Week in review – politics edition - by Judith Curry A few things that caught my eye this past week. You Ought to Have a Look: Platform Planks on Energy and the Environment [link] How Both Par...
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Value is measured by the quantity of human labour added to the commodity. If productivity increases due to improved technology then the value or cost of the product should decline proportionately. eg. Power looms in England in Marx's time doubled productivity and so the cost of cloth produced by yarn should have halved.From this presentation strategy by Marx in the first part of Capital Chapter one it can too easily and incorrectly be interpreted that Value is defined as embedded abstract human labour and that the whole point of value theory is mathematical quantification.
Marx talks about materialized or crystallized or embedded or congealed or abstract human labour adding value to a commodity.
“No scientist to date has yet discovered what natural qualities make definite proportions of snuff, tobacco and paintings 'equivalents' of one another”In time the social forms become more than the expression but the bearers, the motivators, the dominant consideration in the decisions people make in their lives. This is fairly obvious, in the case of money, for instance.
- Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Ch. 20, p. 130
“... is as if alongside and external to lions, tigers, rabbits and all other actual animals, which form grouped together the various kinds, species, subspecies, families etc. of the animal kingdom, there existed also in addition the animal, the individual incarnation of the entire animal kingdom”Money is real enough. But at the same time as being real it is an absurd social construct.
“A social relation of production appears as something existing apart from individual human beings, and the distinctive relations into which they enter in the course of production in society appear as the specific properties of a thing – it is this perverted appearance, this prosaically real, and by no means imaginary, mystification that is characteristic of all social forms of labour positing exchange value. This perverted appearance manifests itself merely in a more striking manner in money than it does in commodities”
- Contribution, p. 49
“Marx analyses value in terms of its form, substance and magnitude. “The decisive, crucial point consists of revealing the necessary internal connection between the form, substance and magnitude of value” (Capital Volume one, first edition). The connection between these three aspects was hidden from the eyes of the analyst because Marx analysed them separately from each other. In the first German edition of Capital, Marx pointed out several times that the subject was the analysis of various aspects of one and the same object: value. “Now we know the substance of value. It is labour. We know the measure of its magnitude. It is labour time. What still remains is its form, which transforms value into exchange-value.” … In the second edition of Volume one of Capital these sentences were excluded, but the first chapter is divided into sections with separate headings: the heading of the first section say, “Substance of Value and Magnitude of Value”; the third section is titled: “Form of Value or Exchange-value.” As for the second section, which is devoted to the two fold character of labour, it is only a supplement to the first section, ie. To the theory of the substance of value”So, according to Rubin, the value of a commodity is:
- Ch 12, Content and Form of Value p. 112, in Essays on Marx's Theory of Value by Isaak Rubin
“Although we originate as part of nature, with our social labour we oppose nature. Our productivity is also imaginative. We imaginatively and self consciously transform nature and in that process also transform ourselves. This is a teleological process. Humans imagine new forms of the material and self and then through social labour bring that imagination into reality”Or in Marx's words:
“Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops his slumbering powers and compels them to act in obedience to his sway. We are not now dealing with those primitive instinctive forms of labour that remind us of the mere animal. An immeasurable interval of time separates the state of things in which a man brings his labour-power to market for sale as a commodity, from that state in which human labour was still in its first instinctive stage. We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be.”Labour is fluidity which in any society has to be socially 'fixed' or objectified in the production of particular goods. Human labour, unlike animals instinct, is indeterminate. With industrialisation the fluidity of labour is more apparent – jobs are not completely determined by tradition, religion, family ties etc. - individuals do frequently change jobs, etc.
- Capital, vol 1, Ch 7
In all of these cases value is a good thing and the more value there is the betterBut now I am pointing out that as technological productivity increases then the value of the manufactured products decreases. That experience is part of popular consciousness. We all know that we possess more products than our parents generation. We possess them because we can afford them since comparable items are cheaper relative to our wages than they used to be. But does the concept of declining value universally enter the popular consciousness?
7) Commodities are cheaper for my generation than previous generations. We’ve never had it so good!There may be some awareness of this truth but it is not general folk wisdom. Why not?
8 ) There are a wealth of ideas in the mind of that intellectualIf you substitute wealth for value in my original sentences it doesn’t work out. You wouldn’t say:
9) James Packer is wealthy (aka filthy rich)
10) Capitalism increases the wealth of society but that wealth is distributed unevenly
1′) Tom is good wealth, ask him to do the jobThis is because value means more than the finished product or money. It also means or implies productive labour. Wealth doesn’t fit in those sentences because it usually refers more to the end product or the market value of the end product than the productive labour required to obtain that product.
2′) That car is good wealth for money
5′) The role of a teacher is to add wealth to their students
but you could say:
4′) Steve Jobs adds wealth to Apple shares
“Labour is … not the only source of material wealth, ie of the use-values it produces. As William Petty says, labour is the father of material wealth, the earth is its mother.” (Marx, vol 1)Wealth is the sum of all use values, which are concrete and particular. Wealth originates in both nature and labour. This applies to any society. Value is a creature of capitalism or a society where commodities are exchanged in the market place and display their exchange-value there.
