Re: on money substance and abstract labor

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Tue Jun 01 2004 - 19:38:40 EDT

Hi Ian,

I wanted to pick up a couple of things from your earlier posts (I'm slower
at getting to all this stuff than I'd like to be), and especially the post

Overall, your emphasis on emergent control systems resonates with one of the
important things about exploring the Aristotelian context of Marx's work.
Aristotle's realism, a critique of both the empiricism and idealism of his
day, provides a bridge to important developments in scientific realism over
the last half century.  So finding that this was compost for Marx's work is
not just a matter of resurrecting ancient history; it is also a matter of
connecting Marx to what goes on now.  So your emphasis on control systems is
definitely interesting.

On the other hand,

>I thought it might be interesting to note that there
> are other ways of talking about the "form of value" or "organising
> principle", which I find more natural,

the old ways of talking are likely to be around for a while since we still
find ourselves embroiled in controversies that pit substance on the one hand
against form on the other.  To explore the ways in which form just is
substance may take us a bit beyond such disputes.

I wonder if you have explored the connection of the engineering sense of
control systems that you mention to work that has been done on natural
kinds?  As I understand it, natural kinds can be thought of as causal
structures of the world  that account for the persistence of a thing as the
kind of thing it is.  Natural kind terms refer to those structures.  Does a
control system so to speak individuate in that way -- I mean does one
organize a thing in such a way that it is the thing that it is?  Or is that
kind of talk sort of not relevant?  Is this or that control system readily
distributed over a variety of tasks or more or less specific to a given kind
of social relation/activity.  And what do you have in mind (generally) by
the reference to emergent novel ontologies?

I thought your earlier observation on representation as naturalized was very

"At root, representation
is implemented via causal links, and commodity economies
instantiate the right causal relationships to support the

My impression is that this sort of thing is not sufficiently well developed
either in the analysis of Marx or more generally.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Ian Wright" <iwright@GMAIL.COM>
Sent: Friday, May 28, 2004 6:17 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] on money substance and abstract labor

> Hi Howard
> >The form of value is an organizing principle that constitutes the
> >product of labor as a commodity.  It is a form, an organizing principle
> >social labor.  So what does it organize?  It can't be a way of organizing
> >tailoring or brickmaking as such because it also has to be a form capable
> >organizing lumbering and carpentry and opera singing.  So it is an
> >organizing principle set over against labor in general.  There is the
> >materiality of labor activity on the one hand and the organizing
> >of a given social form of labor on the other.  You put the two together
in a
> >product of labor and the product has value.
> This is excellent and also very clear. I've nothing substantive to add
> to your post, but I thought it might be interesting to note that there
> are other ways of talking about the "form of value" or "organising
> principle", which I find more natural.
> In the case of a simple commodity economy it is particularly clear
> that the "form of value" is an emergent control system, in the full
> engineering sense of the term, which allocates social labour according
> to monetary control signals. The control system is implemented in the
> actions of the economic agents, who may or may not be conscious of its
> existence. A simple commodity economy has interesting parallels with
> reinforcement learning algorithms and neural networks, both of which
> use a quantitive
> representation of value to adaptively allocate internal resources.
> The two, maybe unfamiliar, elements of this point of view are: (i)
> the notion of the unplanned emergence of novel ontologies, and (ii)
> the notion of a control system being implemented in the distributed
> activity of human actors.
> Taking case (ii): we're used to the idea of algorithms being multiply
> realised in different material substrates -- e.g., the algorithm for
> adding two numbers together has been multiply realised in lots of
> human minds, mechanical devices, such as an abbacus or Babbage's
> difference engine, and modern computers. We're less used to the idea
> that an algorithm may be implemented on human components. But it can
> be, although the robustness of the implementation is quite different,
> due to the complexity and unpredictability of the human components,
> compared to components explicitly designed for robustness, such as
> transistors, logic circuits etc. A control system can be thought of as
> a type of embodied algorithm.
> This is what I understand the "organising principle" to be -- an
> emergent, economic control system.
> >Also, I don't need the prior existence of capital here or the reduction
> >skilled labor to labor anybody can do.  On the other hand, as I argued to
> >Paul, I may very well need some such reduction in order theoretically to
> >able to conceive of a causal organizing principle unspecific with regard
> >weaving, house building, etc.  But obviously the causal potency of the
> >dity form doesn't depend on my being able to conceive it.
> I agree -- whether we have an adequate understanding of the process
> and current state of the reduction it nonetheless occurs in reality.
> As Krause ("Money and Abstract Labour") clearly explains, the exchange
> of money for commodities induces an equivalence relation on the
> different concrete labours. The concept of abstract labour is
> maintained by the economic control system and is emphatically not an
> everyday mental generalisation performed by the economic actors,
> although this is a concomitant phenomenon. Abstract labour is
> represented on a social scale, not an individual one, and the
> reduction coefficients of one type of concrete labour to another are
> continuously calculated via a distributed computation implemented in
> market exchanges.
> That all labour must be reduced to simple or unskilled labour, that is
> one kind of concrete labour, is a mistaken idea that derives, I think,
> from ignoring the unique
> representational role of money.
> Nothing new here -- just different language perhaps.
> ATB,
> -Ian.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Tue Jun 08 2004 - 00:00:01 EDT