[OPE-L:3914] Re: Givens in Marx's Theory

Duncan K. Fole (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Wed, 1 Jan 1997 06:28:04 -0800 (PST)

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In reply to John's OPE-L:3893:

>John adds:
>I do not think anyone could disagree with Duncan's remarks.
>The value of gold can and does change. However, I think we
>also need to acknowledge the theoretical importance "of
>measuring the monetary expression of value and its changes"
>in models that attempt to capture the dynamics of capitalism.
>Here, I charge Duncan with no oversight but simply want to
>be clear that we have little shared theoretical clarity on the
>"monetary expression of value." (MEV)

Duncan replies:
The discussions around the "New Interpretation" in the early 1980s went
into these issues in some depth. The idea of the "New Interpretation" was
that you could measure the monetary expression of value ex post for any
economy in any period by the ratio of net national product (valued at
market prices) to the living labor input. (There are a number of practical
issues involved in measuring living labor inputs, such as correcting for
skill levels of the laborers, but these are on a different conceptual
level.) Indeed, it is hard for me to see how any consistent interpretation
of a labor theory of value could violate this assumption, since it seems
only a step removed from the basic idea of the LTV that the expenditure of
living labor in production adds value to the other inputs.

>That is, even if, like Marx, we assume for the sake of the
>analysis that gold's value does not change, we are still
>faced with the issues like the following:
>1. Can abstract labor be isolated from its representation in
>gold prices?

It seems to me that one can make a series of better and better
approximations to measuring the labor input, using a variety of techniques,
some of which were discussed a month or so ago on the list by Iwao and
Allin, among others. If one gives up on this, it gravely weakens the LTV as
an operational and empirical theory: some people may not mind this, but I

>2. Can one actually "see" abstract labor in

Well, you can "see" the process of abstraction in the expression of
abstract labor time in prices.

>3. Can one measure it independently of prices?

Not according to the argument above, since net national product at market
prices depends on the prices at which commodities are actually bought and


Duncan K. Foley
Department of Economics
Barnard College
New York, NY 10027
fax: (212)-854-8947
e-mail: dkf2@columbia.edu