[OPE-L:3497] Re: More on skilled labour

Allin Cottrell (cottrell@wfu.edu)
Mon, 21 Oct 1996 11:40:24 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

I'm trying hard to understand Steve's take on the typing
example, but I'm having difficulties.

Steve writes:

> Take the example of typing training again, and start with the labor-time
> inputs of both trainer and trainee. Assume that training adds to
> productivity by embodying the labor-time equivalent of the time spent in
> training in the value output of the skilled worker. Don't assume any skilled
> to unskilled productivity level for the trainer--leave this to an iterative
> calculation.

I'm puzzled by the idea that training could "add to
productivity *by* embodying the labour-time equivalent of
the time spent in training..." From my point of view the
labour-time spent in training is a *cost*, which may or may
not be commensurate with the increase in productivity that
results. To be clear, let me say that when I talk about the
"productivity" of the trained typist, what I mean is simply
the number of pages of typescript that he/she produces per
hour of his/her *direct* labour.

I'm OK on the following chunk...

> Also start with the presumption that, as you've argued, touch typing
> completely dominates single finger typing, so that the component of the
> value of labor-power due to typing input is based upon touch typists, not
> single fingers. Also presume that typing is a basic--it isn't of course, but
> the example is a good one where the increase in productivity can be measured
> quantitatively.

But I'm stuck on this one...

> Then see whether you can reach the conclusion we agree with, the
> touch-typing training could double the productivity of a single finger
> typist. My assertion is that you can't: the best you'll do is a tiny
> increase in productivity--much smaller than we know to be the truth.

My problem is: the proposition that training in touch-typing
could double a typist's productivity (in the above sense,
pages per direct labour-hour after being trained, versus
pages per direct labour-hour before training) is not in any
sense a *conclusion* of the analysis. It's an empirical (or
pseudo-empirical) datum taken as a starting point: I make
this postulate, then try to see what might follow.

Steve says (above) that he's happy to start with the
assumption that touch-typing dominates one-finger style.
What I take that "dominance" to *mean*, is that the ratio of
productivity-after-training to productivity-before-training
exceeds (in this case, greatly) the Sweezy coefficient of
the trained typist. Let me try to clarify.

Before training, the typist can manage (let's say) 15 pages
per hour. Afterwards, he can manage 30. Thus the amount of
*direct* labour-time required to type a page has been cut in
half. But does this represent a true increase in the
productivity of social labour, when the labour-time cost of
training is taken into account? To answer this, we
'depreciate' the labour-time cost of the training over the
trainee's subsequent working life, and express the result of
this calculation as 'so many minutes of labour-time
*transferred* to the product, per hour of the trained
worker's direct labour'. So long as the result here is less
than 60 minutes, the conclusion is (leaving aside any
time-discounting we might or might not want to do) that,
yes, overall productivity is indeed enhanced.

We could *imagine* a situation where productivity (as above,
per direct labour-hour) was enhanced, but the result was a
step backwards for overall productivity, though in relation
to the typing example it would have to be quite far-fetched:
e.g., learning touch-typing raises your productivity (per
direct hour typing) by 50 percent, but unfortunately the
only way to retain the skill is to spend every second day in
training. In that case typescript can be produced at a
lower cost in total labour-time expended, by forgetting
about the training altogether and just doing the one-finger


> ... This is why training can be a source of additional surplus
> value--over and above the impact of cheapening labor-power, which I'm
> specifically excluding in the above.

This is what I was worried about, and what I thought you
were foreswearing when you seemed to agree with Paul's
posting. I take it as axiomatic that the augmentation of
surplus *value* (as opposed to "surplus use-value") can come
about only via (a) the lengthening of the working day, or
(b) a reduction in the value of labour-power.