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

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Thu Jun 14 2007 - 14:05:50 EDT

Marx did not comprehensively discuss skill differentiations in the division of labour, and he did not discuss the laws of motion of the division of labour comprehensively. That is one issue belonging to the book on wage labour.

But the skilled labour problem arises out of Marx's claims that: 

1) skilled labour power has a higher value
2) skilled labour can produce more value in the same amount of time
3) (inference) the value product of skilled labour power is higher than that of unskilled labour power.

The first claim can be substantiated in the first instance by reference to the fact that its average production costs in labour time (whether prior training or on-the-job training) are higher. It will obviously also depend on supply and demand, which is reconciled in a sometimes highly contradictory way. 

As regards the second claim, Capital is interested in this skilled labour if indeed it yields more value in the same amount of time. Capital is not per se interested in skill, this is the point, but in the utilisation of skill which yields extra surplus-value, or which yields more value. But that is not how it appears, it appears that there is a function (a job) that needs to be performed, and a worker with sufficient skill is attracted to perform the function. If you cannot find one, you train one, or you redesign the labour process so that skilled labour power in short supply is not necessary.

If the reduction of skilled to unskilled labour is "constantly being made", I think Marx refers both to use-value and exchange-value, i.e. the division of labour is modified in the long term according to the imperatives of capital accumulation, with the overall effect that labour is deskilled (his 19th century sarcastic moral critique in terms of human development) and that the exploitability of skilled and unskilled labour is expressed in money terms, or as relative values. And it can be a human anxiety about one's skills being devalued. But it is very hard to evaluate skills in a long time interval, since skill composition changes.

The question then is "how do you know that X amount of skilled labour = Y amount of unskilled labour = Z amount of abstract labour=P amount of value=Q amount of money". An economist might say, you need both a MELT and a MESUL (Monetary Equivalent of Skilled and Unskilled Labour). But the circumstance is that you cannot know that a priori, in advance, and the whole thing can be understood only dynamically in an interval of time or in the course of experience. It is an aggregate result of market-trade in human labourpower, occurring as an unintended aggregate social effect of that trade. It is not just an uncertainty for the theorist, but also for the investor in labourpower. At this point the Marxists give up, and start to talk about levels of abstraction.

But with statistics, we could measure quite a few things, insofar as labour force and qualification data yield averages for employment at different skill-levels which we can relate to gross and net income. This yields empirical generalisations about the (possibly probabilistic) relationships between skilled and unskilled labour and their incomes. We can also relate this to actual output values and profits created. On that basis we can make some predictions. In general, Capital knows very well what it requires qua skill, even if this is not apparent to the innocent worker yet.

I agree with Ehrbar's interpretation of Marx based on textual evidence, but Marx's argument that commodities are commensurated and equated because commodities are the products of abstract labour-time is not logically convincing in the way Marx puts that, as Kozo Uno points out. The reason is that I can just as well argue that commodities are commensurated and equated because commodities have a price expressible in money-units, or simply because people want to trade them. That is, Marx assumes here what has to be proved. His "dialectical" argument is a response to the irritating philosophical pontifications of German professors about "value", but in this respect at least his logic has more in common with the Brothers Grimm. The effect is that generations of Marxists misunderstood the modalities of market-trade.

There are many more aspects of critique of the political economy of skills, of which two aspects deserve mention here:

1) Capital also aims to get as much as possible skill-application from labourpower for free, in exactly the same way it gets part of the maintenance of capital assets for free.
2) For his part, to the consternation of Capital, the worker aims to get as much money as possible for the least exercise of his skills.

The problem Professor Makoto Itoh refers to, is the problem of how you get differentially skilled labourpower to where it is needed in a socialist economy, if you do not do it via labour markets, in such a way that you both maximise the freedom of the worker's development, and ensure that it is truly efficient. To the extent that you guarantee a basic income and flatten the income scale there are efficiency losses, although there are efficiency gains insofar as unemployment is reduced to a very low level permanenty and many market contradictions caused by competition are eliminated. Essentially, this requires a new cooperative work morality, a new work ethics which explains why a socialist labour-allocation is more just and efficient. This is a problem of empirical ethics, i.e. an ethics based firmly on the results of experience and not just on abstract principles (the abstract principles are derived from empirical human experience).

But now I am too tired to write more.


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