Quantifying Values - response to Juriaan

Alan Freeman (a.freeman@greenwich.ac.uk)
Sat, 24 Jan 1998 23:15:10 +0000

As a preface I'd like to express my general agreement with Fred and thank
him for his intervention. This re-enforces the point with which I started,
and from which we seem to have drifted quite far, which is that there is
substantive agreement, among those who do wish to pursue the
consistent interpretation that they find in Marx, on how to translate this
into NIPA categories.

Juriaan writes:

> What I'm trying to get to is an itemisation
> of all the flows which together constitute the value of the Marxian
> product.

I would go about it that way also. But why not remove the word 'Marxian'?
Then you cannot upset anyone who reads Marx differently. Moreover, if your
itemisation fails, this failure cannot mendaciously be blamed on Marx by
others. It will make life more peaceful, and you lose nothing.

I think it makes no difference to the essence of the question to
discuss simply 'product', which allows us to get to the point at issue, the
interpretation of NIPA. I thought by placing this at the forefront of the
discussion, and since there was substantive agreement on some elements of
the critique of NIPA, it would be possible for once to have a discussion
on the list that did not revolve around correcting or uncovering Marx's

Evidently that was too much to hope for.

> Well I am suggesting that expenditure on unproductive labour is a
> production cost, that this labour is exchanged against capital, however it
> does not create an addition to surplus-value, merely facilitates the
> transfer of surplus-value. Therefore I'm suggesting it exchanges against a
> component of constant capital.

I think that this is consistent but quite distinct and radical, since it
represents a re-definition of labour-power. I'm still reading Murray's
material (arrived today: thanks, Murray) but my first reaction to the way
you express it yourself, is that if you assert waged labour of any kind is
a part of constant capital, then labour so defined functions quite unlike
any other, since it has no value-creating capacity. For example, its
contribution to the value of the product is not defined by the time it
works, but by the cost of its food and other necessities: its wage-cost.

I think this view is a quite conceivable way of thinking about output, but
I hope you agree it is almost bound to contradict what most people
understand by Marx's conception of labour-power, since the value added to
the product by wage-workers will no longer equal the time they work.

I think that you cannot use the conceptualisation that you propose to
reconstruct the Marxian product and if you do so, you are bound to end up
with a contradictory conception, which you are quite unjustified in blaming
on Marx. And there is no need to do so. The contradiction arises from the
fact that you and Marx do not think the same, that is all. I have no
prejudice in that regard and in no sense do I wish to say that your view
is in some sense not legitimate, just because it isn't Marx's. I just don't
think it works to take a category that isn't Marx's, use it to interpret
Marx, and locate the source of any contradictions in Marx's thinking;
because you have no way of telling whether the contradictions originate in
the alien category.

It is not a question of whether Marx completed his work or made errors. Of
course his work is incomplete and of course he made errors: the problem is
to distinguish between his errors and everyone else's. That's the essence
of the matter. How do you propose to tell?

This is the source of my irritation. I don't think that you can reasonably
hope to make sense of anyone's ideas in terms of categories that are not
theirs. By the way this isn't at all restricted to Marx. You can't
understand Hegel in Kant's categories, for example, or Einstein in
Newton's. The best you can hope for is a contrast and comparison between
the two different systems of thought, in relation to an
independently-agreed standpoint or set of data. If you really wish to
understand what any person is saying, and above all to 'apply' them, then
you need to suspend disagreement and study the material in itself and for
itself, unless and until you are totally convinced that it is impossible
by virtue of the nature of the material.

I'd like to put the question a different way around to move the discussion
on: what puzzles me is why, for you, it should it be inconsistent for
someone to suppose that unproductive expenses are paid entirely out of

Am I allowed to allocate interest expenses unambiguously to revenue?
Can you allow me that if interest is a part of revenue, then it cannot
be a production cost? I'd like to make sure we have clarity on this one
because your starting point in the discussion seemed to be that interest
is part of both components of total output, both a production cost and a
part of revenue.

The same applies to unproductive labour. You ask:

> Now where are we going to allocate expeditures on unproductive labour ?

I respond: allocate them wherever you want, but don't do it twice in the
same product. Either put them in revenue, or make them a production cost.
Surely, that's what an itemisation is: an unambiguous allocation of each
entity to one and only one place?

I'm happy for you to put these expenses into capital, though I don't think
that's what Marx does, so it makes me very uncomfortable when you term it
the 'Marxian' value product. I prefer it just to be called 'the value
product' or even better 'the product'. But I think it is a perfectly
consistent way to proceed in accounting terms.

Why won't you let *me* put these items entirely in revenue? Why can't it
work? What's the difficulty with that manner of conceiving it?

The way it looks from over here is: I'm allowing you to do it your way, but
you are saying I can't do it my way. And because Marx tries to do it the
same way, he can't do it either.

Why not?