[OPE-L:533] Re: International value.

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Tue, 21 Nov 1995 20:13:18 -0800

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Steve Keen is certainly right, as was Hilferding who
he quotes, that training increases the use value creating
power of labour. The question is whether at the same
time it increases the exchange value creating power of

When we compare skilled labour with a greater physical productivity
than unskilled labour, it is reasonable to suppose that this will
be reflected in a greater exchange value productivity as well. If
they both produce the same good, then usevalue productivity and
exchange value productivity must rise in step.

The question becomes more complex when we look at different
points in time.

The addition to a persons use-value productivity that stems from
training depends upon both the duration and content of the training.
The training enables the person to internalise part of societies
technical knowledge, and as this technical knowledge advances, so
the effectiveness of a certain amount of training goes up. A person
trained as a graduate engineer in the 1920s and one so trained now
might study for the same time, but the modern engineer, haveing access
to up to date techniques will be more productive. The question then
arises if the modern engineer has more capacity to create exchange value
than the 1920s one.

If we extend this to all trades, we see that the workforce today, thanks
to its present skills, as well as modern machinery is significantly
more productive in physical terms, does the whole workforce create
more value per hour than it did 70 years ago?

Clearly in terms of money this is the case. It is true even if we
adjust for inflation and use $s or pounds of constant purchasing power.
But this merely restates the growth of physical productivity.
The question is, whether we are to regard this as a rise in the value
creating capacity of labour or, alternatively, as a fall in the per-unit
value of most commodities?

The answer of Marx and classical political economy was that it should
be interpreted as a fall in the value of commodities. This at least has
the merit of giving human labour time as an invariant standard of value.
Since 1995 can not trade with 1925, relative exchange value creating
powers can not be compared.

If we accept the argument that the value creating power of labour
does not change with advances in knowledge, but that goods become
instead easier to 'purchase from nature' in Smiths metaphor, then
Steve and Hilferdings argument that training adds additional value
creating power must be wrong. It appears that way when skilled and
unskilled workers are in competition, but this is an effect of
deviations from the mean. The value is set by the mean labour
the more productive worker uses less labour but her product sells
at the same price as one created by labour of average skill. It thus
appears that training has added value creating power, but this is
a derived effect of the increase in her physical productivity.

Steves distinction:
Hilferding thus argues that education passes on the use-value as well
as the value of the education to the student. The latter increases
the cost of the skilled labourer; the former increases the skilled
labourer's ability to generate value.

between cost and value creating power is misleading. Value is always
a measure of cost. The value of something is what it costs society
to produce it as a fraction of its social working day. It is only
in the fetishistic world of capitalist accounting that this cost
appears as a benefit - ability to add exchange value.
At the same time, the extent to which the socially neccessary time
of training gets passed on proportionately in the cost of labour
power varies greatly in a real society. It is not generally the
case that labour power is trained under capitalist conditions. Much
education is free and on the other hand, class discrimination of
one sort of another creates a protected market for certain types
of labour.

The whole issue becomes clear if we consider a socialist economy.
If the society decides to develop air transport, the labour cost to
it of flying a plane for an hour, includes among other things
all the indirect labour that goes into training the pilots. If
it is to develop an airline, it must set aside a certain portion of
its workforce to train pilots, build flight simulators, provide the
kerosene they burn in training etc. If the working life of a pilot
is known, then the cost to society of using that pilot to fly a
half empty aircraft must include a pro-rata fraction of the training
cost. But under these circumstances it becomes possible to distinguish
clearly between the value of a pilots labour and the remuneration
that they get. There is no reason why the latter should be more
than that of a flight attendant.