Re: [OPE] Reply to critics - a bit of dialectics

From: Anders Ekeland <>
Date: Thu Oct 14 2010 - 05:03:42 EDT


I think both points of view are correct here. Because the "lazy" carpenter or the Indian hand weaver has a very concrete experience of how many hours he worked to produce the good/service and how much he/she expects those hours to "command", i.e. give of other goods in return.

When the soc.av.lab. time is reduced that affects his/her life very concretely - or a capitalist that bought capital or raw material to "old" prices - he/she will find himself squeezed by capitalists that did buy to the new prices.

For me a physicalist point of view is not only the very un-Marxian view that there is some physical substance "labour" embeded in the products, but the static viewpoint that at all times, in all models you can only have one labour value for one good, disregarding how much time it actually took to produce it. This type of static models are disregarding one of the most important sources of conflict in - and especially between - capitalist countries.

Whole industries get ruined, workers physically smash foreign goods, import tariffs, unequal exchange - very many phenomena can only be rationally explained using models where the same good has different labour values - to the producer/worker - not to "the market" (= the averaging process). But the producer/worker is an important social force ("actor").

The only place were this important discussion about how to treat identical (or very similar) goods with different labour content/values/labour embodied is in the controversy of using historical or current prices for capital goods. But it is a much more general - and "simultaneous" problem - so this debate between Kliman, Mosley et al. is not posing the question(s) right IMO.

Productive and unproductive labour is another question - but also where the point of view is important. From the capitalist point of view only profitable labour processes are productive (a steel worker, a writer, a nurse - does not matter).

But Paul Baran argued that un-productive labour is labour engaged in activities that a rational society would not have (most of finance, armed forces, most of advertising etc. etc.) - although some of these activities are productive = profitable today - although most of finance is just "rent seeking" to use the neo-classical term for unproductive fight over the social surplus.

Seeing the relationship between these different points of view would held in the classic and very interesting debate on productive and unproductive labour. There is a lot of waste (in the Baran sense) in a capitalist society, but it is seldom modeled in Marxian economics. If it is - it is often by labeling whole - clearly both profitable and necessary sectors (for the most part) like transport and wholesale and retail trade - "unproductive".

Anders Ekeland

This "averaging" process is indeed
> From: Dave Zachariah []
> Sent: 2010-10-14 09:13:31 MEST
> To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list []
> Subject: Re: [OPE] Reply to critics
> On 2010-10-14 00:28, Paula wrote:
> >> If labour productivity in the production
> >> of a good would rise, do you agree that the quantity of embodied labour
> >> in *already* produced goods would fall? Why so?
> > The particular amount of labor already embodied in goods can't possibly
> > fall, but the socially-average labor time needed to produce them can.
> So this terminological clarification was useful after all. This notion
> of labour 'embodied' does not correspond to Marx's theory. Recall that
> this was precisely my initial point: that his wording 'embodied' rather
> than, say, 'coexisting,' was problematic because it misleads some readers.
> //Dave Z
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Received on Thu Oct 14 05:09:25 2010

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