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

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Tue Jun 12 2007 - 08:55:27 EDT

Abstract labor gets measured quantitatively very nicely, and always has.
The yardstick is called 'money.'

Temperature is a way of measuring the kinetic energy of the molecules of a
gas.  I suppose in natural science, scientists can measure speed and spin of
molecules individually.  So maybe the effort to measure the constitutive
components of abstract labor is not without the support of analogy.

But I'm puzzled, Hans, about your speculation about measuring abstract labor
in an egalitarian socialist society.

As a form of transition, no doubt there will be a need for much careful
thinking on such things.  But once you transform the social relations that
generate the commodity relation, we will still measure labor time, of
course, but I think there will not be the thing we now call abstract labor.


----- Original Message -----
From: "ehrbar" <ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, June 12, 2007 8:15 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Complex ... and the French edition of capital

> The issue is not whether abstract labor is difficult to measure.  A
> socialist society could for instance decide that there should be no
> property income, only wages, that education should be free, that all
> jobs should be a fair mixture between rote manual tasks and
> interesting uplifting intellectual tasks, and that all labor should be
> rewarded equally per hour -- perhaps with small gradations between
> workers who put their everything into their jobs and others who see
> their jobs as a chore which has to be endured and who place their
> energies outside their jobs.  This scheme, which is Paul and Allin's
> scheme of socialism as I understand it, would be a very simple way of
> measuring abstract labor.  Exactly because of this simplicity it could
> serve as the basis, I think, of a beautiful egalitarian society.  By
> the way, if this is the mode how people get paid, this does not mean
> that abstract labor must be the main category regulating production;
> nowadays this main criterion for production must be planetary
> sustainability.
> The issue is also not whether Einstein's theory of relativity or
> Beethoven's Seventh are the materializations of abstract labor.
> Nobody would think this is a relevant abstraction.  Einstein and
> Mozart would have a decent life in this society, they will have enough
> to eat but the also will have to clean up after themselves like
> everybody else, and their need to consume would not get in the way of
> the contribution of their extraordinary talents for the benefit of
> everyone.
> But in a commodity society, in which economic relations are channeled
> through a one-dimensional value-property of things, the above two
> non-issues suddenly become issues.  In such a society, Beethoven's
> Seventh (or the Beatle's Hey Jude) are commodities and are equated to
> tomatoes or massages, and in addition labor is the main category
> dominating production.  This works because the overwhelming majority
> of all labor-power needed in a society is indeed roughly equal, and
> the focus on abstract labor has spawned incredible increases in labor
> productivity -- with the unfortunate side effect that it threatens to
> destroy the planet.  But there are some slippages in the way how truly
> exceptional labor-power can be fitted into this scheme.  Here my claim
> is that the economic system as a whole simply doesn't care.  Somehow
> qualitative differences between labors must be reduced to quantitative
> differences, because market valuation can only handle quantitative
> differences, but the modalities are accidental.  Most Einsteins will
> be underpaid, and some Einsteins will be overpaid, and society as a
> whole suffers because this aspect of social regulation is somewhat
> haphazard.  But overall the system limps along.  The damage done by
> using labor as the exclusive criterion for production, and by the
> separation of the workers from the means of production and capitalist
> exploitation, is much greater than the waste and damage done by not
> dealing very well with the small percentage of all labor-power which
> is qualitatively different and therefore cannot be properly allocated
> by a market system.
> This is why Marx waves his hands about the reduction problem, and why
> Marxist attempts to "solve" the reduction problem are misguided.
> Attempts to precisely measure all abstract labor in a society must be
> equated to attempts to precisely add apples and oranges, or attempts
> to invent a perpetuum mobile: however hard one may try, it is not
> possible and it cannot be possible.  But rough measures, as that
> proposed by Paul C, should do a reasonable job, and that is all an
> economist has to do, because capitalist society itself also applies
> only a rough measure to abstract labor.
> Hans.

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