[OPE-L] Why aren't non-labourers sources of value? : was RE: [OPE-L] Enrique D. Dussel's writings online

From: Andrew Brown (A.Brown@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Thu Apr 07 2005 - 05:46:32 EDT

Ian, Rakesh and all, 

Ian, you mention my own PhD argument on why labour is substance of value and machines / animals aren't (the cheque is in the post, by the way). Though not wrong, the argument does not emphasise what I now take to be an important point (hence I have not yet submitted it for publication). This point speaks to both your own and Rakesh's posts. It speaks also to Ajit's recent question as to me as to why land isn't just as good as labour as the substance of value. The argument goes as follows. 

The difference between labour / labour-power and machine input / machine-power (or animal activity / animal-power) is that labour is productively creative whereas machines are not, and animals are strictly limited in this regard (the creative -- as opposed to innate -- production of tools by animals is more or less rudimentary, where it occurs at all). Hence it is the collective social choice (determination) of the qualitative types of labour, and of their quantitive proportions, that determines the realisation of the powers (potentials) of all other resources. The current means of production and labour-power, plus the current needs of society, act as *constraints* on the fundamental social determination of the qualitiative types of labour and the quantitive proportions of those types. These constraints themesleves being changed by labour through time. It follows that the fundamental cost to society of any product must be reckoned in the labour time socially necessary for its production, since it the allocation of this labour time that is the quantitative side of the fundamental process of labour determination to be socially decided upon. The whole story in elementary (neo-classical) economics of 'the economic problem' of allocation of labour, land and means of production fails to recognise that the quality and quantity of labour is not given to society at any point of time, but must be determined, and that this collective determination of labour gives rise to the realisation of the potentials inherent in all other productive inputs, hence the proportionate allocation of those realised potentials. It thereby fails to recognise that labour time is the sole quantitative unit of social cost. In this it reflects the illusory outward appearances of capitalism (appearances that give rise to the trinity formula).

Of course, it is only within capitalism that the quantitative side of the process perversely takes leave of, and dominates, the qualitative side, through the form of the exchange value of the product. 

Finally, it should be noted that all this is terribly abstract: (1) in any *class* society the determination of labour turns out to be the determination of exploitation; (2) in capitalism, the abstract labour substance turns out to but an aspect of capital, involving the specific form of exploitation entailed in surplus value.

Many thanks,


P.S. Ian, if robots one day became able to creatively produce to the extent of humans, then they would have become labourers, with social relations of production, and labour time would retain its relevance.

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