[OPE] allocation of labor time

From: GERALD LEVY <gerald_a_levy@msn.com>
Date: Fri Dec 12 2008 - 09:22:19 EST

> At the very least all can accept that any society has a finite amount
> of labour available during a given period and that goods and services
> require different amounts of society's labour to produce them. So,
> one has already the concept of 'labour-content'.> Then the question arises whether this theoretical construction has any
> causal effects in real economies.
Hi Dave Z (and also Paul C since this is related to a question you asked):
We'll, I think the first statement could be very easily re-phrased in terms
of scarcity and opportunity costs - which is the way mainstream economists
would want us to frame the question.
Consider a modified guns-butter trade-off. Assume that all of the labor
within a given social formation is either engaged in producing rice or
strawberries. On the vertical axis of the graph we are measuring quantities of
strawberries which can be produced and on the horizontal axis quantities of rice
which can be produced. Since we're only talking about labor allocation,
let's exclude non-labor inputs in this (virtual) graph.
One can very easily see in this context that the decisions concerning
what combination of quantities of rice and strawberries to produce involve
certain social decisions.
But, what else does it tell us? Not much. We have to look at the meaning of
choice and scarcity in different modes of production.
To begin with, who has this choice?
What kind of a choice is it?
Are there constraints on the different parties which are making the choices?
Are the choices being made in a centralized or decentralized way?
Are the choices being made in a democratic way or a command/authoritarian way?
What is the meaning of scarcity within a given society? E.g. is it necessarily
expressed in terms of money? (Note that the standard economics definition of
scarcity refers to 'zero price', i.e. goods are considered to be scarce if the
resources which went into producing them have a positive price).
The graph - and the postulate you put forward - does not answer any of
these questions, but it does suggest a way of thinking about the issue
which may be misleading.
E.g. it's misleading to think of a capitalist economy using the above graph
for a variety of reasons including the fact this allocation decision isn't being
made in a centralized and coordinated way. Rather, it is being made in a
decentralized and un-coordinated way by capitalist firms (although, it
can be made in a more coordinated way in the state - public - sector).
Furthermore, there is no reason to think necessarily that we would be on the
rice-strawberry curve since for us to be on the curve there would have to
be full employment but there is no necessary mechanism under capitalism
to assure full employment).
But, I take your concern to be more directed at the operation of socialism.
Again, it doesn't tell us much.
It doesn't tell us how specifically and by whom the social decisions are
going to be made. It doesn't tell us, further, whether these decisions
are to be made through centralized planning or in a more decentralized
way by relatively autonomous communities of workers in collectives,
for instance. It doesn't tell us whether the market has any role in the
labor allocation question. It doesn't tell us whether the process must
be democratic (and what form democracy would take). It doesn't tell
us anything about the compensation to laborers, e.g. to what extent
income inequalities are tolerated. It doesn't tell us whether compensation is
determine by individual labor time input or using some other criteria
such as need. It also doesn't recognize that there are skill differences
in the workforce and that this will affect the allocation of labor. Etc.
In other swords, such a trans-historical way of posing questions doesn't
tell us much about anything of significance. And, what it does tells
us in this context could be seen simply as a tautology.
In solidarity, Jerry

ope mailing list
Received on Fri Dec 12 09:28:19 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Wed Dec 31 2008 - 00:00:05 EST