[OPE-L:2278] Re: Measuring value

Michael Williams (100417.2625@compuserve.com)
Sat, 18 May 1996 13:56:51 -0700

[ show plain text ]

To add a little to what Michael P. said (without any presumption that he would
agree with my comments), which was:

Suppose a bunch of workers asked us to help them figure out what to do?
How much would our measurement of value help?

It does seem that some of the doggedness with which a measurable labour theory
of value is pursued in the Post-Steedman literature has to do with the wish to
defend the political importance of Marx's account of exploitation of
wage-workers under capitalism. But other approaches (congruent with alternative
interpretations, reconstructions and developments of Marx's work - for me the
R&W version of the Value-form approach) can and do offer arguments for the
crucial role of labour as the sole necessary source of new value in capitalist
commodity production, the systemic necessity of the appropriation and control of
surplus value by capital, etc.. These do not depend on the quantitative
determination of anything but what clearly is quantitatively determined - the
wage, commodity prices, etc. It is these qualitative arguments which are the
elements of a critical Marxist theory of capitalist exploitation, which do not
depend on theoretical or empirical determination of the quantity of some value
substance prior to systemic commodity exchange, called abstract labour. It is
not irrelevant that Paul and Allin in Section 4 of their latest CJE paper/note*
use the common qualitative aspects differentiating labour from other potential
sources of new value (most plausibly, energy): that it alone is necessary to the
working of capitalism; and that labour-power is not produced under capitalist
relations of production. Whatever interest the correlation of the vertically
integrated i/o labour coefficients with 'prices' might hold for the development
of Marxist critique of economics (and I do NOT intend to imply that there is no
such interest), this procedure seems irrelevant to the persuasiveness of the
argument for the special place of labour, and the consequent special place of
the alienation of labour in a critique of capitalism.

Unless of course, one is wedded to a 19th century naturalistic view of social
scientific method! In this context, some of the angst exhibited in the value
debates on OPE-L mirror some of the angst which Marx himself may have
experienced as he struggled to transcend (in the strict sense of overcoming by
sustaining what was 'correct', and weeding out what was not) Hegelian absolute
idealism, and at the same time criticaly appropriate the ever more dominant
'scientific method', which then as now seemed to endow a certain respectability
on the basis of the form (mathematical and empiricist) of discourse, independent
of the merits of its content. This internal struggle was never, I think resolved
for Marx, and remains a problem for those who wish to pursue the 'scientific
truth' about capitalism, yet see that OVER-emphasis on formal modelling and
statistical testing seems to attenuate the ability to make believable assertions
about the reality of the bourgeois epoch. It was eerie to see Paul & Allin (in
the above mentioned note) couching the 'law of value' in terms of the
CONSERVATION of the value substance in exchange. This seems to exactly parallel
the conservation of their value substance in exchange which Mirowski (1989)
'More Heat than Light: ... ')** argues underlies neoclassical economics, and
which, he claims, the founding fathers of the marginalist revolution adopted
uncritically from 19th century physics. That is, it manifest the kind of rather
uncritical naturalistic aspirations which seem to inform Paul's methodological
views - do they, Paul?

[*I am relying on a draft of this paper dated June 1995 - I haven't yet seen
the published version.]

[**Casual conversations with colleagues - Post-Sraffians it must be admitted -
have claimed that Mirowski's scholarship and key details of the intellectual
history upon which his case is made have been the subject of sustained criticism
in the US - does anyone have a starter reference or two to this body of work?]

Comradely greetings,

Michael W.