Re: [OPE-L] Mike L's Deutscher Prize lecture

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Tue Sep 12 2006 - 08:49:02 EDT

Dear Ajit,
         I hope you will go back and read that 
essay more carefully. I think you brought to your 
reading something that is not there. Rather than 
a productivity theory of wages, the focus is upon 
class struggle and how that is obscured by the 
assumption that real wages are given for a given 
period: 'The removal of the assumption of a given 
standard of necessity and the articulation of the 
variable X, the degree of separation among 
workers, in short, clearly bring class struggle 
to centre stage in the discussion of the 
development of capitalism.' In particular, my 
point was that the story told in Vol. I, Ch. 12 
about relative surplus value disintegrates once 
you remove  the (classical) assumption of given 
real wages, which (as in the case of Ricardo) 
focuses attention upon the effect of productivity 
change upon necessary labour--- meaning that 'the 
only change in the wage to be considered is that 
which results from changes in the conditions of 
production of the commodities consumed by workers.'
         I hope this helps.

At 07:01 12/09/2006, you wrote:
>Thanks Mike for sending me your Deutscher Prize
>lecture. I read it with great interest and think that
>there is a lot of food for thought in it. However, I
>think there is a serious theoretical problem at its
>core. Let me explain:
>Your idea revolves around your hypothesis: “What,
>then, determines the course of real wages? We can
>represent the course of real wages as a function of
>the relation of productivity to the degree of
>separation (q/X).”
>  But you cannot work out the course
>of real wages without having a theory of real wages,
>i.e. a theory of real wages that tells you why real
>wages are so much at any given point of time. Let me
>explain further: Let us keep X constant, then your
>hypothesis argues that real wages, say w (t+1) =
>aw(t), where a represents the proportional change (a
>factor > or < than 1) in q from time t to (t+1). Now,
>the question would be: how w(t) was determined?
>According to the above hypothesis: w(t) must be equal
>to aw(t-1). And this way, you can go back to Adam. The
>point is that, if you argue that real wages change
>BECAUSE OF or DUE TO changes in the productivity of
>labor, then you are in effect making a claim that REAL
>this was not part of the theory of wages of classical
>economics, and Marx definitely did not want to make
>any such theoretical proposition. Without going into
>what I think Marx was doing—and all that is in
>CAPITAL, let me argue that your hypothesis: w = f(q/X)
>cannot yet give us a theory of wages as the dimension
>of q/X will not give you the dimension of real wages.
>I think the neoclassical economics was the first to
>develop a theory of wages that directly relates real
>wages to labor productivity, and your suggestion
>appears to me to be a slippery slope towards that
>As a matter of fact, at one place, in a sort of
>Freudian slip, you yourself bring out the basic
>problem with your hypothesis. You argue, “The answer,
>simply, is that a rise in the X-factor is essential
>for the growth of relative surplus value because, if
>capital benefits immediately from productivity gains,
>the question would remain as to why the worker is not
>successful in capturing these benefits when he
>‘measures his demands against the capitalist’s profit
>and demands a certain share of the surplus value
>created by him.’” But if workers could demand a share
>in the increase of the surplus value, why couldn’t
>they demand a share in the surplus value even before
>the rise in the productivity. The surplus value was
>produced in time t as well, so by the same logic why
>didn’t the workers demand a share of the surplus in
>the first place? Why were they content with the
>necessary labor in the first place? Is it because the
>necessary labor is determined by labor productivity?
>If not, then what is the basis of the above argument?
>You need a theory of wages that relates real wages to
>labor productivity to make your argument. But this is
>more neoclassical than Marx. There could be a Sraffian
>way out, but I will leave that out for the moment.
>But, of course, one can argue that the theory of wages
>in Marx is not sufficient or a good guide to
>understanding wage determination in modern capitalist
>economies and that we need to develop an alternative
>theory of wages. Now, I do think that you put this
>question on agenda and it is worth pondering about.
>But this has nothing to do with an interpretation of
>Marx’s theory of wages or his supposed book on
>wage-labor. I seriously doubt that Marx would have
>developed a productivity based theory of wages even if
>he wrote a book on wage-labor. I hope this was
>helpful. Cheers, ajit sinha
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Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
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(58-212) 573-4111
fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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