Re: [OPE] value and measuring labor time

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Wed May 13 2009 - 01:36:13 EDT

Hi Paul,

Provisionally . . .

Ecology concerns the relationship of a creature to its environment - I would
have thought that this presupposes the kind of 'praxis' necessary to
survival as well as a praxis conducive to flourishing in that environment.
It would imply a move beyond the assumption that material abundance in
itself necessarily solves the problems of necessity posed by the demands of
survival. The emphasis on human flourishing also would displace the
assumption that the study of the production and distribution of material
wealth or abundance is the queen of the social sciences.

Marginal calculations will certainly remain important to a social and
economic calculation. The question is the place of labor time as a measure.
Your point about the correlation between prices and values in
technologically sophisticated production is important. Marx's examples
certainly involve material products - he instances material stuff like
locomotives, the telegraph and the self-acting mule (grundrisse 706). His
attention though is focused on the immense disparity between the productive
power set in motion by labor and its diminishing role in monitoring natural
processes - we might think with respect to locomotives, for example, of the
disproportion between the individual contribution say and the enormous
quantities of freight hauled vast distances. The productive powers of
social labor unleashed dwarf the direct labor time of the individuals
involved. I heard this evening from a tornado chaser. Tornados are the
result of rotating thunderstorms, but science can't yet tell us exactly how
they form. One possibility is an updraft of hot air. Suppose this turns
out to be so and an instrument is developed to measure this. How much will
the individual labor time that goes into its production measure its social

Perhaps the issue is fundamentally connected to enterprise autonomy and its
limits. As a form of transition to socialism a social and economic
calculation would want to take into account externalities, positive and
negative, but the minute you do, measures in terms of individual labor
hours, market or naked, quickly lose their bite. A year or so before
Katrina, the UN commended Cuba as a model because it was able to move a
couple of million people to safety in advance of a major hurricane without
loss of life or major social dislocation. This depended upon local
neighborhood organization. Your metric for a social and economic
calculation would want to include social networks that facilitated response.
Think even in simple terms of a community organizer in the UK - if you were
going to devise a metric for measuring what they do in socially useful terms
would it be by individual labor hours?

Surplus labor is disposable time, so we are already familiar with the
category. The Robinson Crusoe problem of allocating a community's
available labor to need remains. At Grundrisse 708 Marx writes that "the
mass of workers must themselves appropriate their own surplus labor." So
the question is how a change of control would affect how we measure. We
would continue to be interested in reducing necessary labor in order to
increase disposable labor. What counts as necessity, though, would change.

Metrics compare. Suppose two socially useful effects, material or not. In
deciding which was worth more socially, what would we take into account?
Some measure of the quantity of individual effort allocated for sure, some
measure of the degree to which either product would advance disposable time
for individual community members, some measure of the degree to which
either would advance the richness of community connections, some measure of
the degree to which either would contribute to the full development of
individual members of the community, some measure of the development of
individual's social productive power. In terms of identifying the
comparative social worth of the one product against the other, the direct
labor time of individuals would be one variable in a very much more complex

There are already social cost benefit calculations that attempt to quantify
basketfuls of such factors.


howard engelskirchen

----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Cockshott" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 7:49 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE] value and measuring labor time

> howard engelskirchen wrote:
>> Comment: (a) These snippets don't do justice to the pages taken as a
>> whole. But they do suggest that a concept of measurement appropriate to
>> the
>> period of transition would not lean on individual labor time but would
>> instead want to take into account the contribution of the agencies of
>> social
>> productive power to the creation of wealth, e.g. general social
>> knowledge,
>> the general intellect, the developed powers of combined social labor. It
>> seems also it would want to take into account and measure disposable
>> time,
>> the full development of the individual. How do we do all this?
> Well you raised the question, what are your suggestions
>> (b) But if the direct contribution of individual labor and its duration
>> become more and more irrelevant to measuring social wealth, and
>> dramatically
>> so, doesn't this suggest that any use of individual labor time as a
>> measure
>> after capitalism is not really an economic calculation at all.
> But would this not require the mass production of intelligent robots for
> it to be true?
> So long as human labour enters in as an irreplacable component into
> production then
> labour values are important.
> I think it is only in the case of information replication by servers on
> the internet
> that marginal labour is unimportant. Even Google distributes its services
> communistically.
> One still has to know how the overhead costs of such services are to be
> met?
> Although there is not a close relationship between information services
> and labour
> input, there is still some such relationship. People do have to work to
> make the servers,
> to supply the electricity, to programm and repair them.
>> (c) And what if we take Marx seriously here? I suggested earlier
>> that
>> there was a theoretical point in recognizing that you couldn't measure
>> without a concept of what it was that was being measured. We can even
>> ask
>> what the scientific domain is. Is it even economic? If what's at issue
>> is
>> disposable time and the full development of the individual are we talking
>> about eudemonics instead? In other words, maybe a social and economic
>> calculation would itself look to a transition from a science concerned
>> with
>> the production and distribution of material wealth to an ecological
>> science
>> of human flourishing.
> But once you allow ecological issues in, the classic view of communism
> from Marx
> to Kruschov as being above all about the elimination of necessity and the
> achievement
> of freedom predicated on material abundance, runs into problems.
> If we have strict limits on consumption of material resources, then some
> form of
> costing based on that would be required.
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