[OPE-L:4965] labor-saving technical change

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sat, 10 May 1997 08:51:36 -0700 (PDT)

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John wrote in [OPE-L:4964]:

> But with the domination of
> living labor by dead labor in the process of production, why
> would we not expect the replacement of machines by machines to
> prevail in the accumulation process? Or, in other words, why
> would we not expect capital saving albeit with some labor saving
> techniques to be the typical form of technical change?

I think this is a false dichotomy, i.e. labor-saving and capital-saving
technological changes are different aspects of the _same_ phenomenon.

Consider a technological change that increases relative surplus value in
the period of "modern industry." Typically, this is *both* labor-saving
and capital-saving. In others words, newer (better) means of production
replace older (inferior) means of production and labor is "saved" in the
production process. This means that *either* living labor is _displaced_
from the production process *and/or* the _UNIT labor input_ decreases.

Several scenarios:

(1) A capital-saving and labor-saving technology is adopted by one firm in
a branch of production, but not others. We would expect this to lead
to a redistribution of surplus value within that branch. In that
case, it is possible that since the innovating firm can capture a
larger segment of the market and, thereby, expand output the net
impact _within_ that firm _may_ not include labor displacement since
output may be expanding. In that case, the possible net labor
displacement might appear in the _other_ firms within that branch of

(2) Suppose that the new capital-saving and labor-saving technology is
diffused within all firms in the branch of production (although,
obviously, this process can not take place instantaneously). Even
though "machines replace machines", since the productivity of labor
has risen, there will be labor displacement _within_ that branch of
production *if* branch output remains constant (or, of course,
decreases). On the other hand, an increase in output within that
branch may be sufficiently large -- with an expanding market -- that
labor-power is _not_ displaced even where the productivity of labor
has been increasing.

(3) On the aggregate level, we have to look at *aggregate demand* to see
whether the workers displaced from some branches of production are
hired into other existing (or new) branches of production in the
presence of capital-saving and labor-saving technical advances.

What, if anything, is wrong with the above?

In solidarity, Jerry