that the
definition of value as average socially necessary labour time refers only
to the first concept. The fact that in english the word need is also sometimes used
to refer to 'demand' does not mean that the concept of average socially necessary
labour time also means 'average socially demanded labour time'.

Demand sets the quantitative level of production. Technology sets the value
of the product. Demand determines how much will be sold at that value. But
if you start interchanging the two meanings of need you will slip off towards
a neo-classical model - where an analogous double entendre on the word 'value'
is at play. The ambiguity over value there relates to it being either what
it costs to produce something, or the 'valuation' that a person imputes to something.

If you start saying that value depends on social demand, because you have
a double entendre on the word need, you end up with a theory of value that
is verging towards neo-classical subjectivism.

Any society needs a mechanism to regulate the quantity of each good produced,
in capitalist society the rate of change of production is driven, among other
things, by the deviation of price from value. This is not the only mechanism;
I suspect that simple fluctuations of stocks are probably as important
as price changes in regulating production rates. But this regulation of the
quantity produced is a distinct issue from the per unit value of the goods.
The per-unit value is determined by labour productivity.

There are passages in which Marx himself oscillates between the two meanings
of the word need, but we should be wiser with hindsight. Great political economists are
not always aware of the ambiguity of the meanings that they employ - viz Smiths
ambiguity over labour commanded versus labour embodied. With hindsight these
ambiguities become apparent.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Allin Cottrell" <cottrell@WFU.EDU>
Sent: Monday, April 09, 2007 8:36 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Question

> On Tue, 10 Apr 2007, Paul Cockshott wrote:
> > This usage overloads the word 'need' or 'necessary' with two distinct
> > meanings:
> >
> > 1. necessary under current levels of technology
> >
> > 2. necessary to meet currently available market demand...
> Thanks, Paul.  This is very much the reply I intended to give to
> Howard's question, had I had time to do so.
> Allin.

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