[OPE-L:4884] [PAUL C] Surplus value and capitalist consumption

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 17:36:18 -0700 (PDT)

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At 12:54 26/03/97 -0800, Alan Freeman wrote:

>My response to Ajit's objection is this: once production is
>over, it is over. If, subsequent to that production, people
>buy more or less of what was produced, that may affect the
>future course of history, but cannot affect the past. So the
>price of these goods in the past is unaffected by the price
>paid for them in the present. But since, according to our
>proposal, this price paid in the past is what determines the
>value transmitted to the jacket, the capitalists cannot by
>their consumption habits modify this value, nor the value of
>the money that was given the workers as their wage, nor the
>time the workers worked. So they cannot change surplus-value.

I have two objections to this position of Alans.

1. Production is never over. It is continuous. This idea that
production occurs, then goods are sold is an abstraction of
the particular modeling framework you are using. Society is
actually engaged in a continuous process of production by
which it reproduces itself. To this there corresponds a definite
social division of labour. Values are the projection of this
division of labour onto products. If we say that the value of the
out put of the steel industry is 1 million labour hours per week,
then, assuming a working week of 50 hours, this amounts to an
allocation of 20,000 workers to the steel industry.
Flows of value are dimensionally equivalent to a certain instantaneous
allocation of social labour to a given branch of production.

2. Your argument derives value from price, this is a reversion to a
pre-ricardian view of value. One may obtain an approximation of
the value of a bundle of commodities by dividing their aggregate
$ price by the mean labour content of goods that sell for $1, but
this is only a first order approximation. To the extent that the
mean of any particular bundle of goods deviates from the social
mean your estimate will contain errors. Of course, the larger the
bundle of goods you consider, the lower will be the deviation between
its price/value ratio and that of the economy as a whole by the law
of large numbers. So when dealing with huge aggregates like the total
consumption expenditure of the capitalist class, the expected deviation
of the price/value ratio from the social mean is small. You however
assume that this deviation will be zero, which is unlikely to be
the case.

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)