Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Fred Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Mon Jun 14 2004 - 22:47:38 EDT

On Mon, 14 Jun 2004, ajit sinha wrote:

> --- Fred Moseley <fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU> wrote:
> >
> > What I mean by "L is taken as given" is this:  it is
> > assumed that the
> > capitalist labor process results in L hours of
> > socially necessary labor
> > time, in units of simple unskilled labor.  We don't
> > know what this
> > quantity is, but it is assumed that it exists, and
> > that it determines the
> > quantity of money new-value produced during this
> > period (along with the
> > MELT), according to the equation:
> >
> >         N   =   (MELT)  L
> ______________________
> I don't know what N stands for, but whatever it is, I
> presume it is a determined variable.

N stands for money new-value produced in a given period, as explained in
previous posts.  In Marx's numerical example for his theory of
surplus-value (in Chapter 7 of Vol. 1), a 6 hour day produces money
new-value of 3 shillings, according to the equation:

        N   =  (MELT) L

        3s  =  (0.5s/h) (6h)

And a 12 hour day produces money new-value equal to 6 shillings, according

        6s  =  (0.5s/h) (12h)

Yes, N is a "determined variable", determined by the product of L and

> It is, according
> to your equation, determined by the product of (MELT)
> and L. By your own admission, you don't know how much
> the L is. And up till now you have not told us how is
> the MELT determined. So at present, the above equation
> translates as "nonsense" in plain English.

In Marx's theory in Capital, the MELT is determined by the value of gold,
i.e. is equal to the inverse of the labor-time required to produce a unit
of gold (i.e. MELT = 1 / Lg = 1 / (2 hrs. per shilling) = 0.5 shilling per
hour).  How the MELT is determined in the current monetary regime of
non-commodity money (assuming that is what it is) is an important
unanswered question in Marxian theory.

Most importantly, you say that, because I can't tell you the precise
quantity of L, then L is "nonsense", and the above equation is
"nonsense".  This is the nub of our disagreement.

I reject this empiricist argument.  Even though L is unobservable and we
don't know what the quantity of L is, Marx assumed that a precise quantity
of L EXISTS, in units of simple average labor, and that this quantity of L
determines the money new-value produced, and is also used to derive other
important conclusions discussed in previous posts.  The validity of the
above equation does not depend on my knowing the precise amount of L.  The
above equation makes "sense", even though we do not know the precise
amount of L.

An interesting analogy to Marx's labor theory of value is Newton's laws of
motion.  Newton's "second law" of motion is expressed by the equation:

        a   =   F / m

i.e. acceleration is equal to force divided by mass, which is strikingly
similar to Marx's equation for the determination of prices.

Force is similar to abstract labor in that force is NOT DIRECTLY
OBSERVABLE as such (i.e. in units independent of mass and
acceleration).  Instead, force can be observed only indirectly, in terms
of its affect on the acceleration of objects.  Nonetheless, even though
force cannot be directly observed, Physicists nonetheless assume that
force EXISTS, and in DEFINITE QUANTITIES, and that force CAUSES THE
ACCELERATION of objects.  Physicists think that the above equation is not
"nonsense", but instead makes "sense" (at least within a given frame of
reference), even though we don't know what F is.

Similarly, abstract labor in Marx's theory, although not directly
observable as such (in units of labor-time), is nonetheless assumed to
commodities.  Marx's equation makes "sense" even though we don't know what
L is.

So we appear to be at an impasse: you reject my interpretation of Marx's
theory as a permissible theory ("nonsense) because we don't know what L
is, and I reject your empiricist epistemology.

Anyone else out there have any comments or suggestions?



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