[OPE-L:3436] Re: More on skilled labour

Steve Keen (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Tue, 15 Oct 1996 16:00:28 -0700 (PDT)

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OK. Replies to Allin on this, interspersed with his post:

> On Sat, 12 Oct 1996, Steve Keen wrote:
> > Let's apply the use-value/exchange-value analysis to this.
> [i.e. the analysis of skilled versus simple labour]

No, the use-value/exchange-value analysis applies to a lot more than
just skilled vs simple labor. If you take the section in Capital where
Marx first explains why labor is productive of surplus value, his
explanation is couched in terms of use-value and exchange-value. This is
a point which a fair number of Marxists are cogniscant of these days, so
I'll reproduce that cite at the end of this reply, rather than here.
There are still quite few, however, who think that Marx's proof of the
origin of surplus-value relied upon the unique characteristics of
labor-power, rather than upon the dialectic between use-value and

What Hilferding has done vis-a-vis skilled labor--and all I am doing
here is pointing out Hilferding's analysis, which has been misread by
previous Marxists such as Sweezy and Meek--is to apply just this
analysis to skilled labor, and to reach a similar conclusion to Marx's,
that skilled labor can be productive of surplus value.

> > The exchange-value of the "commodity" training will, like all other
> > commodities, be the exchange-value of the commodities used up in its
> > production.
> A side point, but surely not. The exchange value of the
> commodities used up in its production plus the surplus
> value?

The exchange-value of a commodity includes the surplus value realised in
it. This was of course Marx's "Hic Rhodus, his salta!"

> > The use-value of this commodity is its ability to increase
> > the value-productivity of the input "commodity" unskilled labor, by
> > transforming it into a new "commodity", skilled labor. This use-value
> > can be expressed in quantitative terms as an increase in the productive
> > ability of skilled labor over unskilled.
> What happens in the course of training/education is either
> (a) that the trainee is made more productive at the task
> he/she was working at before (in which case the increased
> productivity can be quantified in physical terms), or (b)
> the trainee is equipped for some more demanding sort of work
> that he/she was not capable of before, in which case we
> cannot make any before vs. after comparison of physical
> productivity. I think the latter is more typical, but in an
> attempt to simplify a complex topic, let's consider the
> former case.

No argument here. Normally training creates an ability that did not
exist in the recipient before. But yes, we can proceed with the simpler,
if less typical case.

> Without any training, one can do two-finger typing. With
> practice, one can get quite accurate at this, but never very
> fast. Suppose that as a result of taking a course in
> touch-typing, a typist is able to double his/her speed, at a
> given degree of accuracy.

This is where I think your rendition of the problem a la Sweezy/Meek may
go wrong, because you have assumed what must be explained by this
analysis. To use Meek's words:

"there is little difficulty (at least in theory)
in reducing skilled to unskilled labour.... If *p* hours is
his expected productive life, and *t* hours of simple labour
have been expended upon him and by him during the training
period, then when he starts work each hour of his labour will
count as (1 + t/p) hours of simple
labour."(Meek, Studies in the Labor Theory of Value, 2nd edition, p.

So to do that analysis properly, you have to start with the time input
of both parties to training (trainer and trainee), and build up from
that to see what end-productivity you can establish for the trainee.
I've reproduced the segment of my thesis where I did this (it requires
an iterative calculation) below the cite from Marx (to make this debate
accessible to others who don't have your ability to wade through
equations, Allin! -:))

> Let me define the "Sweezy coefficient" for a given sort of
> skilled labour as the ratio of (a) the sum of direct labour
> time plus indirect labour time "transmitted" via the
> training process to (b) the direct labour time alone. What
> might be an upper bound to the Sweezy coefficient for a
> proficient touch-typist? Well, let's suppose it takes two
> months of one-on-one tutorials to learn (clearly
> over-generous). And suppose that the trainer has a Sweezy
> coefficient of 2.0. Then that's six months of simple labour
> equivalent. Now suppose the typist's skill is depreciated
> over a period of 5 years. Then the typist's Sweezy
> coefficient is 1.10 (six months being 10 percent of 5
> years).

I think we may have to start this discussion over again once you've
considered my point above, because I'm having trouble with the
"supposes". The supposition that it takes two months of training is
fine. What I'm not willing to proceed with are the suppositions of a
coefficient for the trainer of 2.0 (I'd want an iterative proof that
this is possible, since the trainer became a trainer by being trained by
a trainer ... and at the end of the induction there is unskilled labor),
or the supposition of depreciation. Depreciation of fixed capital
presumes that at the same time as the machine's exchange-value is
depreciated, it is losing use-value: certainly, by the time it is
scrapped, both its exchange-value has been depreciated to zero, and its
use-value has been extinguished. This doesn't apply to a skilled worker:
a speed typist will maintain at least that level of skill for, say, 45
years, after being trained at 19. So the use-value of this skilled labor
is its ability to produce value at a rate twice that of a one-finger
typist for 45 years--if indeed training does double typing speed (which
is a reasonable observation).

