Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Ian Wright (iwright@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Mon Jun 14 2004 - 14:42:07 EDT

Hi Phil

Thanks for spending some time to provide context to the "adding up"
issue. It seems to me that, say, Ajit, and perhaps others, think there
is a problem here. I do not see that problem, which is why I am eager
to discuss it and understand. I might be missing something.

> 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)

My current view is (maybe) a curious mirror-image of this. I think
that abstract labour is objectively homogenous, in the sense that it
is the common species-activity of people. Every person is objectively
equal in their causal powers, ignoring second-order variances present
in any population. So the "specific unity of labour" is objective and
real, and exists independent of the social relations of production,
i.e. it does not come into existence with the value-form, although it
only plays a dominant role in economic relations under capitalism with
its so-called free labourer. So I'm working with a "trans-historical"
definition of abstract labour, which I think is a condition of
possibility of social progress and the elimination of economic
classes. The real objective equality can be hard to see precisely
because social relations are almost always characterised by inequality
(e.g., Aristotle's musings on economic value). I guess you have no
problem with any of this. But I'd just like to distinguish between the
objective homogeneity of labour as substance with its economic
recognition (or lack thereof). (Looks like I've been dragged into the
"substance" terminology).

In my simple example, I indicated that the exchange of products
against money induces an equivalence relation over the concrete labour
types (the example can be generalised to production of commodities by
means of others without altering the basic point). So I agree with you
that it is exchangeability that compares concrete labour types.

But there is no "adding up" problem whatsoever. There is the real
combination of different activities in the process of production.
Concrete labour types are productively combined in firms and given
money values in the market via their products. It is only money that
gets "added up", nothing else. Commodity prices indirectly value the
concrete labour types (via the equivalence relation). So I do not
think there is a problem here, although there is a residual issue of
heterogenous reduction coefficients, which imply that 1 hour of
labour-type A is not equivalently valued to 1 hour of labour-type
B,C,D ... etc.

So no adding up of apples and oranges, only squeezing them together to
make a nice drink and then selling that for a price.

> 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.

I agree that we can measure labour-time by the clock, but the
theoretical-empirical problem of how we (as individuals trying to
understand the economy) measure abstract labour (and form an
expression for the average value of money, i.e. the MELT) is separate
from the real process of how concrete labour-times are homogenised and
represented by money, which is a kind of "social clock" (cf. Howard's
posts on gold production as a measure of time). Unpacking that notion
of a "social clock" isn't easy.

> 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.

This is very compressed, and I don't quite understand it.

> Enough!

Maybe you'd been kind enough to go a bit further with this?


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