[OPE-L:3499] Re: More on skilled labour

Steve Keen (s.keen@uws.edu.au)
Mon, 21 Oct 1996 18:46:28 -0700 (PDT)

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The difficulties in our communication on this issue have, I think, 2

(1) We differ--or rather I differ from marxists--on the final axiom you
>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.

I don't take it as axiomatic. Instead, I use a different set of axioms
(which I argue exist in Marx) which lead to the conclusion that
surplus-value can be augmented by many other factors. I've discussed
that issue previously on the old marxism list, and I have no expectation
of ever persuading anyone on this list, so I'm not going to try.

The 2nd root is more tractable, however:

(2) I am basing the 2 arguments that I'm juxtaposing below on the
original Hilferding-Bohm-Bawerk debate, and Sweezy and Meek's attempts
to "solve" the problem in which they completely misinterpreted
Hilferding's position (though they properly understood Bohm-Bawerk's
challenge). So my suggested tack below is to follow the Sweezy/Meek
analysis, and explain how you get to the empirical fact that training
can double typing speed.

Perhaps it's worth checking the original references on this to see where
I'm coming from. They are Sweezy's _Karl Marx and the Close of His
System_, pp 84-85 (Bohm-Bawerk), p. 145 (Hilferding), Sweezy's _The
Theory of Capitalist Development_, p. 43, Meek's _Studies in the Labor
theory of value 2nd Edition_, p. 172, and Harvey, P., 1985. "The
Value-creating Capacity of Skilled Labor in Marxian Economics", Review
of Radical Political Economics, Volume 17 No. 1/2, pp. 83-102.

Despite our problems of communication, there are several points where we
are in complete agreement--but we differ in how we interpret them
(probably because of the axiom you give above):

Allin Cottrell wrote:
> 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 agree entirely: "the labor-time spent in training is a cost", which is
not "commensurate with the increase in productivity that results".

The former Hilferding (and I) calls the exchange-value of training. The
latter Hilferding calls use-value. He says the two will not be
commensurate, with the result that you take for granted following.
Hilferding sees this as a source of additional surplus value, and I
agree with him.

The position that training could "add to productivity *by* embodying the
labour-time equivalent of the time spent in training..." is the
Sweezy/Meek position. I disagree with it, but I think that nonetheless
it is a *correct* logical application of the "axiom" that labor is the
only source of surplus-value.

Spelling this out, *if* the labor/labor-power distinction is the only
source of surplus-value, then the value which the skilled worker is able
to pass on embodies the simple labor with which he/she was initially
endowed, plus the simple-labor equivalent of the training time. There
should be a strict numeric relation between the value (not physical)
productivity of unskilled labor, the value input to training, and the
value productivity of skilled labor, and training should not be a source
of additional surplus value.

I'll guess that you might accept that proposition, but argue that while
there is no increase in the value productivity over and above the cost
of training, there is a major increase in the physical productivity?

> 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.

I agree that it's an empirical fact. This is how Bohm-Bawerk begins his
critique of the labor theory of value, as it applies to skilled labor.
To cite him, he argues:

""It is no fiction but a fact ... that an hour of skilled labor contains
several hours of unskilled labor." For "in order to be consistent, we
must also take into account the labor which was used in acquiring the
skill."" However "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; or ... if out of fifty years of
life which a sculptor devotes ... he spends forty years in educational
work in order to do skilled work for ten years." (pp. 84-85.)

This is the trap that Hilferding effectively rebuts (using the
use-value/exchange-value analysis), but which Meek and Sweezy both fall

> 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.

No, though I agree with the proposition you put, what I meant was that
unskilled typing is not an input into the value of labor-power. It was a
quick suggestion with which I hoped to counter the argument that
training does not add to surplus value, but instead works by cheapening
labor-power. I accept that it doesn't do that.

> 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
> thing.
> Finally:
> > ... 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.
> Allin.