[OPE-L:7313] [OPE-L:842] Re: Horsepower

Allin Cottrell (cottrell@ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu)
Wed, 7 Apr 1999 09:05:46 -0400 (EDT)

On Sat, 3 Apr 1999, C. J. Arthur wrote:

> This is indeed a serious issue. Popper in his Open Society
> uses it to mock Marx for believing in 'the holiness of human
> labour'...

["Work" takes various forms.]

> To begin with: wage workers, then human labour in general,
> then that of oxen and horses then that of the work nature
> performs on itself when plants grow, wine matures and
> finally the work done by machines. All of these take time
> and use energy. The question Popper is throwing at us is why
> are we associating value production only with the first?

My answer would be that Popper is conflating value and
use-value. Of course the "work" done by nature contributes to
the useful form of the product. Marx recognizes this clearly
when he rejects the idea that "labour is the source of all
wealth" (Critique of Gotha Programme?). But if nature works
gratis, its contribution does not figure in the cost to society
of producing those useful things.

I believe that in the background to both Ricardo's and Marx
insistence that only human labour time creates value is a
"planner's perspective". Human labour is the scarce resource
that must be allocated to produce the various goods. It's a
supremely flexible resource ("abstract labour") owing to the
evolution of general intelligence, and to a reasonable
approximation it's the _only_ scarce resource, since just about
everything else can be (re-)produced given the application of
enough labour.

Allin Cottrell.