[OPE-L] "Levels of abstraction"

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Jan 30 2008 - 07:17:58 EST


You write:

"If the soldiers' upkeep are a part of the surplus product, then so is the case for the producers of royal luxuries."

I do not see that this follows at all. If the soldiers are part of a private army which is a profitmaking corporation, why aren't they capitalistically productive workers? If the producers of royal luxuries are hired by a profit making company, why aren't they productive workers?

For every category of labour, it is possible to specify a sense in which it is productive or unproductive. Therefore, you can at best say that how the distinction is drawn depends on your purpose and point of view, and that there is no sense in which a category of labour is intrinsically ("by nature") productive or unproductive.

My argument was just that in order to determine the magnitude of total surplus value produced in an accounting period, you have to be able to drawn a non-arbitrary PUPL distinction, and that if U is a deduction from S, total P cannot be equal to total S unless you say that wages are really profits. If total P and total S deviate from each other by a large margin, there is no sense in which price-value deviations cancel each other out in aggregate, and then it is difficult to sustain the idea that labour-values and prices of commodities must converge, or that shifts in value relations are necessarily reflected in shifts in price relations. 

Paul Cockshott's interpretation of productive labour is I think a fairly technocratic one, similar to that used in the Soviet material product accounts. It is rooted in the idea that categories of labour are intrinsically productive or unproductive according to the nature of the output produced, but that is exactly what I dispute. It abstracts from the real evolution of the division of labour, it abstracts from the property relations involved,  and it abstracts from relations of cooperation. Paul's definition may be useful to analyse which categories of labour result in products that add to material wealth and which categories do not, but it is not the only definition possible and for other purposes, other definitions may be relevant.

In part, the whole controversy is based on the fact that what appears as a cost at the micro-level is a revenue at the macro-level, and vice versa, as you can witness clearly in national accounts and balance of payments accounts. You can never fully resolve this inversion, since there is always a point of view from which a cost is a revenue and a revenue is a cost, and indeed in double-entry bookkeeping every revenue implies a cost, and vice versa, though not necessarily for the same person or entity.

Essentially Marx's argument boils down to the idea that value can be lodged only in use-values which are alienable labour products (ignoring labour-services) but gross product accounts are not designed according to this definition. They are designed to measure the value-added, mostly by comparing a volume of purchases (costs) with a volume of sales (revenues). The concepts are different. Material product accounts are designed to show the value of the net output of material goods, but this again implies a particular view of the cost structure of that output, containing certain judgements (or prejudices) about what categories of labour contribute to that cost structure. Personally I do not think that material product accounts are very desirable. I think a socialist product account would be at least a triple-entry account: the balance of output prices, the balance of labour-time performed, and the balance of physical units produced. Only from such an account can you infer all relevant relationships in the social economy since you can then relate product prices to physical product units as well as the labour-time involved to make them. 


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