[OPE-L:4481] Duncan's "vintages"

aramos@aramos.b (aramos@aramos.bo)
Fri, 21 Mar 1997 08:05:46 -0800 (PST)

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The purpose of this post is essentially to ask Duncan a couple of

1. I have been teaching Capital I and, recently, I discussed the
following famous Ch. 1 passage:

In itself, an increase in the quantity of use-values
constitutes an increase in material wealth. Two coats will
clothe two men, one coat will only clothe one man, etc.
Nevertheless, an increase in the amount of material wealth
may correspond to a simultaneous fall in the magnitude of
its value. This contradictory movement arises out of the
twofold character of labour.

By "productivity" of course, we always mean the productivity
of concrete useful labour; in reality this determines only
the degree of efectiveness of productive activity
directed towards a given purpose within a given period of
time. Useful labour becomes, therefore, a more or less
abundant source of products in direct proportion as its
productivity rises or falls.

As against this, however, variations in productivity have no
impact whatever on the labour itself represented in value.
As productivity is an attribute of labour in its concrete
useful form, it naturally ceases to have any bearing on
that labour as soon as we abstract from its concrete useful

The same labour, therefore, performed for the same length of
time, always yields the same amount of value, independently
of any variations in productivity. But it provides different
quantities of use-values during equal periods of time; more,
if productivity rises; fewer, if it falls.

For this reason, the same change in productivity which
increases the fruitfulness of labour, and therefore the
amount of use-values produced by it, also brings about a
reduction in the value of this increased total amount, if
it cuts down the total amount of labour-time necessary to
produce the use-values.

Capital I, Penguin, pp. 136-37

2. I tried to illustrate the point by means of the following numerical

Table 1: Coat production, rising in productivity and value
Period Labor-value Labor-value Physical Money-value Money-value
(unit) (total) Product (total) (unit)
l = L/Q L Q = L/l
t 20h/c 100h 5c $200 $40

t+1 10h/c 90h 9c $180 $20
h: hours
c: coats
$: pesos bolivianos
MEL: 1 hour = $2

My explanation was the following:

Between periods t and t+1 productivity in coat branch rises, so that
in period t+1 socially necessary labor-time needed to produce 1 coat
is 10 hours while in period t were spent 20 hours. Total labor-time
employed in period t+1 "is cut down", so that instead of 100 hours,
only 90 hours are now consumed. However, despite this reduction,
"material wealth" ("coats") rises due to increasing productivity:
Instead of 5, 9 coats are now produced which --we assume-- can be

In commodity production, labor has a twofold aspect which means that a
given amount of labor-time spent has a "double result": on the one
hand, it results in a number of use-values, "coats" and, on the other,
it results in an amount of "value", i.e. abstract labor cristallised
in commodities. Labor-time spent, considered in its abstract aspect,
is the "substance of value" which must be "represented" or
"expressed" by a "value-form", specifically, by money, "pesos
bolivianos". If we assume that 1 hour is represented by $2 and that
this relation is constant throughout both periods, then in period t
the amount of money-value produced was $200 and in period t+1 is
less, only $180. Unit money-value has fallen from $40 to $20 per coat,
according to productivity rising.
As Marx says in this passage, "an increase in the amount of material
wealth [from 5 to 9 coats] may correspond to a simultaneous fall in
the magnitude of its value [from $200 to $180, representing 100
and 90 hours, respectively]."

3. Now, I have been reading Andrew K's comment on your paper for the
EEA Conf. Unfortunately I dont have you paper but, following Andrew's
explanations *it seems* that you maintain --perhaps inspired in
Marx's treatment of complex/simple labor-- that labor-times should
be "weighted" according to their different physical productivities.
So, we would have different "vintages" of labor corresponding to
their different productivities. As Andrew describes your position I
guess that I should re-work out the above Table as follows:

Table 2: Coat production, rising in productivity, "weighted"
Period Unit Labor Weight Labor- Q Money- Money-
labor (total) value value value
l = L/Q L (total) (total) (unit)
t 20h/c 100h 1 100h 5c $200 $40

t+1 10h/c 90h 2 180h 9c $360 $40

As physical productivity doubles (in period t, in 1 hour only 1/20 of
coat was completed, while in period t+1 in the same time we have 1/10
of coat) 1 hour of labor in period t+1 "counts" as much as 2 hours of
period t. So, for period t+1 I have a "weight factor" of 2 given by
the ratio of productivities: 0.1/0.05. This implies that the 90 hours
consumed in t+1 "actually" correspond to 180 hours of value. Assuming
the same MEL than in Table 1, we have that money-value produced in
t+1 is $360 instead of $200. Unit value doesnt change: coats are
still being sold for $40.

So, my questions for you are:

a) Would be my Table 2 your version of Marx's passage? Or is there
something wrong there?

b) What is your explanation for Marx's passage? If Table 2 is a
correct version of what you are saying we have that both "material
wealth" AND "value" rise: we have 9 coats instead of 5 and $360
instead of $200. The "contradictory movement" of commodity wealth
cannot be explained.

Thanks in advance!

Alejandro R.