Quantifying Values (2): some FAQ

Alan Freeman (a.freeman@greenwich.ac.uk)
Fri, 16 Jan 1998 14:34:37 +0000

Is it time-consuming?

Duncan, Juriaan and Fred have all referred to the difficulty of a common
project to quantify values according to the propositions that I specified
in NIPA(1).

I think this misses an essential ingredient of my proposal which is that it
should be collaborative. Such collaboration among Marxists would,
incidentally, be something of a scientific first in and of itself.

Oddly enough, I think it would be much harder to undertake Duncan's project
of maintaining a site with links and some systematic standard for data
labelling. The reason is that this would have to be done by a single
person. I think a collaborative project lends itself to a different model
which is to specify a framework and then open the project to general
participation. I see no reason that this work should not expand more or
less as the internet, or UNIX itself has done, as the aggregation of
successive efforts by many people.

Therefore, all that is necessary is a certain minimum work among people
*already* working on the topic in their own countries, which is to try and
agree among themselves some general principles about how the data should be
transformed, what are the principal variants, etc, and to put the results
in a public place. Then, any research student in any country of the world
could undertake to add a new set of accounts and the general body of people
involved could undertake to cross-check it, correspond around it, and so
on. I think under these circumstances it is likely that the project would
'just grow'.

There would also, I think, need to be some kind of commitment on copyright
so that the joint contribution of all is recognised. Something like the
Bourbaki for Economics, though not so harsh.

"We don't even agree on our own categories"

I sent out my proposal, among other reasons, because when one observes what
is published one finds that actually, there is a surprisingly large amount
of agreement and, most interestingly, a surprising amount of conceptual
clarity even where there are differences.

Of course, this doesn't mean that everyone on this list agrees. I should be
very surprised if this list could agree on the date of Christmas but that
doesn't a lot of people celebrating it.

I think it is possible to underestimate the progress that has been made by
looking too intensely at the detail. What I think actually happened is that
around about the time when Anwar and Tonak started working on it, and when
the meeting Juriaan refers to took place in Europe, and also as a result of
the work of Mage and Fred, quite a large community of people began thinking
about these things. I think that what then happened is that they *diverged*
on the method to be applied to calculate labour values, but *converged* on
the transformation of NIPA data. Certainly when I began working on this we
called a one-day CSE conference and the main debate was not *how* to do it,
but *whether* to do it at all. What is interesting about the present debate
on OPE is that in a few posts, we have essentially summarised the
differences. Fifteen years ago people used to write whole books on it. I
think that people have had fifteen years to think about it and it's time to
look at where we've reached.

Undoubtedly there are differences, and in some cases serious ones. I would
certainly like to read Murray's papers and I don't feel equipped to comment
until I have, but I don't doubt that his position is distinct. Well OK:
does that mean that the people who *do* agree, shouldn't press on?
Moreover, if we are clear about the differences, then as I said in the
original proposal, I can see no obstacle to 'publishing variants'. The real
difficulty and the real time-consuming thing with NIPA data, with the
advent of the spreadsheet and the database, is not hacking data around from
one column to another. The real difficulty is finding out what the NIPA
people have actually put in the damn column in the first place, especially
when from one year to another the categories (or these days, the whole
goddamn country)all change places. Once this spadework is done, dialogue
between different standpoints would not, I think, be particularly

Let me just repeat what I think is a viable basis of agreement, from

>The basic consensus that I think is emerging is the following: the only source of value-added is waged >labour-power engaged in the production of new use-values in the form of commodities.

Let me turn the question around: who doesn't agree with that, and for which
categories of labour? I think that when we examine our disputes, what will
turn out to be disputed is not the proposition itself, but its
interpretation and application to the data. I think that's quite a lot of

Would it mean matrix-inversion?

Actually this isn't an (F)AQ since the only person who asked is Fred.
But it's of such general interest I think I'll respond here.

I think not. My whole premise is that there is *agreement* around the
usefulness of using NIPA (monetary) data and *disagreement* around its
expression in hours. Matrix inversion is a means of transforming monetary
data into hours, as is the temporal method that I propose, and the general
approach that I think is implicit (and in Simon's case explicit) in the New
Solution. One of the principal reasons that I think it would be useful to
collaborate, or at least try to establish some agreed standards, around
NIPA data, is that it will create a framework of monetary data prepared to
mutually-agreed standards, on which we can work to exhibit our different
measures of the labour-time that these monetary data represent. So, since
matrix-inversion is one particular technique, it would not be part of the
collaboration, though like all other currents I would hope that the
matrix-inverters would have unrestricted access to the data to have their
way with it.

There's a number of further interesting points in Fred's sympathetic
response and in Paul's remarks about the NHS, and I'd like to address
points when I've had a chance to read his papers. But I'll deal with this