[OPE-L:6340] Re: Re: Historical, real and current costs

C. J. Arthur (cjarthur@pavilion.co.uk)
Mon, 23 Mar 1998 20:59:25 +0000

May I point out to Andrew and others engaged in this debate that from a
marxist point of view it is absolutely impermissable to consider one
product economies. Value is constituted as an abstraction from use value
and this itself occurs in practice only in exchange where heterogeneous
good are identified with each other. Comodities have value 'in themselves'
only by reflection into them of the value form whether this is understood
as the commodity form, the money form or the capital form. Conversely a
value without a value form is an absurdity; yet without exchange this is
what one has. To identify value with labour time is explicitly denounced by
Marx, among other reasons because it makes value asocial and ahistorical.
In the example under discussion my question is why does it matter that
production time exceeds labour time? It could only matter in the same way
that it matters when we are discussing just labour time, namely when this
marks a relevant difference *between* commodities. That was what worried
Moreover in answer to Jerry he was right to be worried. It is surely wrong
to dismiss this problem on the ground that the cases are unusual; because
we are not interested in an empirical approximation, we are interested in
conceptual clarity - we want to be sure exactly what theory we are
defending. Where conceptual clarity is concerned we must actively seek out
marginal cases just to secure this. For example it is typical in philsophy
to invent 'desert island cases'; if someone say we must keep promises
because otherwise people will be upset when we break them, suppose on a
desert island person A extracts a promise from person B and then dies. No
one knows about it so no one will be upset if it is broken. This case is
decisive for deciding whether the obligation is absolute or conditional on
people being upset.
In our case we have to be clear whether we are defending the proposition
that value is created in production or whether we are defending the
proposition that value is created by labour. Even if empirically it was
always the case that production time equalled labour time it would be our
duty to invent a case where they were different just in order to clarify
Consider two commodities one of which has this extra time (drying time or
whatever). Setting circulation time at zero and constant capital at zero
they will exchange in proportion to production times. How should we
understand this?
That was Marx's puzzle.
Green theory might say that privileging human time is hopelessly
anthropocentric. You admit things have value only when they have use value
but these things do not have use value until they are dry. So it is clear
that the entire time of their production must be counted whether the
productive power considered was that of labour or that of the sun - so yes
the sun does create part of the value. Marx clearly rejected this, set
value magnitudes in proportion to labor times and treated the excess
production time in the same way as circulation time - capital's must be
recompensed for it but this is effected by transfers of value.
Unfortunately at no point did he offer a satisfactory explanation of just
why labour time out of all the various times capital is tied up should have
the privilege of creating a positive while all the others were a negative
to be compensated for from this positive stock. I stress the point that
thsi problem canot be answered by saying something has to be produced
before it can be circulated and value may plasibly be represented as
created in production and only moved around in circulation even if as a
result of these movements prices diverge from values; because in this
example we are dealing with a difference *within* poduction.
I have an answer coming to this question about the peculiarity of labour
but I would be interested to know where people think teh best exisiting
answer may be found.
Chris Arthur