Re: [OPE-L] empirical measurement of changes in the value of labour-power

From: Dave Zachariah (davez@KTH.SE)
Date: Fri Dec 14 2007 - 13:41:32 EST

Hi Jerry,

You write:
> If we follow your alternative, then surplus value can increase for no
> other reason than capitalists increase the prices
> of commodities sold to workers.

Yes, that is precisely my point. It means that the capitalists are
capable of effectively reducing the real wage of the workers. All other
things being equal, the workers' standard of living has fallen and
capitalists have received greater profits and can enjoy a greater
standard of living: The division of the net product has changed and
correspondingly the division of the total social labour time.

Why don't you think so? Where do you disagree? I think any meaningful
analysis must conclude that the rate of exploitation has risen in this

A note regarding Paul C's post: I have always read Marx's "value" as
"labour-value" and "socially necessary labour time" as "social labour
time necessary [to reproduce something]". They may be subtle differences
but they are more precise and lead to less theoretical confusions.

//Dave Z

on 2007-12-14 14:12 GERALD LEVY wrote:
> Hi Dave Z:
> > Let's use your example to proceed.
> OK.
> > Assume a rise in food prices and no
> > technical change nor changes in the nominal wage or the length of the
> > working day. The result is a reduction of the quantity of goods in the
> > weekly consumption basket of wage-labourers. Consequently there is a
> > fall in the labour-value of the real wage vector. However, according to
> > your use of "Value of Labour-Power", it has remained constant.
> >
> > Now if we take this definition, the rate of exploitation is constant
> > too. But this must be wrong: not only have the capitalists in the food
> > sector received greater profits, but all wage-labourers across the
> > economy are spending less time to produce their -- now smaller --
> > consumption basket and consequently producing more surplus labour. The
> > rate of exploitation has risen.
> I'm not sure what you feel the problem is here.  The commodity LP
> does NOT have to be sold at its value: i.e. LP, like every other
> commodity,
> can be sold at a price greater or lesser than its value. The proposition
> that LP is sold at its value is assumed to be the case on average, but
> there can (and are) temporal and spatial causes for disparities between
> the VLP and wages: this has important meaning for comprehending
> regional and urban issues.
> In the example above, the nominal wage is the same and so V is
> the same.  C is also the same. And, following your lead, the working
> day (and the intensity of labor) is the same. So, why would S change?
> > The only tenable definition is to use the labour-value of the
> > consumption basket as the "necessary labour" or "value of labour-power"
> > in the analysis from Capital vol. 1.
> One could recognize, instead, that necessary labor time can itself
> be relatavized.
> If we follow your alternative, then surplus value can increase for no
> other reason than capitalists increase the prices
> of commodities sold to workers.  This creates the possibility of S
> being increased simply through a greater mark-up of commodities
> over cost.  Another way of looking at this issue, though, would be
> to recognize that there can be disparities between S and profit.
> Perhaps the subject of rent should be included here.  If workers
> have to pay a higher amount for food, then one might conceive
> of this as a short-term transfer of value from workers to food-
> producing capitalists or landowners.
> > This also avoids the numerous
> > complications and qualifications that you mention.
> >
> > You ask how to distinguish short-term fluctuations from the underlying
> > causes of the change in food prices? That is where the labour theory of
> > value comes in: one has to study the price to labour-value ratios and
> > unit labour-values of food items to see that.
> >
> > You also ask whether it is worthwhile to have some sort of long-run
> > analysis of the reproduction of labour-power. I definitely think so, it
> > allows us to make important comparisons between different societies, but
> > the one Marx gives is deficient. A better alternative for this purpose
> > is "the total labour necessary to reproduce the capacity to work". Let
> > me elaborate briefly what this means.
> >
> > 1. It includes the social labour necessary to reproduce some
> > historically specific average consumption bundle (i.e. your use of
> > VLP). But also domestic labour required for cooking, cleaning, child
> > rearing etc. In some social formations this distinction is blurred or
> > the latter hidden, and that is precisely why we must count the *total*
> > labour.
> >
> > Take the case of socialized child care that exists in Sweden. Its
> > introduction lead to a rise in the amount of *social* labour necessary
> > to reproduce the next generation's capacity to work. However, this was
> > offset by the reduction in *domestic* labour, so that in fact the total
> > labour required for child rearing had fallen.
> >
> > 2. The "capacity to work", i.e. Marx's "labour-power", is even in the
> > abstract not a homogeneous entity. There is significant quantitative
> > difference between the capacity to work as a doctor and as a clerk: They
> > require different amounts of labour to reproduce.
> Ah, this raises a throrny issue: does non-wage labor which does not
> create commodities still create value?  It is true that there is labor
> required
> to produce the commodity LP and that much of that labor oftentimes
> is non-waged.  But, we have to recognize that _if_ LP is a commodity,
> then it is in some senses a _unique_ commodity.  Of course, one could
> challenge the claim that LP is a commodity (as OPE-L member, Mike
> Williams has done) or one could offer alternative explanations which are
> more or less satisfactory depending on your explanation and perspective
> on value.
> In solidarity, Jerry

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