[OPE-L:7281] [OPE-L:809] Re: Tech Change

John R. Ernst (ernst@PIPELINE.COM)
Thu, 01 Apr 1999 02:45:13

Re: Jerry's [OPE-L:808]:

John had written:

(snip) The manner in which technical change takes place in the
> period of large-scale industry is rarely specifically addressed by
> Marx.

Jerry wrote:

I think that at the level of abstraction where Marx discusses the FRP in
Vol. 3, "modern industry" was assumed to have already developed. Do you

My comment: Regardless, if it had been developed then we would not
even be discussing his view of technical change in modern industry.

John had written:

> In our discussions, we've seen 3 passages in which Marx
> claims that technical change is capital-saving. There are a
> couple of possible responses to Marx on this.

Jerry commented:

All of those responses that you go on to list are possibilities. Another
possibility is that your reading of those passages from Marx was

My comment: No one is infallible. But to note that I might be
mistaken without suggesting how seems simply silly.

John had written:

> Why not "b"? First of all, I find little evidence to support it. That
> is, I think we need to look at the replacement of machines by machines
> on the micro-level to get at this one. Will we find some capital-using
> changes in technique? Of course. Generally, these will occur in industries
> where the c/v ratio is relatively small. In other words, such changes
> take place primarily as one moves from a period of manufacture to one
> of large-scale industry. To maintain that this is still the dominate
> form of technical change seems to impose the transition between the
> 2 periods to the latter period itself.

Jerry wrote:

I agree: we need to look at the micro level. Could you give me a few
examples of markets in today's economy that you would consider to be the
"general case" where there is labor-saving and capital-saving technical

Others can give examples of what they consider a "general case" from
today's economy where there is labor-saving and capital-using technical

If that happens, then we would be in a better position to evaluate which
case is more "general".

My comment: Forget the need to label something the "general case." We
have no data at all. The industry I am most familiar with -- the
mailing industry -- is filled with examples of capital-saving and
labor-saving machinery replacing older machinery. Is it the general
case? I would claim it is and wait for someone to disprove the
hypothesis. At the same time, I would continue to hold onto Marx's
notions of technical change.

John had written:

> To continue to insist that technical change is capital-using one
> must at least cite a few examples in today's world. Here, I'd
> like to know the prices of both the old and new as well as the
> change in output.

Jerry wrote:

I think it would be helpful -- as suggested above -- if both sides gave
contemporary examples.

My comment: This is easier said than done. When someone is trying to
sell you equipment, the last thing they want to talk about is price.
And, as a practical matter, the potential gains in productivity are
at least somewhat inflated.


John had written, referring to productive and unproductive labor:

... given the state
> of our understanding of technical change, I see no reason to move
> to that "level of abstraction."

Jerry wrote:

Productive and unproductive labor was discussed at length at a higher
level of abstraction -- the process of capitalist circulation (in Vol.
2) -- before (in terms of logical order, not when the rough drafts were
authored) considering capitalist production as a whole (Vol. 3).

My comment: It seems to me that the basics on technical change are
to be found in Vol. 1. That is, starting with simple co-operation
Marx notes that by increasing the scale of a production process as
the techniques change, output increases faster than input. Within
the period of manufacture, doubling the work force more than doubles
the output. Within the period of large-scale industry, doubling
the machinery more than doubles the output. There are two basic
complications in the later period.

1. If you start with a manufacturing process where there is little
or no machinery, then the initial machinery could well be both
capital-using and labor-saving. These machines could be financed
entirely from the savings in labor costs.

2. Even in the period of large-scale industry, labor-saving does
take place. However, as the c/v and s/v ratios grow, it becomes
harder and harder to justify new techniques on the basis of saving
labor costs. "v" is shrinking relative to the other magnitudes.

The import of working this out can not be overestimated. We are
talking about the manner in which growth takes place. By sticking
with the idea that Marx's picture of technical change is one in
which new techniques are generally capital-using, we impute to
him the view of classical political economy and find in his work
no direct textual support. Indeed, given the usual way of assigning
values by simultaneous valuation, we are forced either to hold fast to
the idea that tech change is capital using or to abandon any idea of
the falling rate of profit.