Re: [OPE-L] Complex and simple labour: English trans. of French Capital I?

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sun Jun 10 2007 - 11:52:47 EDT

For socially necessary abstract simple labor  to be the substance of
value, it must exist. For it to exist workers must generally appear
as capable bearers of labor power in the abstract, and job tasks have
to be simplified for them to be carried out uniformly by the average
worker. If these social and technological conditions obtain--Korsch
suggests that the classical economists did not deduce
transcendentally the conditions of possibility for regulation of
economic phenomena by the law of value--then and only then will
commodities actually be values or embodiments of socially necessary
abstract labor and comparable as aliquots of this homogeneous
substance of average abstract labor time.

Moreover, it follows that said conditions must obtain for value to
anchor prices; otherwise the formation of prices will result from
merely contingent interactions of supply and demand or administrative
decision. Here the dynamics of price formation could be described but
would not prove explicable in terms of a science of political economy.

Heilbroner argues that Smith was wrong to think  two deer would be
equated in exchange with a beaver simply on the basis that a deer
hunt takes one hour while the trapping of a beaver takes two hours.
Two deer and one beaver cannot be equated simply because one hour of
concrete labor on average is needed to capture a deer and half the
time needed to capture a beaver. What basis is there after all for
equating two qualitatively distinct things--one hour of beaver
trapping and one hour of deer hunting?

Only if labor has become practically abstract can and will labor
likely shift around until an exchange ratio of 2d to 1b is
established. If it has not become abstract, then a beaver trapper who
feasts, say, on roots and bear meat may well trade in violation of
the law of value a single surplus beaver for a single deer in an
effort to diversify his meat consumption for the purposes of
maximizing utility.   We can't assume that he'll find a deer trader
willing to exchange two deer for his beaver unless  labor has  become
practically abstract enough to ensure that the deer supply is
sufficient to allow for exchange at value.

There may well have been in Smith's mythic time of primitive exchange
or in Aristotle's time some imperfect social tendency towards the
practical abstraction of labor, but the conditions of  the formation
of uniform labor power through general education, successful
application of the Babbage principle and general mobility have only
been recently established. Which in turn has allowed for the
conception of abstract labor.

(It is of course possible that without compulsion or enslavement the
bearers of labor power in the abstract will not move into certain
'overvalued' branches such that sufficient supply is forthcoming to
ensure exchange at value; that is, the double freedom of the
proletariat has not always guaranteed the mobility of labor required
for exchanges to be regulated by value.)

  At any rate,  if practically abstract average labor is the substance
of value, then what regulates the social reckoning of the hours
performed by a qualified  worker?

Perhaps Marx has no good answer as Bohm Bawerk argued.

And if exchange at value is incompatible with private appropriation
which engenders a tendency towards the equalization of the profit
rate, then what importance can the law of value have under
capitalism? Can a system, like a person, disagree with itself, making
incompatible demands on itself--the organization of social production
by the law of value and the freedom to make profit which results in
an equalization of profit rates? What kind of motion results from the
incompatibility of systemic demands? Should we use dialectics as a
heuristic to locate incompatible systemic demands, perhaps operating
behind actors' backs, as the key to the motion and limits of systems?



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