It's this difference--twice the ability to produce physical output (I
know that's not the same as value) for a lifetime of work, after two
months of training--which is the dilemma to be solved. How can you
convert one into the other, if all training does is pass on the time
equivalent of the trainer and trainee during training? If, in other
words, there is a strict relationship between labor-time input to
training, and productivity?

I argue that you can't--and check Harvey on this (Harvey, P., "The
Value-creating Capacity of Skilled Labour in Marxian Economics", *Review
of Radical Political Economics*, Volume 17 No. 1/2, 1985, pp. 83-102.).
But with the use-value/exchange-value analysis, there is no strict
relationship--just as there is no fixed relationship between simple
labor input and value produced.

I've deleted the rest because I think those musings are dependent on the
initial presumptions, which as I've said are assuming what needs to be


> I wonder how much of this Steve would agree with?
> Allin Cottrell

Capital I Ch. 7

Let us examine the matter more closely. The value of a day's
labour-power amounts to 3 shillings, because on our assumption
half a day's labour is embodied in that quantity of labour-power,
i.e., because the means of subsistence that are daily required
for the production of labour-power, cost half a day's labour. But
the past labour that is embodied in the labour-power, and the
living labour that it can call into action; the daily cost of
maintaining it, and its daily expenditure in work, are two
totally different things. *The former determines the
exchange-value of the labour-power, the latter is its use-value.*
The fact that half a day's labour is necessary to keep the
labourer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent him
from working a whole day. Therefore, the value of labour-power,
and the value which that labour-power creates in the labour
process, are two entirely different magnitudes; and this
difference of the two values was what the capitalist had in view,
when he was purchasing the labour-power. The useful qualities
that labour-power possesses, and by virtue of which it makes yarn
or boots, were to him nothing more than a conditio sine qua non;
for in order to create value, labour must be expended in a useful
manner. *What really influenced him was the specific use-value
which this commodity possesses of being a source not only of
value, but of more value than it has itself.* This is the special
service that the capitalist expects from labour-power, and in
this transaction he acts in accordance with the "eternal laws" of
the exchange of commodities. *The seller of labour-power, like the
seller of any other commodity, realises its exchange-value, and
parts with its use value.* He cannot take the one without giving
the other. The use-value of labour-power, or in other words,
labour, belongs just as little to its seller, as the use-value of
oil after it has been sold belongs to the dealer who has sold it.
The owner of the money has paid the value of a day's
labour-power; his, therefore, is the use of it for a, day. a
day's labour belongs to him. The circumstance, that on the one
hand the daily sustenance of labour-power costs only half a day's
labour, while on the other hand the very same labour-power can
work during a whole day, that consequently the value which its
use during one day creates, is double what he pays for that use,
this circumstance is, without doubt, a piece of good luck for the
buyer, but by no means an injury to the seller.

Sweezy/Meek Skilled labor reduction

Equation (1) TT = (SP + TP) * TH

Equation (2) UWH = H * W * UY

Equation (3) SWH = H * W * SY

Equation (4) SP = {SWH + TT} / UWH

Equation (5) TP = {SP+1} / 2

Abbreviation Meaning

TT Training time (in units of unskilled labour time).

SP Skilled labourer productivity

TP Trainee productivity in units of unskilled labour per hour.
The trainee is assumed to start at the productivity of an unskilled
labourer and to rise linearly to the productivity of a skilled labourer
over the training period (See equation 5).

UWH Lifetime Unskilled working hours

SWH Lifetime Skilled working hours

H working hours per week

W working weeks per year

SY skilled labour years of work

UY unskilled labour years of work

The solution requires an iterative calculation, since the
trainer's higher productivity is itself the result of being
trained from an unskilled to skilled status by an earlier skilled
trainer.(Footnote: This complication manifests itself in equations (1),
where TT depends on SP, and (4), where SP depends upon TT.) With
a four year apprenticeship, 44 years of work for both unskilled
and skilled labour, 48 weeks per year and 40 hours per week,
these equations give a skilled labour to unskilled labour
productivity ratio of 1.2105 to 1.(Footnote: The ratio drops
significantly if it is presumed that the trainee is unproductive
during the years of education, which is the norm nowadays. If the
presumption of one-on-one training is maintained, the ratio drops
to a mere 1.1053 to 1.) Thus according to the Sweezy/Meek
analysis, skilled labour is at most worth 25 per cent more than
unskilled labour to the capitalist. Bohm-Bawerk commented
that this is well below the actual productivity advantage of
skilled labour over unskilled labour, and his comment is all the
more valid today than in his time.(Footnote: The ratio can be increased
if the value of the means of production used in education are
added, but it still falls far short of the productivity ratio
assumed by Marx.)