Re: [OPE-L] Complex ... and the French edition of capital

From: ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Tue Jun 12 2007 - 08:15:31 EDT

The issue is not whether abstract labor is difficult to measure.  A
socialist society could for instance decide that there should be no
property income, only wages, that education should be free, that all
jobs should be a fair mixture between rote manual tasks and
interesting uplifting intellectual tasks, and that all labor should be
rewarded equally per hour -- perhaps with small gradations between
workers who put their everything into their jobs and others who see
their jobs as a chore which has to be endured and who place their
energies outside their jobs.  This scheme, which is Paul and Allin's
scheme of socialism as I understand it, would be a very simple way of
measuring abstract labor.  Exactly because of this simplicity it could
serve as the basis, I think, of a beautiful egalitarian society.  By
the way, if this is the mode how people get paid, this does not mean
that abstract labor must be the main category regulating production;
nowadays this main criterion for production must be planetary

The issue is also not whether Einstein's theory of relativity or
Beethoven's Seventh are the materializations of abstract labor.
Nobody would think this is a relevant abstraction.  Einstein and
Mozart would have a decent life in this society, they will have enough
to eat but the also will have to clean up after themselves like
everybody else, and their need to consume would not get in the way of
the contribution of their extraordinary talents for the benefit of

But in a commodity society, in which economic relations are channeled
through a one-dimensional value-property of things, the above two
non-issues suddenly become issues.  In such a society, Beethoven's
Seventh (or the Beatle's Hey Jude) are commodities and are equated to
tomatoes or massages, and in addition labor is the main category
dominating production.  This works because the overwhelming majority
of all labor-power needed in a society is indeed roughly equal, and
the focus on abstract labor has spawned incredible increases in labor
productivity -- with the unfortunate side effect that it threatens to
destroy the planet.  But there are some slippages in the way how truly
exceptional labor-power can be fitted into this scheme.  Here my claim
is that the economic system as a whole simply doesn't care.  Somehow
qualitative differences between labors must be reduced to quantitative
differences, because market valuation can only handle quantitative
differences, but the modalities are accidental.  Most Einsteins will
be underpaid, and some Einsteins will be overpaid, and society as a
whole suffers because this aspect of social regulation is somewhat
haphazard.  But overall the system limps along.  The damage done by
using labor as the exclusive criterion for production, and by the
separation of the workers from the means of production and capitalist
exploitation, is much greater than the waste and damage done by not
dealing very well with the small percentage of all labor-power which
is qualitatively different and therefore cannot be properly allocated
by a market system.

This is why Marx waves his hands about the reduction problem, and why
Marxist attempts to "solve" the reduction problem are misguided.
Attempts to precisely measure all abstract labor in a society must be
equated to attempts to precisely add apples and oranges, or attempts
to invent a perpetuum mobile: however hard one may try, it is not
possible and it cannot be possible.  But rough measures, as that
proposed by Paul C, should do a reasonable job, and that is all an
economist has to do, because capitalist society itself also applies
only a rough measure to abstract labor.


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