Re: [OPE-L] Complex ... and the French edition of capital

From: ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Sun Jun 10 2007 - 11:58:39 EDT


you wrote:

> The difficulty is not to say that different labours can and must be
> equated - it is how to find the coefficients which is the
> problem.  Hic coefficientes hic salta!

I disagree.  Marx's main concern regarding the ``reduction problem''
is the qualitative dimension.  He starts with the observation that on
the market, all commodities are equated to each other.  He assumes
that this is not a social fiction, i.e., not something made up in
the circulation process, but that the commodities indeed have
something equal inside them.  Therefore Marx systematically looks for
this equal substance in the commodities.

First he rules out use-value or any physical properties of the
products.  Instead he says that this equal substance comes from
the labor producing the commodities.

Secondly he says: labors themselves are not equal either.  But there
is one aspect which all labor processes share, namely, they are the
expenditure of human labor-power.  This leads to the distinction
between "concrete" and "abstract" labor.

Thirdly, he argues: strictly speaking, human labor-powers are not
equal either.  They are qualitatively different.  But by treating
different commodities as equals, society acts as if all labor-powers
were homogeneous and had at most quantitative differences.  In some
instances, the qualitative differences in labor-powers can indeed be
reduced to quantitative differences: when the differences are due to
different times spent for acquiring the skills.  But obviously this
does not exhaust all qualitative differences between labor-powers.
Here, the market activity does not quite fit together with the nature
of the production process which it regulates.  But the fit is close
enough that the whole system works anyway.

Think of it this way: if all laborers were identical twins or clones
of each other, then the equation of all commodities on the market were
truly justified by the nature of the underlying production process.
Real-life laborers are not identical twins, but they are still
similar enough to each other that the market-regulated production
can maintain itself.

What does this qualitative way of looking at things give us?  It tells
us where the action is, i.e., where the sources of value and
surplus-value are located.  They are not located in the market, they
are also not located in the use-values, they are also not located in
the skills of the laborers, but they are located in the simple labor
which every laborer can perform.  This predicts for instance that
capitalism can do without monopolies, therefore anti-trust laws are
compatible with capitalism.  I predicts that use-values often are
quite shoddy (planned obsolescence), that the labor process is made
monotonous and boring and the skills are withheld from the laborer,
that working hours are long and the level of education is low, that
getting an education is not a protection from exploitation.  I would
argue that the haphazard way of shoe-horning qualitative into
quantiative differences of labor-power is also empirically confirmed
by the notorious difficulty to predict wage differences by either the
character of the work performed or the qualifications of the laborers
(just ask any labor economist).


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