Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Fri Jun 04 2004 - 13:25:35 EDT

Hi Fred,

You asked for my comment on point 7 of your post from June 2.  I have to be
very tentative about this, as I have missed some of the details of the
debate on this thread, and probably it is easier for me to start with your
post below.

I wonder if there aren't two separate problems and whether differentiating
them would not advance understanding.

I certainly agree with you that abstract labor is non-sensible,
non-empirical, and therefore needs a form of manifestation.  This is a
critically important point.

But there is a second point, that I have urged in my recent posts to Ajit --
we make assumptions about measuring time based on our ready familiarity with
clocks, watches, etc.  We speak of hours, minutes and seconds.  But these
are just ways we talk about the passage of time.  I mean except as we
observe processes and activities and results of change, how is the passage
of time directly observable?  So ounces of gold are not only a form of
manifestation of abstract labor but also a way of telling time.  We can take
any activity that produces a result and use the result to refer to the
passage of time.  So the idea that we can measure unskilled labor without
money just means we can tell time in some other way.  We can use a clock,
but then we measure concrete labor rather than abstract labor, as Jerry
suggested, -- ie we reduce abstract to concrete labor.  In any event it is
just an alternative way of using an activity and a result to refer to

So there are two points:  (1) we can use any activity or its result to refer
to the passage of time -- either the mechanical movement of hands of a clock
or the digging of gold; (2) but the digging of gold has the added advantage
of allowing us to give objective expression to the non-sensible thing behind
the relation of objects in exchange.

In my post today to Paul I suggested the importance of distinguishing
between a programmatic definition of value and an explanatory one.  Keeping
in mind that abstract labor is itself caused by a specific form of social
relations may ground the idea of value as substance and avoid some of the
"embodied bug" (for bugs in amber) objections to value as "congealed" labor.

I have not followed the details of the discussion of the reduction of
skilled labors and the dispute regarding skill multipliers.  Your point 7 in
the post from June 2, incidentally, does not accurately quote what I said,
so I think my point from May 28 does not offer support for the argument you
were making there.  On May 28 I wrote:   "But obviously the causal potency
of the commodity form doesn't depend on my being able to conceive it."    By
'commodity form' I meant a real entity in the world, not a theory. So I was
arguing that the causal potency of a real thing did not depend on my being
able to think of it.  This is different than the point you were making.

But on the point of the reduction of skilled to simple labor and of skill
multipliers, can't we back into this by considering money as the necessary
manifestation of value?  No matter what labor I perform, no matter how
unskilled, so long as it is productive and realized in a product, it can be
exchanged for some quantity of gold.  It is the nature of gold to be
homogeneous and infinitely divisible -- use a multiplier and you can get to
any portion of it from some other portion.

But as a manifestation of the value of things gold is only one thing
referring to something else.  That is, gold gets selected out as the tool we
use for reference precisely because it is capable of adequately referring to
something that is itself homogeneous and divisible into simple units.  Gold
accomplishes the reference more successfully than a cow.

In a first 'moment' the homogeneity is the work of exchange -- since any
product can be exchange for any other product any instance of labor can be
reduced to any other.  So you'd have to find the skill multipliers in
exchange, wouldn't you?  And that doesn't make much sense, except insofar as
it is money that accomplishes the result.

In a second moment homogeneity becomes not merely a feature of the product
but more and more of concrete labor itself.  But even then you can't uncover
some direct form of skill multiplier to compare labors independent of money.
I mean you can take average conditions and average intensity and work out
useful approximations.  But if you pretend those approximations are
conceptually adequate, then aren't you are working with some other
theoretical framework than that of Marx?


