[OPE-L:618] Re:

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Fri, 1 Dec 1995 16:12:45 -0800

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Replying to Chai on Lee (603)


1. The "value-creating power" of skilled labor is just a use-value of the 

labour-power. The training cost is a part of the production cost of the skill, and the production cost has nothing to do with its *use-value* (= the value-creating power) but only with its *exchange-value* (the wage rate of the skilled labor-power).

Paul C ------ I think that one gets into a hopeless mass of confusion unless you approac this matter from the standpoint of the division of labour of society as a whole. If you focus on the individual commodity exchange relationships the underlying value relationships become lost in a mass of mirrors.

Once you talk about labour as having a 'value creating power' rather than value being labour, then you are already thinking in terms of the fetishistic appearance of value rather than value ( labour time ) itself.

The formula 'value creating power of skilled labour', is, once you translate it into the labour theory of value, an absurdity, since it becomes 'the labour creating power of skilled labour'. The only labour that has a labour creating power is the labour of birth, which is not what you mean by skilled labour.

One has to start from the basic logical axioms. The value of a product is the average amount of labour time that society has to devote to the process of its production. The extent to which this value is adequately modeled in exchange value is a secondary question. The labour necessary to make a product is made up of all of the labour that is involved solely in the production of that product, plus a portion of the labour that contributes to this product along with others.

To take again the example of a software package as the product. One must add the mean expected time that will be spent directly writing the code, to a proportion of time that went into making the computers used, a proportion of the total labour that went into producing the supply of electricity to the national grid etc. One must then add in a proportion of the time that was spent by the programmers acquiring skills before they came to the project. The proportion of the earlier training time that one has to attribute to the current product depends upon the 'life expectancy' both of the workers and under modern technology, of their skills. Finally one has to subtract a fraction of the time spent learning 'on the job', from the value of the current product, since this time is indirectly contributing to future products.

Note that in determining what is value, i.e., socially necessary labour time, one must proceed quite independently of price phenomena. One has to explain the price of the product and the wages paid to different sorts of labour as secondary phenomena determined by the underlying value relationships. Otherwise you abandon the theory of value for a circular price theory.

If one is to have a scientifically testable causal theory relating domain X to domain Y, it is vital that one can make independent estimates of X and Y.

Chai on Lee ----------- Paul, do you include all the time they spend for their own cooking, washing, cleaning,

etc. in the socially necessary time for the product? Or do you include only the time for which you pecuniarily paid for? Or plus self-learning racking their brains at home night times?

Paul Cockshott -------------- What proportion of the time the worker gets paid for is irrelevant when considering value relationships, since these concern only the total labour budget of society. The relevant criterion for counting labour as part of the value of the software product is not payment, but whether a second of labour is entirely, partly, or in no way devoted to the production of the final product, and conversely whether that labour is in no way, partially, or entirely devoted to some other end. Thus the labour of self instruction, whether performed at home or in the workplace is mainly devoted to the final product, and thus must be part of its value.

As opposed to this the labour of cooking, washing, cleaning is primarily devoted to a different purpose - the life and enjoyment of the worker. In some jobs, where hygiene is important, then a part of these could be attributed to the work task. Similarly, if someone had to eat an unusual amount - beyond that required for a normal healthy existence - because of heavy physical labour, then that additional food and cooking count as part of the social cost of that branch of production.

Chai on Lee ----------- At the moment, I put my own conclusion in advance. In the time, I include only the pecuniarily paid labour-time. And this does not enter into the value of output which they produce after being trained. This is because the output value rests on the value-creating power of their labor (the use-value of their skill), rather than the value of their labor-power (the production cost of their skill). Only the monetary-incurred cost of the skill can enter into the value of the skill, however.

Paul ---- Why?

You must distinguish between an argument about value and one about the way in which value is represented to the agents of capitalist production. Labour time is represented to accountants only through wages paid, but this is a very partial representation of the underlying reality. It leads to the illusion that something becomes socially cheaper if workers are paid less. But why should we take their viewpoint of the matter?

When you say :"Holidays in the Mediterranean, if it is socially necessary and pecuniarily paid, is also to be taken into account."

This only makes sense from an employer's standpoint. Workers dont go on holiday for the sake of thier bosses. They go to enjoy themselves. It only appears 'socially necessary', if the employers - due to shortages of labour or trades union power are forced to pay wages that allow holidays. But this 'social necessity' is nothing more than the class power of workers imposing itself on employers. If new sources of labour can be had at lower wages, it will turn out not to have been a 'social necessity' at all.

Your point (3) is largely devoted to comparing the value of a machine with the value of skilled labour power, and you say they are not comparable since one is a stock and one is a flow.

I would prefer not to speculate on the value of labour power, since I suspect that the concept falls to the blade of William of Occam. It is not clear that wages are governed by a law of value, nor that labour power is anything more than a temporary theoretical fiction. My argument was concerned solely with the value of the products of labour. /s