[OPE-L:716] Re:

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Tue, 12 Dec 1995 12:26:40 -0800

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Chaion, my chief concern is to defend the scientific superiority of the
laour theory of value vis-a-vis bourgeois subjectivist ones.What makes
thelabour theory scientific and the others unscientific is that there is
no way that one can determine whether prices do exchange in proportion to
marginal utility, since utility has no independent measure.

Labour time, by contrast, is susceptible to measurement. Its
mearurement, just like that of temperature, presupposed a definite
technolgy. Measurement of temperature depended on the invention of the
thermometer, measurement of labour time depended upon the invention of
the pendulum escapement mechanism. It is not strictly true that no
quantum can be its own measure, calculi ( small stones used in ancient
calulation ) were there own measure - they directly represented number.
Similarly coins on a reckoning table represented their own number as they
passed by tale. However, you are right to say that for continuous
variable like time or temperature, their quantization requires us to use
some distinct measuring instrument. The instrument that we use for
measuring temperature is a thermometer or spectrograph, the instrument
formeasuring labour time is the stop-watch. In using a stop watch to
determine the time taken to perform a task, on must of course average
ones measures over a large number of runs and a large number of
individual to obtain the average necessary time taken.

You are right in picking out the section of my analogy where I compared
the specific heat of whisky with the specific value of gold as a weak
point. I had thought it weak for a different reason - that in the case of
*value* only one substance was involved gold, in the case of temperature
two were involved, the hot whisky and the alchohol in the thermometer
usedto meaure it. I specified an alchohol thermometer to indicate that in
principle, the whisky could act as its own thermometer ( by measuring
change in volume ).

Your objection is slightly different, saying
"But you made a wrong analogy by
putting the relationship between the specific heat of whisky and the heat
content of the whisky in parallel with that between the labor content of
gold and the labor content of whisky. One is for the same substance of
whisky, the other is for the two different bodies of gold and whisky."

My point is that the *heat* transfered to the whisky - from some other
souce - equals the temperature rise divided by its specific heat.
Similarly the *labour* added to the whisky to make it from grain etc
equal the rise in price divided by the specific value of the money
commodity. If I had wished I could have described one of the more
complicated heat-exchange experiments performed by Watt involving two
substances, where the specific heats of two substances are involved, but
this would unnecessarily have complicated the analogy.

You are of course right to point out that in a highly stochastic system
like the economy, where the number of agents is, in thermodynamic terms
very small, deviations between individual and social value, both of
whiskyand gold will be significant. This means that in the economy we are
dealing with a system with a relatively low signal to noise ratio. But
the same consideration applies to physical systems when aggregate
quantitis like temperature and pressure are measured for relatively small
populations. I have recently been conducting experiments on the
propagatio of sound through lattice gases. Since our experimental
apparatts can only handle a few hundred 'molecules' at a time, pressure
measurements are subject to vast amounts of brownian noise. We can only
overcome this by summing over a many cycles. The contrast that you point
out between individual and social value is thus mirrored in small scale
physical systems.

You say:
"Yet a minor slip you made is in your statement
that labour-power is a flow quantity. If you are wright, the value of
labor-power should be measured per hours like the wage-rate. But, Marx
say in Capital that the capitalists can change the length of working day
without changing value of labor-power, which means the wage-rate per
hour can change without any change in the value of labor-power. If the
labor-power is a flow quantum, how could this happen?"

If labour-power is ability to perform work, then its dimension must
be work-performable/per hour. Clearly if the working day is lengthened
with the daily wage being the same, the wage rate per hour has declined.
Whether the value of labour power has similarly declined or has remained
the same is indeterminate, since we have no means of measuring the
value of labour power other than the price paid for it.

I would thus argue that the concept 'value of labour power' has no
scientiic explanatory power and its presence in Capital must be
understood as deriving from Marx's intention to perform a critique of
poliical economy using its own categories. He thus assumes the exchange
of equivalents, and assumes that workers, like other sellers get a fair
price for their commodity. This necessitates that a value be imputed to
labour power. Given the political sub-text of Capital, the polemic agains
Proudhonism, this was a good tactic. The reality is simpler, workers are
paid 25mins for an hours labour.