----- Original Message -----
From: "Fred Moseley" <fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU>
Sent: Thursday, June 03, 2004 11:35 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] measurement of abstract labor

> On Thu, 3 Jun 2004, ajit sinha wrote:
> > --- Fred Moseley <fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU> wrote:
> > >
> > > I would like to begin by responding to Ajit's
> > > important question: "how
> > > does one arrive at the measure of 10 hours of
> > > labor?"  In other words, how
> > > does one measure abstract labor?
> > >
> > > My answer will be in terms of how I understand
> > > Marx's theory deals with
> > > this question.
> > >
> > >
> > > 1.  Marx assumed that the basic unit of measure of
> > > abstract labor, as the
> > > "substance of value", is one hour of simple,
> > > unskilled labor, of average
> > > intensity, and using average conditions of
> > > production.
> > _______________
> > Fred, I'm glad to see you moving firmly in my
> > direction.
> I don't know about that.  See below.
> > So you agree that
> > "the basic unit of measure of abstract labor, as the
> > "substance of value", is one hour of simple, unskilled
> > labor, of average intensity, and using average
> > conditions of production." This is what I have been
> > belaboring for ages. Now, this measure does not need
> > money.
> No, this is not what I mean.  The measure of abstract labor DOES NEED
> MONEY, because the measure of abstract labor in terms of labor-time is
> INVISIBLE, i.e. NOT DIRECTLY OBSERVABLE as such.  Therefore, in order to
> obtain an indirect, observable measure of abstract labor, money is
> necessary.  Money is the "necessary form of appearance" of abstract labor.
> An observable form of appearance of abstract labor is necessary because
> labor in a commodity economy is not regulated directly and consciously
> according to a social plan, but is instead regulated indirectly and
> unconsciously through market prices.  In any type of society, the
> quantities of labor-time necessary to produce different goods must of
> necessity play a role in the allocation of social labor.  However, since
> there is no direct regulation of social labor in a commodity economy, the
> only way the quantities of labor-time necessary to produce goods can play
> a role in the regulation of social labor is by being indirectly
> represented in terms of observable quantities of money, as the
> (average) price of commodities.
> I think that this is one of the strengths of Marx's theory - that it
> explains the necessity of money on the basis of its fundamental theory of
> value.  NO OTHER ECONOMIC THEORY, including Sraffian theory, has been able
> to explain the necessity of money on the basis of its theory of value.
> > When it comes to reduction of skilled to unskilled
> > labor, the problem is a problem of higher level of
> > complication. As far as defining value is concerned,
> > one can assume a world with only unskilled labor.
> > Secondly, Both Ricardo and Marx (Smith did not have a
> > LTV) believed that the reduction could be made by
> > taking the wage differentials as multipliers. Whether
> > it is correct or not is a different question and what
> > other ways one can use to effect the reduction or to
> > what extent this does the LTV in etc. are separate
> > theoretical questions.
> I disagree.  I don't think either Ricardo or Marx used wage differentials
> as the skills multipliers.  But I agree that we can set this question
> aside for now.
> > We should be able to define
> > value in a world of only unskilled labor. And in this
> > case, as you agree now with me, money has no role to
> > play. Cheers, ajit sinha
> No, again, this is not what I mean.  I said that abstract labor could be
> measured in units of labor-time; I did not say that money plays no
> role.  Indeed, as just explained, money plays an essential role.  Money is
> the necessary form of appearance of unobservable quantities of abstract
> labor.  Money makes invisible abstract labor indirectly visible.
> You are reducing Marx's concept of value to one dimension - abstract labor
> (as many do, especially Sraffian-inspired interpreters of Marx).  But
> Marx's concept of value is richer than that - it consists of two
> dimensions - abstract labor AND MONEY.  Abstract labor is the
> "substance" of value and money is the "necessary form of appearance" of
> value.
> Marx criticized Ricardo for the same mistake.  Marx argued that Ricardo
> was solely concerned with the MAGNITUDE of value (the quantity of the
> substance of value, abstract labor), and did  not understand money as the
> necessary form of appearance of value.  One such critique is found in
> TSV.III. 133, 13 pages prior to the passage quoted by Rakesh which
> initiated this OPEL discussion of Marx's theory of money.
>         "Ricardo's mistake is that he is concerned only with the
>         MAGNITUDE OF VALUE...  But the labour embodied in them
>         [commodities] must be represented as SOCIAL labour...
>         This circumstance - the necessity of PRESENTING the
>         labour contained in commodities as UNIFORM SOCIAL
>         LABOUR, i.e. as money - is overlooked by Ricardo.
>         (TSV.III. 131; emphasis in the original)
> Comradely,
> Fred

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