Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Phil Dunn (pscumnud@DIRCON.CO.UK)
Date: Sun Jun 13 2004 - 12:04:36 EDT

Ian Wright wrote:

>Hi Fred, Ajit and others
>I wanted to comment on:
>>  2. Marx assumed further that, in the production of value,
>>  one hour of skilled labor is equivalent to (or counts as)
>>  a multiple of one hour of simple, unskilled labor (with
>>  different multiples for different kinds of skilled labor). (Fred)
>>  Foley simply adds up various kinds of
>>  concrete labors such as the labor of carpenters and
>>  masons etc. to get his total direct labor, which is
>>  what he places against the total money value of the
>>  net output to derive the labor value of one unit of
>>  money. It does not solve your problem of abstract
>>  labor since the value of the money commodity is simply
>>  based on adding up concrete labors. So I think you
>>  need to rethink on this problem. (Ajit)

Hi Ajit

Can you provide chapter and verse to justify your assertion that
"Foley simply adds up various kinds of concrete labors"?

>>  > Surely by adding them up one abstracts from their
>>  > concrete type, and adds up all that remains -
>>  > expenditure of human time. (Paul C.)
>>  Exactly! So the abstraction has been done by the
>>  theorist before money comes into the picture. (Ajit)
>  I am thinking aloud, so I'm ready and willing to recognise flaws in
>what I write below. I also may be teaching various grandmothers to
>suck eggs ... apologies if so.
>The summary point is that the MELT is a theoretical approximation not
>unlike a mean-field approximation in physics. The approximation error
>can be directly related to the matrix of labour reduction
>coefficients. In the special case of homogenous reduction coefficients
>the MELT is an error-free measure of the value of money. The key point
>is to distinguish the macro-abstractions over concrete labour-types
>performed by the theorist and the micro-abstractions over concrete
>labour-types performed by the market, and the relations between them.
>My partial response to Ajit, therefore, is that the MELT theoretically
>summarises a set of micro-abstractions performed in the marketplace.
>The micro-abstractions are real. The question then is not whether it
>is legitimate to "add up concrete labours" to derive the MELT (I think
>it is for reasons not given), but whether the MELT is a useful
>representation of the average value of money. For example, the
>temperature of a gas is a macro-variable that summarises the energy
>distribution of the constituent molecules. It is a useful theoretical
>average -- just like the MELT. But it has definite relations to the
>real abstractions over concrete labour types that market exchanges


Hi Ian

The usual objection to adding up heterogeneous concrete labours is
that it is like adding up apples and oranges.  This objection is, I
think, correct but it is worthwhile trying to pin down the precise
reason. I can see nothing wrong with using the generic unity of
apples and oranges as fruit to add then up.

3 apple-fruits plus 2 orange-fruits = 5 fruits

4 kilos of apple-fruits plus 5 kilos of orange-fruits = 9 kilos of fruit.

Nothing wrong with that.

I do not see any objection to a similar generic unity for concrete labours.

3 hours of the carpenter kind of concrete labour plus 2 hours of the
mason kind of concrete labour = 5 hours of generic concrete labour.

No problem there.

The problem comes when we try to associate this generic labour with
value.  If labour is heterogeneous then the value it creates is also
heterogeneous.  There would be different kinds of value.  Just as
apples create apple trees, carpenter labour would create the
carpenter kind of value.

Value creating labour must be homogeneous because value is
homogeneous.  The task, therefore, is to discover the basis for a
specific unity of labour.  We need a single kind of labour.

There is not much choice.  The basis is the value-form, the form of
exchangeability, considered as the species of capitalist surplus
labour extraction. The key factor is mode in which labour is supplied
for surplus extraction. (CI ch 6, the passage containing "It is
otherwise with capital", also Scott Meikle, Essentialism in the
Thought of Karl Marx, passim)

The focus is on the producer commodity, labour-power, understood not
as skill, the power to perform useful tasks, but as the power to
create value.  There are many kinds of skill, but only one kind of

I see no obstacle to adding up clock hours of labour-time.  The
producer commodity is overwhelmingly measured by clock hours. Labour,
the activity of labour-power, can be measured on the clock also.
Homogeneous labour-power and labour can also be measured by money.
Labour time, equivalent value, the immanent measure, is the
equivalent of money and money is the equivalent of relative value.



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