[OPE-L:1952] Re: Re: Re: value-form theories

Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Sun, 19 Dec 1999 09:58:04 -0500 (EST)

Hi, Mike W., good to hear from you. Don't worry, I know what it means
to be overcommitted. I hope it ends for you soon (but it never seems to).
I look forward to your return to the discussion (at which point I will
probably be swamped! - as in the recent productive labor discussion).
But we will do the best we can.

1. Mike argues (1937) that my assertion that a key question of Marx's
theory of capitalism is to explain the MAGNITUDE of surplus-value,
or dM, is not supported the passage I quoted from the "Results".
Maybe this passage does not support my argument (although I still think
that it does). But, in any case, aside from this one passage, can we not
agree that Marx's theory in Capital does in fact provide a quantitative
theory of the magnitude of surplus-value? Marx's theory is summarized
by the following equation, discussed in a previous post:

        S = m ( Lc - Ln)

where Lc and Ln are quantities of abstract labor (the current working day
and the necessary labor time, respectively) and m is the money value added
per hour of abstract labor. In Marx's example in the key Chapter 7,
Lc = 12 hr., Ln = 6 hr., and m = 0.5 sh. / hr. The surplus-value is
determined as a precise magnitude = 3 sh. and is determined as the
product of the variables on the right-hand side of the equation.

This is not just a qualitative theory of whether or not there is
surplus-value, or the mediations through which a constant magnitude is
transformed into a variable magnitude (although it is that too); this is
also a quantitative theory of the precise magnitude of surplus-value.

If the working day were reduced to 11 hrs (as in "Senior's Last Hour"),
then Marx argued that the amount of surplus-value would be reduced to
precisely 2.5sh. Furthermore, if the working day continued to be reduced
down to the point of 6 hrs, then the amount of surplus-value would
continue to be reduced until it becomes 0 at precisely 6 hrs. How could a
theory determined the effect of a reduction of one hour of labor on the
surplus-value, or determine exactly at what point there ceases to be
surplus-value, without a quantitative theory of the magnitude of
surplus-value? In other words, I don't see how one can have a qualitative
theory of whether or not there is surplus-value without a quantitative
theory of the precise magnitude of surplus-value.

In any case, I think the textual evidence it is very strong that Marx
himself provided a quantitative theory of surplus-value. Anyone disagree?

2. Surely, it is preferable to explain the magnitude of surplus-value,
rather than not explain it, right? Especially since the magnitude of
surplus-value is such an important feature of capitalism. Indeed one
could argue that the magnitude of surplus-value is the whole point of
capitalism - it matters a great deal whether the magnitude of
surplus-value is large or small.

Therefore, if one rejects Marx's quantitative theory of surplus-value, and
does not provide an alternative quantitative theory, then there should be
very good reason for this, i.e. one's alternative theory must explain some
other important aspects not explained by Marx's theory. So, I ask again,
what does value-form theory explain that Marx's theory cannot explain,
that would justify the rejection of Marx's quantitative theory?

3. What bothers Mike is that in order to explain the magnitude of
surplus-value, one has to assume abstract labor as a "PREEXISTING STUFF
that is METAPHYSICAL IN THE PEJORATIVE SENSE" (emphasis added). Mike,
what exactly do you mean by "metaphysical in the pejorative sense"? In
Joan Robinson's sense (in her little book on Marx) of "NOT OPERATIONAL"or
"NOT OBSERVABLE"? Are you saying that only observable entities can be
included in a theory? Such extreme empiricism seems very strange coming
from a Hegelian perspective.

I would say, yes, abstract labor is "metaphysical" in the sense that it is
not observable (i.e. it has a "ghostly objectivity"). For Marx, "science"
involves the postulation of unobservable entities in order to explain
important observable phenomena. In Marx's theory of capitalism, abstract
labor is the key unobservable entity used to explain the observable
phenomena of surplus-value, etc. Mike, are you saying that such a
postulate of an unobservable entity is inadmissable in a theory of
capitalism? I hope not.

I look forward to further discussion (when you have the time).


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