[OPE-L:4585] Re: Vintages

aramos@aramos.b (aramos@aramos.bo)
Fri, 28 Mar 1997 07:52:44 -0800 (PST)

[ show plain text ]

Thanks John! This is turning to be a very interesting exchange.
To save bytes I will quote only your statements.

> It may seem a bit pedantic but in Ch 12 there is no mention of
> "the MEL." More important, the MEL in CAPITAL captures how
> living labor is represented in the money commodity. If 6s
> represents 1 hour of living labor -- thats that.

Its not pedantic at all. You are right! "MEL" (or whatever you want
to call it) is a designation I use to call this relation and
certainly is not used by Marx (at least using exactly these words).

However, what seems important to me is Marx's analysis in this
example is carried out simultaneously using both measures of value,
labor an money, not only one.

Another point (to be dicussed later): I dont think there is a "money
commodity" in Capital. In Ch. 3 there are 2 kinds of money
considered: "gold" and "pounds". This is irrelavant (i.e. this
relation is constant) insofar as we are in very simple situations but
when, for example, technical changes is taken into account we cannot
treat this relation (as well as the "MEL") as exogenous, unimportant,
secondary relations. (In the very example we are discussing Marx does
not speak about "ounces of gold" ("money commodity") but of
"shillings". If in his epoch there was an immediate conversion
between both, this is not relevant today and probably it was not
relevant if he had taken into account more complex situations, e.g.
labor-saving innovations.

> You want to allow the MEL to vary with this increase in
> productivity
> and thereby keep the hours of labor the same -- before and after
> the change in productivity.

Really, I dont want "to allow the MEL to vary". In the piece I cited,
**Marx allows the MEL to vary** or to be different. I think this is
clear: General MEL is 6s/hour and for the living labor or efficient
capital is 8s/h. Simply I think this is NOT unimportant for the

> My reading is, I think, simpler and
> more true to the text. In the example, the more productive labor
> creates 33.33% more value per hour than the average. Thus, for me,
> the more productive labor counts AS IF it were 16 hours. Thats
> it... I do think it is an " `as if process."

I can accept this reading because comes from YOU (author of the
famous "extirpation"). [But I dont think is "more true to the text:
How can you explain that he uses 2 MELs: 6s/h AND 8s/h]
But Id want to say that

(1) The "as if" reasoning is WEAK on logical grounds. What does this
exactly mean? What is the *real* process being described here? Do you
think that this problem --that is in the core of Marx's theory of
value-- can be treated as a "metaphor", an "as if" reasoning?

(2) The "as if" reasoning is WEAK also on textual grounds. In effect,
Marx DOES NOT say that that this is an "as if" process. He says "The
exceptionally productive labour acts as intensified labour; it
creates in equal periods of time greater values than the average
social labour of the same kind. (Penguin, p. 435) So, I dont see
there an "as if" reasoning. He says LITERALLY that more productive
labor creates in equal period of time GREATER VALUES.
So, I know John E. doesnt say the following, but someone can come
(let us say, Duncan) and tells us: OK: More productive labor
CREATES MORE VALUE. Then, let us suppose that in 1997 there is an
increase in productivity in relation to 1996. This means that each
unit of labor in 1997 "creates more value" than in in 1996 (the
"vintages" approach). This means that despite total labor time could
be reduced in 1997 the same amount (or more) of value is produced.
There is no "contradictory movement" of commodity wealth (as is
explained in Ch. 1). The only important matter is NATURAL WEALTH, USE
VALUES, the productivity of labor: Physical productivity determines
value because "more productive labor creates more value", as Marx
clearly says in this paragraph...
This is why I think that the "as if" reasoning --that you are forced
to adopt if neglect the double measurement of value in this example--
is weak.

> (b) For Marx, the MEL is exogenous to this example as it is
> determined by production within the gold industry. Marx,
> in CAPITAL, generally assumes that the labor represented
> by a given quantity of gold is constant as he proceeds with
> analysis of the process of production. If each and
> every production process has its own unique MEL, then Im
> not clear at all about what role money itself plays in the
> analysis as the labor of each process takes on the quality
> of having a MEL.

I would to insist that in this particular example this does not
happen because the "MEL" is in some way "endogenized". He clearly
considers and relates TWO MELs, the 6s/h and 8s/h.
I agree with you that he "generally" assumes an exogenous and
constant MEL (and that it is given by productive condition in gold
mining). But all this is a result that he considers only simple
situations (for example without technical change). In any case, I am
sure that in this example the MEL 8s/s IS NEITHER GIVEN by gold
production NOR considered as a "exogenous" ratio. Do you agree with
me in this point?
More generally: If I read Chapter 1 I see that he clearly establishes
that "value" has a twofold nature. So a reading in which value is
unilaterally "labor" seems unfaithfull with the text as well as a
reductionist reading in which value is purely a "form" (money). As we
know, in the latter is imposible to explain how labor-time determines
value and all remain to be determined in circulation.

> I have no idea why you feel that this must be emphasized. Indeed,
> in recomputing the MEL as productivity changes we begin to lose site
> of possible differences between the individual and social value of a
> commodity as productivity changes. It is those differences and
> their resolution that are to be explained by Marxs "law of value."

No, we dont lose site for these difference. You can calculate the
individual labor time of more productive capital and certainly
differs from social labor time. Before the innovation, the standard
capital uses 2 hours per piece. The innovator uses only 1.5 hours per
piece. Then, you have your "individual and social (labor) values".
Moreover, when the innovation is adopted by everyone, the social
labor value becomes 1.5 hours and price adjusts in consequence.

> If your labor creates twice as much value in a given
> amount of time than mine which is the average, then it AS
> IF you worked twice as long as I did -- given each of us
> uses the same techniques.

Well, but this is not an "as if" process and it is "ackward' (like my
English) to explain it in this way. The *reality* (not the "as if"
metaphor) is that the living labor-time spent by both, the innovator
and the standard is the same. I am NOT working twice as long as you
did; I am only have more efficient means of production. So, my general
concern is that I expressed above. The "as if" reasoning drive us
directly to the "vintages" approach where is "physical productivity",
(concrete labor) what determines value, so a Ricardian vision of
this. This of course is completely valid as an approach but I would
argue that is not Marx's.

> P.S. I did read your other post but choose to react to this
> one as I thought I could get to the heart of the matter a
> bit quicker.

Thanks! Right, the essentials is being discussed.

Alejandro Ramos