[OPE-L:5280] Re: Metal money versus absolute value

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Tue, 17 Jun 1997 08:45:51 -0700 (PDT)

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> >What of the total annual labour expended by society - all individual
> >values can be expressed as fractions of this.
> >
> Michael W:
> Hello Paul.
> A couple of queries:
> 1. The 'total annual labour expended by society' is a vector of many
> specific concrete labours, is it not?
> 2. *If* one is seeking a theory of relative prices, then the question is
> *what* fraction of 'total annual labour expended by society' measures a
> particular relative/individual value? Is it not?

One abstracts from these when looking at the total labour of society
on the grounds that the labour force is fluid and can flow into different
activities. This is what distinguishes human labour from that of termites,
though even these have some flexibility.

In looking at the portion of societies labour that is devoted to making
different things one is doing more than seek a theory of relative prices.
One is looking at the material conditions of production, whose imperfect
social representation may be expressed as relative prices.
However, these underlying material conditions of production are in
a sense more basic than relative prices, in that were social relations
of production to change so that products no longer had prices, the
to allocate amounts of labour to things production would remain.
Social ownership of the means of production might dethrone gold
from its position as a monetary standard, but gold would remain absolutely
expensive. Socialism will not bring us all gold tableware.

Whilst prices are relative, values are absolute. A society that must devote
20 hours to the production of 20 kilos of corn is absolutely poorer than
a society that can produce it in 1 hour. Knowing absolute values one can
of course deduce relative values, but values themselves are not relative.
If one knows the fraction of the social working year it takes to make
something, one can deduce relative values. If we also knbow how
many people there are in the working population and how long they work,
we can deduce what the absolute value of things is.