Re: [OPE-L] SV: [OPE-L] what is irrational in the functioning of capitalism?

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Nov 29 2006 - 08:58:37 EST

Ajit wrote
Ian, I think you have missed the point. So let me try
to get at it another way. Now, the idea of labor
displacing technical change plays an important role in
Marx's theory (Ricardo had already acknowledged in the
3rd edition of the Principles that at least logically,
if not empirically, machine can displace labor in
aggregate terms). Now, follow Marx's logic to the
extreme. Allow technical change to continuously
displace labor to the extent that the live labor's
role in the production process becomes negligible. At
this limiting case, if you apply Marx's exercise then
either you have to argue that the value of all the
commodities must tend to zero and the rate of surplus
value must tend to infinity; or that the rate of
profits must tend to zero. Now, Marx's or many
Marxists position could be that of course the rate of
profits must tend to zero because the case represents
the c/v tending to infinity. But the problem with this
answer is that Profit = S/(C+V) is the wrong formula
for the rate of profits. What I'm asking is: can you
logically claim that when V tends to zero, then the
physical surplus of the system must also tend to zero?
If not, then it can be easily shown that this limiting
system will have well defined prices of commodities
along with positive and equal rate of profits.


Ajit, the rise in C relative to V is predicated on them
Both being measured in terms of labour value. 

Suppose we take a pure circulating capital model, what does this rise in
C relative to V entail?

Can we measure it using any non-labour based unit of value?

In a purely circulating capital system of i.o equations the implication
of C rising relative to V, is that the net product available for
distribution is declining ( leaving aside variations in the wage share
). This would entail a decline in the ratio of net product to gross
product, and so would involve a decline in the rate of profit whatever
input was used as the standard of value.

So you can measure an analogue of the organic composition of capital
without relying on the labour theory of value, and the conclusions are
the same as if you use labour values with respect to the fall in the
rate of profit.

But this rise in C relative to V is not conceptually the same thing as
your original question about what would happen if robots replaced
humans. For this to happen you would need robots in the original sense
of Capeks play.
They would have to be 'universal robots' thus 'universal workers', which
is exactly what humans are today. Capek envisaged robots in human form
who could substitute for any human job. 

Whilst this is far beyond current engineering practice, it is not
in-principle impossible that it could be done some time in the future.
The issue then would be whether the production process of producing
these robots was cheaper than human reproduction and education. Were
that to be the case then capitalists would fire humans and hire robots
as depicted in the play.

But the standard of value would now become robot labour time not human
labour time, and the human proletariat would be reduced to a plebian
mass surviving on a dole produced by the surplus labour of the robots.
But as every novelist who toys with the idea points out, the robots
themselves will, if they are perfect human substitutes, tend to rebel.

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