[OPE-L:2576] Re: estimation of abstract labor

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Thu, 27 Jun 1996 01:47:55 -0700 (PDT)

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>1. To begin with, I wish to note that Paul has not responded to my main
>point that the concepts of constant capital, variable capital, and
>surplus-value are defined in terms of quantities of money, and therefore can
>be estimated directly in terms of money. One may still wish to try to
>estimate abstract labor for various other purposes, but this is not
>necessary in order to justify estimating the components of capital in terms
>of money.

>2. With respect to the concept of abstract labor, Paul wrote:
> We take the position that the problems that one has in understanding a
>historically lower mode of production can be solved if you consider the
>more advanced form that succeeds it. Thus to understand value and abstract
>labor properly you must as Marx often did, consider the matter from the
>standpoint of a future communistic society.
> Our initial analysis of the problem of how to define abstract labor is thus
> from the context of how a socialist planned economy could perform its
> calculation in terms of labor. One can then look back at capitalism and
> understand to what extent the same things appear there in fetishitic form.
>I disagree with this conception of abstract labor and this general
>methodological principle. I find no evidence that Marx defined his concepts
>from the perspective of a future communist society. Rather, Marx's
>emphasized that his concepts are HISTORICALLY SPECIFIC, i.e. they are
>defined in terms of their function in capitalist society. Therefore, Marx's
>concept of abstract labor applies specifically and solely to capitalist
>society and is not derived from a future communist society.

Paul C:
My view is that the allocation of labour under socialism provides the key
to understanding what is going on behind the fetishised commodity facade
of capitalist relations. This is an argument that can be made whether or
not Marx thought it. I also consider it probable that very similar
were at play in Marx's work. One can not divorce his economic writings from
his communistic political views. He engaged in a critique of political economy
for essentially political reasons - to provide theoretical support for the
communist cause after its political setbacks at the end of the 1840s.

>From Owen onwards, the communist movement had seen the labour theory of value
the future communist society as closely linked, with the future co-operative
commonwealth being one in which workers would be paid in some form of
labour tokens. In this political context, Marx's critique of political
economy is a prolongued defence of this view against the Proudhonian
ideas of social credit etc. It is designed to show that so long as commodity
exchange is retained, you will get capitalism.

Within Capital, Marx's communistic intentions are revealed only obliquely
but none the less clearly for that, in occasional footnotes and illustrations
and the phrase about the expropriation of the expropriators. But specifically
when discussing socially necessary labour time, he illustrates it by reference
to a communist economy.

I think that it is a mistake to see all of the concepts used in Capital as
being historically specific. Abstract socially necessary labour is not
something specific to capitalism. Its representation in specific forms:
the wages of labour and the price of its product, are historically
limited forms of representation, but what is being represented would
be present in other modes of production.

>3. Paul argues that skilled labor in socialism and therefore in capitalism
>is converted into abstract labor by adding the hours of training labor to
>the hours of skilled labor, an interpretation first suggested by Hilferding
>and which has been the dominant interpretation ever since. However, I find
>no evidence for this interpretation in Marx. Rather, it seems to me that
>Marx simply took the skilled labor multipliers as given and did not provide
>a theoretical rule for the determination of these multipliers.
>Instead, Marx assumed in Chapter 6 of Volume 1 that the WAGES of skilled
>labor are determined by adding the costs of training to the reproduction
>costs of simple, unskilled labor.

Paul C:
So what?

If we are to limit ourselves to what Marx wrote we commit suicide as

Fred :
>4. Paul and Allin's estimation procedure (I focus here on Method A which
>yielded the strongest correlation between prices and values), takes the
>total wages for each industry as a proxy for the total amount of abstract
>labor in each industry. (By the way, is this the same estimation procedure
>used by Shaikh, Ochoa, et al.?) This estimation procedure is significantly
>different from their concept of abstract labor, discussed in #3. Their
>concept of abstract labor, combined with Marx's assumption regarding the
>wages of unskilled labor, also discussed in #3, implies that different
>skills will have different rates of surplus-value (the rate of surplus-value
>for skilled labor will be less than the rate of surplus-value for unskilled
>labor), which is not by itself a problem.

I dont see this. If we assume that skilled labour both counts as more
intense and is paid more, then the two effects will tend to cancel out and
the rate of exploitation will be independent of the skill level.

>However, their estimation
>procedure implies that the quantity of abstract labor, and hence the
>quantity of new-value produced, is proportional to the wages paid. This
>procedure implies that the rates of surplus-value will be the same for all
>skills. Therefore, their estimation procedure produces biased estimates of
>their concept of abstract labor.

Paul C;
It is certainly baised, in that some of the differences in wage rates
will not reflect differences in skill, but other biases in pay rates.
If an industry employs a higher proportion of women, its wage rates
will tend to be lower irrespective of skills. Thus the estimates that
we use are biased by the gender and class biases of capitalist society.

Method B attempts to compensate for this.

>5. By treating wages as a proxy for labor, their estimation procedure
>directly tests the correlation between prices and wages. Therefore, the
>resulting correlation can also be interpreted as empirical support for the
>"cost of production theory of value" (CPTV) as well as for the LTV. The
>CPTV was of course the main rival theory of Marx's (and Ricardo's) LTV.
>Paul, how do these results or further tests discriminate between the LTV and
>the CPTV?

Paul C:
They do not distinguish between the two, provided that in the CPTV one
does not include 'costs of capital'. What they do show, is that given
the overwhelming influence of vertically integrated labour costs, a
cost of production theory ends up being pulled into accordance with
a labour theory.

But how else could one expect labour input to affect prices under
capitalism except as a cost of production?

>6. Paul, do these estimates distinguish between productive labor and
>unproductive labor?

Paul : Yes.
Paul Cockshott