[OPE-L:6331] Re: Historical, real and current costs

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sun, 22 Mar 1998 10:05:22 -0500 (est)

There are a number of issues that have come up in this discussion with
Alejandro R and Andrew K.

Let's go back to the "beginning". Andrew K posed a numerical example to
Duncan and other "simultaneists" concerning the "valuation of existing
assets." Andrew's [immediate] goal, as I understand it, was to see how the
"simultaneists" calculated surplus-labour and profit, and the MELT.
Constant capital was assumed not to exist in order to simplify the problem
and the math.

Now let's consider the details.

1) of widgets and chunches

Andrew's example specified a one-product economy. The product chosen was
"widgets" (Andrew: [because] "I got tired of corn").

In due course there was a discussion of the definition of a widget.

Andrew's definition was:

> Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary defines "widget" as: "1. :
> GADGET 2 : an unnamed article considered for purposes of hypothetical
> example."

Alejandro then went on to note that widgets and chunches "designate
something that is everything and, at the same time, nothing."

_The Random House Dictionary of the English Language_ also defines a
widget in a manner consistent with Alejandro's observation" I.e. it is
"something considered typical or representative."

Now let's get back to the specifics of Andrew's example. According to
Andrew, there was a period of time after the working period (and after
workers were assumed to be paid wages) when the widgets/chunches were
"drying." This period of time after the working period was still
considered to be part of the time of production.

Yet, the specification that the widget must undergo a period of time
following the working period when it must dry is at odds with the
definitions of widgets and chunches advanced by Andrew and Alejandro.

Would anyone argue that a drying period is "typical" and "representative"
of commodity production in general? I think not. Thus, Andrew's "widget"
is not "something that designates everything and, at the same time,
nothing." Instead of being an abstract/general/representative/everything,
it is a concrete/specific/non-representative/particular.

I conclude, therefore, that the specification of a post-working
period drying period is at odds with the definition of widgets/chunches.
Moreover, this is not a small criticism for if the drying period, and
other *particularities* associated with the production of *individual*
commodities, is eliminated then the whole issue of working period vs.
production period in his example also vanishes.

2) V2, Ch. 13

Andrew and Alejandro have drawn our attention to Ch. 13 in Volume II.
Alejandro has gone so far as to argue that Andrew's example was
essentially the same, or very similar, example as Marx used in that

I do not believe that interpretation can stand closer scrutiny.

As I pointed out in my last post, the separation between working-time and
production-time arises for *particular* commodities because of "the very
nature of the product and its fabrication ...." In other words, this
distinction is not a general characteristic of commodity production.
Rather, it is a distinction only applicable to a sub-set of commodities.
Moreover, the reason for this gap between working-period and production
period varies by individual commodity. E.g. some products might undergo
particular "chemical" changes, whereas other products undergo particular
"physiological" changes.

Yet, if we are to calculate surplus-labour, profit, and the MELT, we need
concepts that are valid for commodity production in general rather than a
sub-set of individual commodities. Thus, I conclude that this distinction
is of no relevance to the issue that Andrew originally wanted us to
discuss. It is, consequently, invalid for him to introduce this issue into
his example.

Moreover, as Marx points out near the end of Ch. 13: "The turnover cycle
which we have considered above is *determined by* the durability of the
*fixed capital* advanced for the process of production. Since the cycle
extends over a number of years, it comprises a series of annual turnovers
of *fixed capital* or of turnovers repeated during the year" (Vol II,
International ed, p. 247, emphasis added).

Yet, in Andrew's example there is no constant capital, let alone fixed
capital. I conclude that Marx's discussion in this chapter, as interesting
as it is, is not relevant to the problem that Andrew wants to discuss.

This is because, in summary:

a) the distinction between working-time and production-time has importance
for some individual commodities, rather than for commodity production in

b) the specific character of fixed capital and its turnover is essential
to understanding this distinction. Yet it, as well as c in general, is
excluded by assumption.

Despite the above, I would like to see a *separate* discussion on Ch. 13
(i.e, independent of the issue of how surplus-labour, profit, and the MELT
are calculated for the capitalist economy as a whole). This is because I
think this distinction _is_ important for understanding the dynamics
within some *individual* branches of production. However, this would be a
discussion related to the micro level of industrial organization and
agricultural organization rather than to the macro level.

In solidarity, Jerry