Re: [OPE] value and measuring labor time

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Thu May 14 2009 - 11:04:04 EDT

Hi Ian

Thanks for the questions.

1. Who is we? The 'we' here would refer to members of a community engaged
in the transition to socialism trying to work out a social and economic
calculation. On the list we say 'in solidarity' - that kind of we, all the
people targeted and also the people whose interests the in solidarity folks
work to promote. The Chinese used to say consider in all you do whether it
promotes world revolution. Have I missed the point of your question?

2. Why try to measure objectively? For the same reason Robinson Crusoe
kept accounts - you have to allocate labor to need. Society does this now
by means of value and prices. You want to calculate instead directly in
terms of socially useful effects - physical and otherwise. Consider health
demographics, for example. Priorities can often be quantified as a guide to
choice without the reductionist idea that numbers and the experts who care
for them will solve everything.

3. Voting. The fundamental challenge 'we' face is figuring out how to take
actual democratic control over 'our' common wealth. I mentioned
externalities. Dealing with them requires breaking down the boundaries
between the enterprise and the community. Money voting doesn't address
that. Anyway, real deliberative decisions will want to be as informed as
possible about the socially useful effects, including the ramifications of
decisions that have historically been ignored by monetary calculations.

4. Content and form. I'll respond to this when I get a chance to comment on
Paul and Allin's Bettelheim excerpt from the link Paul posted. I'm not so
sure I follow the argument about the abstract labor and the difficulty of
its negation. We talk here of course about matters that will evolve over a
long historical period; everything is difficult. But, given that, the
principle of from each according to ability, to each according to need, is
as concrete as can be. Isn't that a negation of abstract labor?

5. Explicit design requirements for post capitalist societies. I'm not one
of those who think that what holds us back are good designs for the future.
Dreams can powerfully critique the present, but when it comes to design, I
think these arise out of concrete problems that activists confront. Theory
can guide by the clarity with which the causal structures of the present are
identified and the clarity with which the implications for transformation
are worked out. That is, if we know what it is we mean to transform and
what the real possibilities of transformation are, ie the directions we
intend, then we can measure proposals as tending to reproduce or transform
what exists. This is your question about money. We won't abolish money
the day after the revolution, but a social and economic calculation can help
us price in a way that will increasingly curtail production based on
exchange value. And importantly suggest the steps beyond pricing we need to
take to transform the social relations that account for the persistence of
production based on exchange value.


howard engelskirchen
----- Original Message -----
From: "Ian Wright" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 12:33 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE] value and measuring labor time

Hi Howard

> Metrics compare. Suppose two socially useful effects, material or not. In
> deciding which was worth more socially, what would we take into account?

Who is the "we" here?

> Some measure of the quantity of individual effort allocated for sure, some
> measure of the degree to which either product would advance disposable
> time
> for individual community members, some measure of the degree to which
> either would advance the richness of community connections, some measure
> of
> the degree to which either would contribute to the full development of
> individual members of the community, some measure of the development of
> individual's social productive power.

Why try to "objectively" measure use-value at all?

Why not be content to let the community operationally manifest their
own (personal) measures of what they believe to be useful or not
through some kind of voting mechanism? The kinds of considerations you
raise (e.g., raising of culture, increase in free time etc.) can be
part of the debate prior to voting, but no attempt is made to settle
on metrics of such (immeasurable?) qualities.

For example (and I hesitate to bring this up given the normal
apologetic use it is put to) people already vote with their money.
They implicitly decide how useful things are in terms of how much of
their own labor-time they are willing to exchange for that thing.

Underlying my comments is my philosophical bias that a necessary
connection holds between content and form, i.e. the Marxist tradition
follows Hegel not Kant in this respect. Money, therefore, cannot
merely be an irrational form but expresses an actual quality of its
content, abstract labor, which cannot be simply negated. We need to
understand what aspects of our species-being the money-form
necessarily expresses and therefore needs preserving. Especially so
given the long and intimate connection between material and social
progress and money and markets.

I also think that the best way to make progress with these issues is
through explicit requirements and designs for post-capitalist
societies, otherwise it is easy to get lost in generalities.

Best wishes,

P.S. Thanks for the Grundrisse quotes. A good reminder of Marx's
amazingly deep and profound reflections on where we are going.
ope mailing list

ope mailing list
Received on Thu May 14 11:10:07 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun May 31 2009 - 00:00:03 EDT