[OPE-L:3346] Re: Marxian Emprical Research / Skilled labor & surplus value

Allin Cottrell (cottrell@wfu.edu)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 20:54:59 -0700 (PDT)

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I owe Steve a reply on skilled labour.

> Hilferding's argument was developed to counter Bohm-Bawerk's criticism
> of the LTV that "`an hour of skilled labor contains several hours of
> unskilled labor'", but if the labor which went into educating a workman
> simply reappeared in the product, then "there could only be actually
> five hours of unskilled labor in one hour of skilled labor, if four
> hours of preparatory labor went into every hour of skilled labor"
> (B=94hm-Bawerk 1896, pp. 84-85).

What is the basis of the objection here? Is it something
like, "We know that a doctor produces value at 5 times the
rate of an ordinary worker, because the doctor is paid 5
times as much; but that squares with the LTV only if the
training time stands in relation to the doctor's working
time as 4:1, which is obviously false"? If so, Hilferding's
response does not seem right to me: the obvious response is
that doctors don't "produce value" at 5 times the standard
rate, and if they're paid 5 times as much, a substantial
whack of that is rent.

> Hilferding countered that "The labor of the technical educator thus
> transmits, not only
> value (which manifests itself in the form of a higher wage), but in
> addition its own value-creating power... training "creates on the one
> hand new value and transmits on the other to its product its
> use-value--to be the source of new value." (ibid., p. 145).
> Thus training increases the exchange-value of skilled labor (it costs
> more to produce) and its use-value--it makes it more productive. There
> is thus no fixed relation between the cost of education and the ability
> to create additional value it imparts, and hence training can be a
> source of additional surplus value.

There ought to be a non-arbitrary relationship between the
cost of training and the "ability to create additional value
it imparts". Take a schematic case where we can actually
compare productivities. Training method X enables a worker
to produce 10 widgets per hour, while untrained, she can
only produce 5. So the training doubles a worker's "ability
to create value". Now suppose that when the labour-time
cost of the training is figured (and properly depreciated
over the trainee's working life), it stands in much less
than 1:1 relative to the trainee's working time. Well,
doesn't something follow? The training + trained labour
dominates the untrained; and in a rational system of
labour-time accounting nobody would be left untrained.
Under capitalism, though, the result may fall short of
rationality. Who is to pay for the training? If the
employer, he may not do so for fear that the trained workers
may go off and work for somebody else (they're not slaves);
and if the worker, she may simply not have the resources.
So, there are some complexities here, but I don't find
Hilferding's answer at all satisfactory. It short-circuits
a proper account of how the cost of training may diverge
from the _apparent_ "ability to create value" of the trained

Allin Cottrell=20
Department of Economics=20
Wake Forest University