Re: Money, mind and the ontological status of value and abstract labor

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Thu Jun 17 2004 - 17:51:59 EDT


>From what I can gather, the approach you adopt is a kind of metaphysics.
You state that there is 'labour indifferent to form', which then takes a
variety of social forms across history. This is hardly compatible with your
own insistence on the 'reality' of the concept of abstract labour. If it is
'real', it must have been made so by social processes, as happens under
capitalist conditions. If it arises purely because the thinker has
abstracted from the particularities of many social forms of labour, it is
not real. On the contrary, it is transcendental and metaphysical.

Paul Cockshott

The phrase 'labour indifferent to form' could take two meanings

1. Labour indifferent to social form - for example building work in
   the US prior to the civil war was carried out both by slaves and
   by wage labourers, but whoever did it, it was still building work.

2. Labour indifferent to the concrete productive activity - building work
   or work in a sawmill both involve human labour.

Let us concentrate on the second example. The population of the USA
in say 1858 being given, and given its age structure, the population
was capable of performing a finite number of hours of work in the year.
That labour could be transferred between different activities - railway
construction, housebuilding, harvesting. These transfers occurred both
seasonally, and also in response to price signals, government expenditure
and capital investment plans. In the farming sector, labour would be
expended on tasks like house and barn construction during the fine
weather period prior to it being required for the harvest.

Another pool of labour would be redeployed from for example road building
to railway building. In all cases what is actually occurring is
that people are being redeployed from one activity to another.
When we speak of abstract social labour we are talking of this
capacity of the working population to move between tasks.

This ability to redeploy labour to different social tasks is not
specific to capitalism. Both the Northern and Southern economies
in the ante-bellum US had redeployable labour forces. That in the
South was in chains, that in the North was not. But the fact that
the Southern labour force were slaves did not prevent their work
from being social labour. It was activity by humans whose product
was consumed socially and which was fluid and redeployable.


Incidentally, in your last message you state that exchange value is
produced. This is clearly incorrect. Exchange value is an aspect of
commodities, an exchange property, and belongs to them whether they have
been produced (for instance, cars), not produced (for instance, land or
financial assets), or even if they are mock-commodities (for instance, a
favour, a bribe). What is produced is value (abstract labour) and only under
capitalist conditions.

Paul Cockshott

I think that Costas has a fair point when he says that exchange value
is not produced but is an aspect of commodities. But I think he gets
it wrong when he talks of value being produced. In Marxist economics
we often use the phrase 'production of value', but this partly obscures
what the concept of value is about.

Value is not produced, value is what it costs society to produce
something. (Smith's 'Original Currency')

Theoretically we then impute that cost to the product, associating
the labour required to produce the item with the item. This is
a purely conceptual operation on our part.

The labour theory of value goes on to predict that the relative imputed
labour costs will predict the relative  mean prices of
commodities. It thus appears withing our accounting framework that
value is 'produced', but in reality it is always use values that are

The feedback relationships of the type modeled by Ian ensure that
prices will have attractors that are well modeled by the imputed
labour contents.

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