[OPE-L:3393] Re: Marxian Emprical Research / Skilled labor & surplus value

Steve Keen (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Sun, 13 Oct 1996 16:10:04 -0700 (PDT)

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Allin Cottrell commented on my statement:

> > This is the bind which Marx's use-value/exchange-value analysis, as
> > applied by Hilferding, lets a Marxian analysis of skilled labor escape.


> I'm interested in getting straight on this: What exactly is
> the "bind" supposed to be here?

Basically, the one put forward by Bohm-Bawerk: an assertion that skilled
labor can be four to six times as productive as unskilled--and that this
differential can't be accounted for by the higher costs of training
alone, which have an upper bound, as you say, of about 1.5 to 1.

BB's statement was only an assertion, of course--no data to back it. But
he wasn't alone in making such assertions:

"But on the other hand, in every process of creating value, the
reduction of skilled labour to average social labour, e.g., *one day of
skilled to six days of unskilled labour,* is unavoidable. We therefore
save ourselves a superfluous operation, and simplify our analysis, by
the assumption that the labour of the workman employed by the capitalist
is unskilled average labour." (Capital I, Ch 7 S. 2, pp. 191-92.)

So there are two choices: either we say Charlie & Eugene were both
wrong, and the best the ratio can be is 1.5:1; or we look for a way in
which Marx's reasoning could have led him to be comfortable with a
conclusion that, while the "cost" of skilled labor may be only 1.5 times
that of unskilled labor, it can nonetheless produce six times as much
value. Hilferding found the way using Marx's reasoning in terms of
use-value and exchange-value.

We observe, of course,
> wage/salary differentials in favour of skilled/educated
> employees that are much higher than 1.5:1. If we can take
> it that the wage or salary is reasonably well related to the
> "marginal value product" of the employees (in neoclassical
> parlance), that says that the ability of the skilled workers
> to garner exchange-value for their employers, per hour
> worked, is also well in excess of 1.5:1 in comparison with
> simple labour. But it still seems to me that this is a
> mostly a matter of _transfer of value_, associated with
> rent. That may not be exactly correct, and more thinking on
> this is needed -- but I can't help feeling that talk of
> training's have the "use value" of increasing the
> "value-creating power" of the trained labour (in some manner
> over and above the Sweezy approach), is a purely verbal
> solution to the problem.

It's a lot more than a verbal solution, in my opinion: to my way of
thinking, the use-value/exchange-value distinction is the key to Marx's
logic throughout. It just happens that this is a very good example of
how it functions.