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? Rakesh .
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