Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Fred Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Sat Jun 19 2004 - 23:25:14 EDT

On Mon, 14 Jun 2004, Allin Cottrell wrote:

> On Mon, 14 Jun 2004, Ian Wright wrote (well, actually he quoted Phil
> Dunn as writing):
> > > Homogeneous labour-power and labour can also be measured by money.
> Could anyone explain this idea (I don't think it's specific to Phil)?
> I confess it makes no sense to me.  How does money "measure" anything?

Marx discussed the concept of money as "measure of value" in Chapter 3,
Section 1 of Volume 1.  According to Marx's theory of money, derived
earlier in Section 3 of Chapter 1, money is the "necessary form of
appearance" of the socially necessary labor-time (SNLT) contained in
commodities.  In other words, the SNLT contained in commodities is
"objectively expressed" in terms of the quantity of the money commodity
that contains the same amount of labor-time.

Therefore, it is in this sense that money is described as the "measure of
value" in Section 1 of Chapter 3 - in the sense of an indirect measure of
the quantities of SNLT contained in commodities in terms of the the
quantity of the money commodity that contains the same amount of

Marx said it is analogous to iron functioning as the "measure of weight" -
quantities of iron function as the indirect measure of the weight of other
objects (pp. 148-49).

> Is this an ellipsis for "[short-run equilibrium] price measures
> labour-time", in the sense that the quantity of money people are
> willing to pay for a commodity retrospectively determines the degree
> to which the labour that went into its production is/was socially
> necessary?  (That I can understand, though I disagree with it.)
> Allin Cottrell

No, this is not what Marx meant by money as "measure of value"
(as explained above), but you raise an interesting question.

I think we need to distinguish between two different definitions of SNLT:

SNLT(1): the definition given by Marx in Chapter 1, which is the
labor-time required to produce one, single UNIT of a commodity.
SNLT(1) is what determines the long-run average price of a unit
of the commodity.

SNLT(2): the total quantity of labor-time required to produce the total
quantity of a given commodity, when that total quantity is equal to the
social demand for that commodity.  Algebraically:

        SNLT(2) = Q x SNLT(1)

where Q is the equilibrium quantity of this commodity, i.e. the quantity
at which S = D.

Demand determines Q and thus affects SNLT(2).  But demand does not affect
SNLT(1), which is determined entirely by production conditions.  For
example, if the supply of a commodity were greater than the demand,
i.e. if the actual labor allocated to a given industry were greater than
SNLT(2), then the actual quantity of labor would count as only
SNLT(2).  But this would not affect SNLT(1), which continues to be
determined by production conditions.


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