[OPE-L:2876] Re: Value of labour power and real wage

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 27 Aug 1996 11:07:36 -0700 (PDT)

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I've been away at the URPE summer conference, and so must play a bit of
catch-up on this central issue raised by Duncan, to whom Allin responds:

>> Okishio builds in the assumption of a given real commodity wage, and the
>> theorem falls under the alternative assumption of a given value of
>> labour power; and Duncan says that he prefers the latter assumption.
>> I agree that the latter assumption is quite reasonable, but as a history
>> of thought point, I find it hard to accept that this was what Marx had
>> in mind.

and Duncan replies:

>Of course, it's very difficult to tell exactly what Marx had in mind in
>these cases where his language is not completely explicit.

I do not see that Marx was in any way ambiguous about this issue, at least
in Volume I. According to Marx a central feature of capitalist technical
progress is the creation of relative surplus value, and this is tantamount
to a fall in the value of labor power (see e.g. I, pp 432-33, Penguin) (more
on this below). Having said this, I agree that the assumption of a constant
wage share of net product is not an unreasonable assumption, and was even an
accurate depiction of the US case until the late 70s-early 80s.

I'm struck by
>the parallel with the transformation problem, where the conservation of
>surplus value in the form of profit also turns on the invariability of the
>value of labor-power.

This is striking, yes, but how significant is it? If, abandoning invariance
of the value of labor power, we lose the *quantitative* conservation of
surplus value in profit, what have we lost? Nothing important, so far as I
can see.

>> His analysis of relative surplus value builds in the
>> assumption that the thrust of technological change under capitalism is
>> to reduce the value of the workers' means of consumption, and hence to
>> reduce the value of labour power.
>Actually, it's possible to have a fall in the rate of profit with some
>fall in the value of labor-power (as long as the real wage rises less than
>the productivity of labor). This seems to be what comes out of a large
>number of studies of the long-run profiles of actual capital accumulation
>(for example, Dumenil-Levy).

Granted, but this doesn't deny Allin's point (and thus mine above).