Re: [OPE-L] question on the interpretation of labour values

Date: Wed Feb 21 2007 - 09:23:54 EST

I am happy to report that Ajit has returned to the list and has
offered a reply below to Ian W's post of 2/6. The conditions that
he is returning under are those specified in the Advisory Committee
Statement of 1/24, especially points 2, 3 and 5.

In solidarity, Jerry

> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: "Ian Wright" <wrighti@ACM.ORG>
> > Sent: Tuesday, February 06, 2007 6:48 PM
> > Subject: [OPE-L] question on the interpretation of
> labour values
> >
> >
> > > Hello all,
> > >
> > > I wonder if anyone on the list can help me. I'm
> puzzling over the
> > > causal interpretation of the definition of
> labour values in linear
> > > production theory.
> > >
> > > A standard interpretation is that labour values
> represent the total
> > > direct and indirect labour-time required to
> produce unit commodities.
> > > This is a replacement cost interpretation. The
> process of vertical
> > > integration reduces all the physical costs of
> producing unit
> > > commodities to labour alone.
> > >
> > > On the face of it, this interpretation seems
> reasonable. Yet there is
> > > no time period during which unit commodities are
> produced from labour
> > > alone. Commodities are always produced by means
> of labour and other
> > > commodities. So I do not think this
> interpretation can be causal.
> > >
> > > Are there other interpretations of the meaning
> of labour values that
> > > make more sense in the context of linear
> production theory?
> > >
> > > Thanks for any help,
> > > -Ian.
On Ian's problem:
First, we have to distinguish between use-value and
value. A proposition that claims that 'labor is the
sole cause of value' does not have to show that labor
alone produces use-value. Ricardo was well awre of the
fact that labor alone does not produce use-value. He
even accepted that value must in general diverge from
labor-values because of equalization of the rate of
profits but still wanted to maintain that labor was
the only cause of value by some how trying to show
that anychange in the price of a commodity can be
explained by change in its labor content. The idea was
to show that changes in value can only be caused by
labor alone--of course, Ricardo couldn't prove it. But
Marx in his own way is trying the same thing by
reducing all his analytical variables to solely labor
terms, which in turn must explain all the movements in
prices or values of commodities. In my
Sraffa-Wittgenstein paper I had briefly argued that
Sraffa-based critique of Marx's value theory actually
undercuts this aspect of his theory and is more
fundamental than a critique of the transformation
problem, but then the response to it was a stony
silence from the list! In any case Marx accused Adam
Smith for maintaining the proposition that at some
stage labor alone produces somethig--i.e. there was no
commodity residual. According to Marx this had to be
the case for his additive theory of value to be
meaningful. I'm not sympathetic to Marx's reading of
Smith on this point, but I think Sraffa is more
sympathetic. Keep in mind that if there is no
commodity residual, that is if commodity could be
produced solely by labor, then the maximum rate of
profits would become infinite. You must have a
commodity residual to have an upper bound on the
maximum rate of profits. Now I think I have confused
Ian more than he was before--but I have tried to
clarify a point in my own humdrum manner.

Thank you for asking me to come back to the list. I
don't mind it as long as the conditions under which I
am coming back is made clear to the list. My best for
the new year! ajit

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