[OPE-L:7271] [OPE-L:799] Re: technical change and productivity change

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 30 Mar 1999 07:37:41 -0500 (EST)

Re: John's [OPE-L:795]:

I asked previously:

> If there is no labor-saving, will the capital-saving technical change
> raise the productivity of labor? How and why?

John answered:

> My comment: Fine.

Can I interpret that comment as an answer to the first question that
I asked above as follows?:

> Technically speaking no.

John continues:

> True enough and you could perhaps find some real examples of
> this esp. when it comes to saving on energy costs. But is this the
> general case?

No, the "general case" would be labor-saving technical change. My point,
in raising this issue here and now, is to suggest that technical change
does not necessarily lead to the tendencial fall in the rate of profit,
i.e. where there is technical change that does not cause the productivity
of labor to increase, this type of change would not consequently cause the
rate of profit to decline. Nonetheless, I do think that this is an
interesting case of technical change -- even if it isn't the "general
case" -- and we should be able to explain this possibility theoretically
(by, for instance, considering its affect on the rate of profit and the
accumulation process).

> If we look at Marx on Co-operation, we see that for him
> technical change generally means increasing the scale of the operation
> as techniques change. Thus, in the period of manufacture, increasing
> the work force by ten-fold with, say, a "better" division of labor would
> increase output by more than ten-fold. Productivity increases. Replacing
> a set of machinery with a ten-fold increase in machines that are "better"
> machines will, generally, increase the output of the process by more
> than ten-fold. That is, Marx's chapter on Co-operation in Vol 1 lays
> out some fundamental principles of technical change that hold in the
> period of large-scale industry.

It remains to be seen, though, whether this is the same dynamic at work in
"late capitalism". In the recent history of capitalist markets it is
frequently the case that you see an expansion of technical change even in
the face of stagnant markets. I.e. there is technical change without a
corresponding increase in output. The main name of the technology game it
seems is now very frequently "lower costs, constant output". This, then,
has consequences in terms of the size of v and the working population
where there is labor-saving technical change.

> I must admit that I've abstracted from unproductive labor
> and the machinery used by that unproductive labor in all of this.

As we more concretely look at technical change, this also would be a topic
well worth investigation. Given the large size of the unproductive labor
force and the automation of various tasks associated with unproductive
labor, the effects of this dynamic should be considered.

> Note
> that with Marx I would maintain that a ten-fold increase in investment
> will bring about a *greater* than ten-fold increase in output. If
> you disagree, fine. But go after Marx on this one. Again, see esp.
> Chap. 15, Sec 4.

Historically, I believe that this was the case. Yet, as I explained
previously, there are instances in which it does not have to be the case.
And I think Marx well understood that since he discussed both attempts to
reduce the consumption of constant circulating capital through technical
change and was certainly aware of the issue of unproductive labor.

In solidarity, Jerry