1) Tom is good quality, ask him to do the jobFor most of them you could substitute the word quality for the word value. It is only in sentence (3) that this substitution does not work. This is because the phenomenon of gold increasing in value during economic recession requires a detailed economic theory to explain it. Even though the sentence is part of folk usage the explanation of that sentence is not.
2) That car is good quality for money
3) Gold increases in quality during economic recessions
4) Steve Jobs adds quality to Apple shares
5) The role of a teacher is to add quality to their students
6) It was a quality experience to attend that Noel Pearson lecture
2) That car is good value for moneyIn folk terms the value suitcase is much broader than money and encompasses usefulness, creativity and experiences as well.
4) Steve Jobs adds value to Apple shares
"Capital is a tough nut to crack, opined Ignacy Daszyński, one of the best known socialist "people's tribunes" around the turn of the 20th century, but anyhow he had not read it. But, he said, Karl Kautsky had read it, and written a popular summary of the first volume. He hadn't read this either, but Kazimierz Kelles-Krauz, the party theoretician, had read Kautsky's pamphlet and summarised it. He also had not read Kelles-Krauz's text, but the financial expert of the party, Hermann Diamand, had read it and had told him, i.e. Daszynski, everything about it"Marx's critique of political economy is old knowledge, forbidden or marginalised knowledge and difficult to understand knowledge. Because it was written 150 years ago many think it is no longer relevant. Because communism is believed to have been tried and found wanting many who want change think it could not provide the answers we want. Because Marxism is an insignificant part of mainstream education and in particular often not taught in the economics faculty then it is only going to be accessed by those who think outside of the mainstream. Finally, the many volumes of Capital are difficult to understand for a variety of reasons.
“Because the worker has no property in the means of production his labour-power is excluded from the instrument and object of production owned by another; his labour realizes itself therefore only through the wage-contract whereby it is alienated to the master and works in his behalf.”Marx discusses the nature of alienated work under capitalism, from a four fold perspective:(1) alienation from the products of labour; (2) alienation from his own labour; (3) alienation from fellow men and (4) alienation from his own species.
“The labourer treats his labour as a commodity; as a consequence he has no interest in the work itself but only in the wage; labour does not belong to itself but to private property.”It is true that most people are driven to work to earn money. However, given Marx's general attitude to the central importance of work (aka labour, activity) in human development it is strange that he asserts that the worker has no interest in the work itself
“... the worker ... executes plans he does not form; he objectifies himself in his product only to have it taken from him”This is correct for most factory work and low skill jobs but when it comes to the knowledge industry (eg. engineers, computer programmers, some aspects of teaching) the workers are significantly involved in the planning
“he produces palaces but lives in hovels; his labour creates beauty but deforms himself ...”Today, many workers live in nice homes. Home ownership is a problematic aspiration of the capitalist system. Nice if you can get it but it is going to take a significant proportion of your working life to attain it.
“ … the more intelligence is embodied in the design of the factory system the more machine-like and stupefying the routine of work, so much so that the labourer faces machinery as a competitor for his place”It is true that the dead labour in machines (aka fixed capital) progressively replaces living labour. This is part of the evolutionary dynamic of capitalism. Marx anticipated this, see this passage from the Grundrisse (1857-61) [“The development of fixed capital indicates to what degree general social knowledge has become a direct force of production, and to what degree, hence, the conditions of the process of social life itself have come under the control of the general intellect and been transformed in accordance with it” source]. The intelligence also becomes part of the skilled workforce (managers, scientists, engineers, computer programmers). It remains a living thing, not just embodied in the design of the factory system.
“at work he does not feel at home; he feels himself only when he is not working; his work is not voluntary therefore, but is forced labour; in it the worker belongs not to himself but to another”Many workers will testify that they would rather be at home than at work but nevertheless many workers also feel that being at work broadens and enriches them in significant ways.
“(Marx) ... speaks of nature as 'man's inorganic body' and says that 'he must maintain a continuing dialogue with it if he is not to die ... for man is a part of nature'. On the other hand, he says that 'it is in his fashioning of the objective world that man really proves himself; through such productive activity 'nature appears as his work and his reality . . . and he can therefore contemplate himself in a world he himself created'; this process is characterized as 'objectification' (Vergegenständlichung) ...The word mediation is used in the sense of an extended process between man and nature which determines the nature of change of man and society. Contrast mediation with immediate. The view that man is in some sort of passive, contemplative relationship with nature or, the opposite view that man can somehow overthrow nature both suggest an immediate, short term connection rather than a mutually transforming mediation. Rather, man transforms nature, a process which requires both struggle and unity, and in the process transforms himself.
(objectification means the making of a product or object)
In truth, man is neither passively dependent upon nature, nor is he able to create his world from nothing. It is rather the case that through industry, productive activity, a dynamic relationship between man and nature is established in which both poles are transformed ...”
“... in the present economic conditions we find that productive activity itself is mediated through the division of labour, private property, exchange, wages, in sum a system of estrangement in which productive activity loses itself and falls under the sway of an alien power. Istávan Mészáros has termed this 'a set of second-order mediations . . . i.e. a historically specific mediation of the ontologically fundamental self-mediation of man with nature” (emphasis added)