Re: [OPE-L] Abstraction

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Jun 13 2007 - 05:12:24 EDT


Marx says that commodities are commensurate in the market, but there is no way to
get behind the market to get a handle on the abstract labor measures.  How many
hours of abstract labor does a surgeon represent.  Can 20 or 50 unskilled labor
perform the same procedure? 

Paul C

I think Hilferdings approach does give a handle on this.

Suppose the National Health Service wants to increase the output of knee operations,
and suppose ( unlike what happened a couple of years ago ) that it can not rely
upon bringing in Surgeons from other countries to do it.

The knee operations require the input of surgical staff - not just the surgeon
but a whole team of personnel.  The operations also involve materials - gas,
dressings, sterile instruments. To maintain all of this requires the expenditure
of past labour and present labour. The present labour is simply the time of
the team, the past labour involves the time to prepare the materials, plus
the time taken - over and above normal education - that the team have to spend
aquiring the skills.

Thus manpower planning is required if the number of operations is to be
increased - new medical school buildings have to be opened up, additional
training staff hired etc.

Currently all of this is costed in  but this is just a historically specific
feature - because this directly social need is being met by the NHS within the
context of a capitalist economy. In a fully socialised economy one could calculate
it all in labour time not money - the labour time spent training, the labour time
required to build the medical schools etc.

What one has to do is look at the total direct and indirect social time that has to
be allocated to ensure that the operations can take place. 

The idea that it is some special property of the labour of surgeons that creates
additional value is fetishism - a projection of this larger social division of labour
onto the activity of one individual.

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