Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Phil Dunn (pscumnud@DIRCON.CO.UK)
Date: Wed Jun 16 2004 - 04:16:01 EDT

Hi Ian

You wrote:

>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).

My leg is a human leg because it is the leg of a human.  My labour is
human labour because it is the labour of a human.  Not all legs are
human.  Cattle have legs. According to Adam Smith cattle labour. So
do sheepdogs with their causal powers to round up sheep.  Not all
labour is human.

The idea of the 'common species activity of people' is really very
difficult to subscribe to.

>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.

I apologise: it was far too compressed.

As you and Marx do, let us strip away constant capital. It can be put
back in later.  We do it to isolate the valorization process.  All
that is left is the purchase of labour-power, the activity of
labour-power (labour) and the sale of this activity.  I have, in
fact, stripped away more than constant capital; commodity capital has
gone too -- there is no embodied labour. For the moment money is not
considered.  We have, say, 100 hours of labour-power bought and 100
hours of labour activity, both measured on the clock.  There can be a
mix of concrete labours here but we are dealing with homogeneous,
value-formed labour.
This is intended to have some connection with value.  The connection
is, I think, identity.  There is 100 hours of labour-power value and
100 hours of labour value.  But I must qualify this and say that this
is equivalent value, not relative value.  The phrase 'equivalent
value' does not occur in section 3 of chapter 1 of Capital but
'relative value' occurs 29 times (I once counted but I cannot be sure
of the figure now). Relative value is measured by money.

What is equivalent value for?  Just to be added up.  The aggregate of
equivalent labour-power value is the equivalent of the aggregate wage
bill.  If 1 million hours are worked in total and the aggregate wage
bill is $10 million, the real (labour-power commanded) value of money
is 0.1 hours per dollar. If the 100 hours of labour-power is bought
for $900, then the relative value of that labour-power is 90 hours

Similarly for labour activity.  The same 1 million hours are worked.
If aggregate money value added is 20 million the absolute (labour
activity commanded) value of money is 0.05 hours per dollar.  If the
100 hours of labour activity is sold for $2200 then the relative
value of that labour activity is 110 hours (absolute).

It is a feature that relatively measured labour-power (90 hours) does
not equal relatively measured labour activity (110 hours).


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