[OPE-L:4935] Re: RRI and the Rate of Profit

Duncan K. Foley (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Tue, 6 May 1997 10:49:43 -0700 (PDT)

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Some comments on John Ernst's OPE-L:4833:


Duncan remarked in an earlier posting:

>I know you feel strongly that capital-using investments are rare at the
>micro level. It is true that at the macro level a capital-using,
>labor-saving bias in technical change is quite common (though by no
>means universal).

>I now add:
>You're right I do feel strongly about this. Let
>me say why without being too repetitious.
>1. When Marx himself describes the replacement of
>machines by machines, he clearly indicates that
>capital saving machines are introduced. Granted
>the passages where he does this are few but
>they do exist.

I'm puzzled by this remark. I tend to see the falling rate of profit
discussion in Volume III of _Capital_ as closely connected to the relative
surplus value discussion in Volume I. Marx also sums the the "long run
tendencies of capital accumulation" by contrasting capitalist production
when it takes over relatively unproductive technologies from earlier modes
of production which imply a low rate of surplus value, a low value
composition of capital (ratio of fixed capital and inventories to value
added) and a high profit rate with the situation after capitalism has
molded the technology to its own needs, and reaches a situation with a much
higher rate of surplus value, a much higher value composition of capital,
and a much lower rate of profit. I don't see how Marx would conclude that
capitalist production gets to a higher value composition of capital by
introducing only capital-saving innovations.

>2. As relative surplus value is produced and the
>rate of surplus value rises, it becomes increasingly
>difficult to argue that capitalists are able
>to achieve lower cost prices simply by replacing
>living labor with dead labor. The task grows even more
>difficult if one also argues that as this occurs the
>constant capital to output ratio grows when the unit
>prices of inputs and outputs are the same.

I agree with this, but I don't see the inconsistency with the position I
put forward.

>3. If we consider what Marx called "simple co-operation"
>as the basic manner in which technical change takes place,
>it is hard to imagine why in the period of large-scale
>industry the machines themselves are not to be treated as
>workers were in the period of manufacture. That is, in
>the period of manufacture by increasing the number of
>workers, dividing up the labor process, etc. capitalism
>forces the output to grow faster than the work force for
>the sake of ever-growing amounts of surplus value. Given
>mechanized production, the process of co-operation continues.
>Machines are replaced just as workers once were and for the
>same reason -- increased surplus value. More machines, larger
>machines and ever specialized machines replace those of the
>last generation. If the output grew faster than the work
>force in the period of manufacture, why should the output
>grow more slowly than the "machine force" in the period
>of large scale industry? (Measuring all this aside.)

I don't understand how "simple cooperation", which applies to an immediate
division of labor among workers at a particular point of production can be
applied to machines.

>4. Given that Marx bias technical change requires rising
>real wages or, at least, the fear that they will rise, we
>should be able to point to previously abandoned techniques
>that will be reintroduced should those wages fall. My
>intuition tells me that Smith's pin factory will never
>reappear even if the wages for those 14 or so workers were
>set at 0.

First, it's rather rare in the history of capitalist production to see
extended periods of time with a falling product wage. But you might find
some cases. Certainly changes in relative prices can reactivate older
mining techniques, for example.

>Having argued for characterizing Marx's notion of
>technical change as capital saving rather than capital
>using in the period of large scale industry, I am now
>faced with task of considering your recent piece as well
>as the results of Dumenil and Levy. So far, I do note
>that in neither work do we find many references to others
>who have done empirical work on the FRP. Here, I
>am not asking for overt or even covert attacks on others
>but rather for reasons why the paths of, say, Mage,
>Moseley, Wolf, Shaikh, etc. were not pursued.

I know all these authors, and in many ways I view myself as following at
least some of their paths. Marquetti and I didn't try to distinguish
productive and unproductive (which is a major focus of Moseley's, Wolff's,
and Shaikh and Tonak's work) labor because it's not possible with the data
set we were using.


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