measurement of abstract labor

From: Hans G. Ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Tue Jul 20 2004 - 09:02:23 EDT

Howard wrote:

> Where the social relation that
> generates the product as a commodity exists, then the product of labor is
> constituted by value, and value, which is not presented empirically like
> texture or other physical qualities, must find a vehicle for its expression.

I agree with much in this formulation, but I think it is
also a little problematic, because it suggests that first
the social relations which generate the product as a
commodity exist, and then value must find a vehicle for its
expression.  This is not the right causal order of things.
Rather, the expression of the value is a condition of the
very existence of the commodity relations.

Let me explain.  The social relations that generate the
product as a commodity can only exist if the producers
produce their products as commodities.  I.e., they do not
produce things for their own use, or for the use of others
with whom they share resources, but they deposit abstract
labor into their products and then use the market to convert
this abstract labor into something they can use.  Now
practical individual activity can only achieve this if there
is a vehicle which allows the producer to access the
abstract labor in his or her product.  Or, as Marx put it,
the commodity needs, in addition to its bodily form, also a
value form.  Any exchange is such an expression of the value
of the product, but individual product barters are not
uniform enough to generate market signals that can be
understood by the producers (these are the famous "defects"
of the Simple and Expanded forms of value).  Only if these
surface relations have taken the form of monetary relations
are the producers truly enabled to treat their labors as
equal abstract labor, because now they can access the
abstract labor in their products by simply selling these
products, and the prices which these things fetch on the
market are reliable guidelines telling them how they should
allocate their private labors.

Money is therefore a surface relation which enables the
private producers to equalize their labors and produce their
products as commodities.  Money does not need always and
everywhere to be a commodity for this.  While the US has
world hegemony, the dollar, which maintains its exchange
value due to the monetary policies of the Fed, and which
owes its acceptance to the military might of the US, is a
feasible compass allowing private producers everywhere in
the world to produce their products as commodities.
Stability is an important prerequisite for this role as a
compass, and therefore I consider the recent fluctuations in
the exchange rate of the dollar a serious threat to the role
of the dollar as world reserve currency.  In fact, nobody
knows how long US hegemony will last in its present form,
that is why many central banks maintain part of their
reserves in gold, just in case.

Hans G. Ehrbar.

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