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

From: ajit sinha (sinha_a99@YAHOO.COM)
Date: Tue Sep 12 2006 - 10:21:00 EDT

--- "michael a. lebowitz" <mlebowit@SFU.CA> wrote:

> 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.
>                  sincerely,
>                  michael
Dear Mike, your hypothesis that the course of real
wages is a function of (q/X) does lead to a
productivity based theory of wages. But I'm aware that
you intend to develop a 'class-struggle' based theory
of wages. On this front, I think the way out is to
drop the above hypothesis and embrace the Sraffian
position. In this context you declare the total net
output as 'surplus' and argue that the rate of profits
is a resultant of class struggle or relative class
strength. In this context we look at the determination
of the rate of profits or wages as simply a question
of the division of the net output produced. But in
Marx's context 'surplus' is defined as 'net output
minus real wages'. Thus wages have to be taken as
given prior to determining the 'surplus'. I would
suggest you to read Sraffa carefully, particularly
chapter 5, and you will find all the inspiration and
theoretical directions you are looking for. But, in my
opinion, you will have to think in terms of
determination of the rate of profits or wages at any
given point in time first before thinking in terms if
their course in the face of changing productivity or
whatever and also I think you will need to drop your
q/X hypothesis. I hope it was helpful. ajit
> 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
> >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
> >theory.
> >
> >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
> Residencias Anauco Suites
> Departamento 601
> Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
> Caracas, Venezuela
> (58-212) 573-4111
> fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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