Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Mon Jun 21 2004 - 19:57:04 EDT

At 11:10 PM -0400 6/10/04, Fred Moseley wrote:
>Ajit, I thought we have been having a pretty good discussion, but I find
>your latest response mostly bluster.
>You asked me how do I measure the L in Marx's labor theory of value?
>I answered that the total current labor-time is taken as given, including
>adjustments for different skills and unequal intensities.
>Then you asked how do I EMPIRICALLY MEASURE the L in Marx's theory.
>And I answered that, one CANNOT EMPIRICALLY MEASURE the L in Marx's
>theory, because that L is a SOCIAL AVERAGE, socially necessary labor-time,
>not actual labor-times that are observable.

If one could measure socially necessary average labor time directly,
then the program of labor certificates would not be utopian: money
would not be the necessary form of appearance of value.  But
how--assuming non constant returns of scale--do we know the average
level of technique if we don't  know the level of effective level of
demand? Isn't this what Ian was asking? I am way behind on OPE-L.

Perhaps Ajit could elaborate what he thinks the basis is of Marx's
critique of the labor certificate programme and whether he finds
Marx's critique persuasive.

>And I asked you in turn: does you question about how L is empirically
>measured indicate that, in your view, a theory of price must be in terms
>of observable variables only?  And you did not answer this question, but
>instead accused me of making nonsense.

Of course Fred (of all people) does not want to flee positivism for
anti empiricism and anti realism. This is what Horkheimer did but
Fred is obviously closer to Neurath. See recent piece on Horkheimer
and Neurath in European Journal of Philosophy by O'Neill and Uebel.
Fred obviously wants to get at the  unobservables through an
empirical investigation. That something is not directly observable
does not mean that it is not empirically detectable in its effects,
as philosopher of science Peter Godfrey Smith argues in his recent

Of course value value may not actually be  unobservable as Fred is
arguing (value is only in potentia in the unobservable state to which
Fred is referring; it is not yet value) but observable only as a
system, observable only in its effects, for it only actually comes to
exist in in its effects. (as Bruce Roberts, following Althusser, has
brilliantly argued; I think this is what Hilferding was arguing as

For Marx--to return to my analogy to quantum mechanics--value also
seems to exist in potentia; money measurement is thus more than the
passive ascertainment of a pre-existing property but rather the
production of a datum (value) through the active involvement of
measurer and thing measured. In other words, value seems to describe
a system--the thing being measured and the measurement being
made--rather than being an independent description of the thing being
measured. Value, in short, may not exist as an independent
unobservable thing that can be transformed into price.

Perhaps this comes too close to conflating value and price. But their
relation is more complicated than one in which the former as
substance determines the latter as substance. We need a new language
of causality. Value and price are co-extensive or--dare I
say--dialectically related. They are not two substances defined by
respective principal attributes but rather movements without
locatable discontinuity where the other is always involved. There is
no cleavage between an unobservable value and visible price. The
relationship is dialectical. This may end up in obscurantism and
dialectical mysticism and hocus pocus; it may end up compromising a
value theoretic of working class exploitation.   But such a
dialectical relation seems to be the terms in which he understood the
value-price relation, as the quotes from Michel DeVroey show.

>Forget the positivism (I was just trying to put this question in a broader
>philosophical context), and please answer this question: do you think that
>a theory of price must be in terms of observable variables only?

Doesn't Giusanni argue that the technical conditions in the surplus
approach tradition are not what is directly observable either but
actually data refracted through theory (e.g. product innovation has
to be imagined away since the system can only be closed if the same
commodities appear as inputs and outputs--Ian suggests that Duncan
Foley makes a similar point). In this sense, beginning with time
series in prices and retroducing changes in value (once one has
factored in any change in MELT!) seem more an empiricist approach
than the calculation on the basis of the technical system.

>Then maybe we can continue our fruitful discussion.

Good luck to all.

>On Thu, 10 Jun 2004, ajit sinha wrote:
>>  Fred, you are not answering my simple questions. My
>>  point is that what you are saying in the name of Marx
>>  is simply nonsense. I can prove that if only you would
>>  agree to discuss the matter step by step. This problem
>>  has nothing to do with positivism etc. I may not know
>>  much philosophy, but I know this much that nonsense
>>  does not become profundity in non-positivist
>>  philosophy. Any way, I don't even know what you mean
>>  by positivism. Is it Vienna school you are referring
>>  to? Cheers, ajit sinha

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Tue Jun 22 2004 - 00:00:01 EDT