Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Thu Jul 15 2004 - 06:41:25 EDT

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your explanation.  Surely there is one additional point with
respect to state money -- because it is legal tender I can't tell someone
who owes me money,   "no, I won't take your dollars; you have to give me
gold instead."  That is, I am obligated to accept paper currency in payment
of debts, and this obligation rests on force.  Also, this relation, which
generates the use of paper currency, rests on exchange and is independent of
and in addition to tax debts.   You could have a situation where the state
was fully able to support itself by exploiting some natural resource, but
paper currency circulated as legal tender anyway.

I will think harder on your point about abstracting from the use of gold.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Cockshott" <wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK>
Sent: Thursday, July 15, 2004 6:09 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] measurement of abstract labor

I did not pitch the comments I made on the priorities of emergence at the
level of historical development, so I'm quite happy to accept your points.
I think there is a real contribution critical scientific realism can make
here.  If we study the real causal structures of things, that doesn't mean
we study their historical development.  So I can speak of causal priorities
without having to map that also as historical priority.  As an analogy, I
can study the way the lungs function in mammals and what their consequences
are for other parts of the body structure without studying the historical
evolution of lungs in mammals.  In fact there's a way in which being able to
do the latter depends on a good grasp of the former.

I think this explanation also responds to your point about "taking force
away" leading to the collapse of commodity production.  Without doubt this
is correct at the level of actual historical events.  But if I am pursuing
the simplest determinations in the sense of the "Method of Political
Economy" I can take force away by means of abstraction and uncover the
simpler determinations of the underlying relations of production and

This is broadly a fair enough point.
But in dealing with the inter-relationship between force and commodity
exchange, one has to be careful about the form of abstraction
one is proposing.

It is a matter of theoretical choice to abstract from force in
thinking of money rather than choosing to abstract from the use
of gold. In making the second choice one is going with the grain
of history, in making the former, one is not.


I'm interested in your point that I have portrayed state money as on a par
with private bills of exchange.  Can you give a fuller explanation of the
problem you see here?

There are several answers to this.

1. The state is not just another actor like a private individual in
   the market, it is only such, to the extent that the political
   influence of sections of the bourgeoisie pressurise it to act
   in such a limited manner.
2. Bills of exchange are promises to pay state legal tender, they
   thus presuppose state legal tender. The same can be said of
   bank accounts, credit cards etc. State money is only a promise
   in a very limited sense - that the state promises to accept it
   in payment of tax debts. But these tax debts are fundamentally
   different from the commercial debts that give rise to bills of
   exchange. In the latter case, we have a conservation of property
   between the two agents in the relation. Cotton spinner x gives
   up yarn to weaving company y in return for a promise of cash
   in 90 days, the value of x's property does not change as a result.

   When the state tells x that he must render to the exchequer
   5000 pounds by the 31st of December, there is a decrease in x's
   property as a result. It is not an exhange of equivalents. Thus
   a conceptual apparatus that attempts to deduce money from the
   exchange of equivalents misses out on the basic non-exchange
   relation that generates the circulation of money in the first

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri Jul 16 2004 - 00:00:01 EDT