[OPE-L:5042] Re: question

Ajit Sinha (ecas@cc.newcastle.edu.au)
Fri, 16 May 1997 01:22:31 -0700 (PDT)

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At 10:28 AM 5/15/97 -0700, Riccardo wrote:
>Dear Aijt,
> I thank you very much for your answer to my question. I am curious
>of others' opiniosn as well.
> But now strictly to you: am I right if I say that then, according
>to you, the labour time to which commodities are reduced is labour time *as
>such* and not capitalist, and only capitalist, labour time? That is: value
>is a category pertaining to commodity exchange; abstract labour a category
>pertaining to production in general, whatever its social determination?
>Being production nothing but embodiment of abstract labour always and
>everywhere, if there is a deduction, in the sense that not the whole
>produce of labour goes to workers, then we have exploitation. Right?

These are serious issues you raise. I was thinking of writing something to
your comments on Duncan. But, now I'll do it here. Your one concern is about
"abstraction" of labor, because you think concrete labor cannot be added or
compared, and this takes you to the point of commodity exchange. But it
seems to me that many people have not realized that the problem, if it is a
problem, would arise much before you get to exchange. Go to any factory, say
a car factory. A car is not produced with one kind of concrete labor,
leaving the constant capital element aside. All kinds of different kinds of
concrete labor go into producing anything, so if concrete labors cannot be
added, it cannot be added even at the factory level. So the problem does not
arise in the context of comparing two commodities in exchange, but much
before that. This is simply a problem of hetrogeneous labor. Now most of the
classical economists believed that in the case of land and labor, the
hetrogeniety could be homogenized for theoretical purposes because their
quantitative determination does not depend on their prices. The problem with
hetrogeneous capital is different because its quantity cannot be measured
independent of its prices. Now, I think that one can always agree to the
notion of "unskilled" labor in any given cultural context. Then the
homogenization of labor reduces to reduction of skilled to unskilled labor.
I think one can use Bob Rowthorn's method as a theoretically consistent
method of reducing skilled labor to unskilled labor. Once we accept that,
then in principle we can always measure the total, i.e. direct and indirect
labor-time needed to produce a commodity. My sense is that the attempt to
tie the measure of labor with the prices of commodities may create similar
problem for marxism as the problem of measuring capital created the problem
for neoclassical economics.

Now, to the questions you have raised above. My position is that Marx has
chosen labor as his fundamental unit of measure for an analysis of
capitalism because at the pivot of the system lies exploitation, which is
the extraction or streatching of labor beyond the necessary labor-time. This
particular aspect of the system is hidden because of the wage relation on
the one hand and capitalist competition on the other. I do not think that
Marxian exploitation can be understood as the laborer not getting his/her
whole produce. This is both the Sraffian as well as the Duncan Foley-type
definition of exploitation, and I disagree with this. In this case
exploitation is defined at the level of distribution, i.e. post factum,
after production is over. My position is that Marx's exploitation is defined
at the level of production. I explain this difference between myself and
Garegnani and Eatwell in my paper 'The Transformation Problem: Is the
Standard Commodity a Solution', this paper is currently under review with a
journal. But I'll be happy to send this paper to anyone interested-- an
earlier version of this paper was also read at the ASSA in Washington DC in

> Moreover, what is the reason why output is not embodying the
>contribution of other factors of production. Because labour is the only
>human element in production?

In my opinion, the value of all economic entity is reduced to labor because
labor is the only social element in the production. What could be other
'factor' of production? We of course know that 'capital' cannot be
considered a 'factor' of production. What about land? land, by definition,
is not a social element. However, I would suggest that in the context of
enviorenmental economics, we may get in trouble by treating land that way.
Moreover, we might have to take enthropy into account in developing such
theories. So at certain stage and for certain problems we may have to
abandon labor-values as the most fundamental measure. Cheers, ajit sinha