Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Fred Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Mon Jun 07 2004 - 22:31:09 EDT

Howard, thanks for your message on Friday.  Below are partial replies.

On Fri, 4 Jun 2004, Howard Engelskirchen wrote:

> 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.

I agree that this is an important agreement.  I would also emphasize that,
even though abstract labor is unobservable, it nonetheless exists as a
real entity, in definite quantities, measured in labor-time.  I think you
would agree with this also, right?

> 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
> duration.
> 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.

The advantage of gold is that it itself is a product of labor, and thus
can be used as an indirect, observable measure of labor.  Clocks give us a
measure of concrete labor, but not of abstract labor, which also takes
into account unequal skills and unequal intensities.

> 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.

Thanks for the clarification.  In this case, I guess I have a similar
question as Paul Z. earlier asked you:

Aren't we also talking about the causal potentency, or the explanatory
power, of Marx's THEORY, not just the causal potency of the real
world.  And my point was that the lack of an explanation of the skill and
intensity multipliers does not significantly effect the explanatory power
of Marx's theory (theory of surplus-value, endogenous technological
change, endogenous conflicts of the working day and over the intensity of
labor, etc.).

Would you agree with this?

Thanks again for the discussion.


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