RE: [ox-en] Re: Role of markets
- From: "Paul Cockshott" <wpc dcs.gla.ac.uk>
- Date: Wed, 13 Aug 2008 22:58:02 +0100
[Converted from multipart/alternative]
Why does labour have to be the measure?
This reproduces the world of job divided from life, of abstract labour.
At most I can hunt in the morning and criticize in the evening, but only
as long as someone is there with a stop watch to measure what I do. I
understand people who believe that 'communism has been proved to be
impractical', but this particular solution - which would itself require
a revolution to achieve, so it doesn't have the merit of being
especially practical - solves none of the current ecological problems;
whether you try to minimize or maximize labour values, ecological
questions are simply an add-on, just as they are in the capitalist
economy (and visibly were in previously existing socialism).
The idea of labour being the measure of value has a long pedigree, going
back to classical political economy, and there is now a large body
of econometric literature which indicates that exchange value in
a capitalist economy does correlate very closely with labour values.
Studies typically get correlation coefficients of above 95%
between labour content and exchange value of commodity types.
Smith explained why this is when he said that labour was the original
currency with which we purchase our wants and necessities from nature.
The idea of labour being the basis of distribution is classic communism,
originating with Owen, and being elaborated by Marx in the Critique of
the Gotha programme. Its objective is to eliminate the exploitation
of worker by employer not to solve ecological problems.
A secondary justification given by Marx, is that calculation of
costs in labour rather than as wage costs accelerates technical progress.
Since wages represent only part of the labour expended, capitalism
impedes technical progress, only employing machinery if it saves wages
rather than saves labour. The cut off point for capitalist investment
in labour saving machinery is about half what it should be, as wages
are typically only about 50% of labour performed.
You are right that ecological problems can not be solved by the minimisation
or maximisation of any single scalar quantity. The idea of minimising
labour input is to increase leisure and to achieve the best output for
the minimum effort.
Ecology can not be dealt with using cost calculation -- ie, calculation
in money or time. Ecological constraints are not a scalar.
However it is possible in a planned economy to enter ecological constraints
as a set of additional linear constraints, and then solve the plan using
some form of linear programming using simplex or interior point methods.
If one were just going to solve for labour values one has only a system
of linear equations rather than a system of linear inequalities. However
the complexity of planning in both cases is quite tractable to modern
I have a tutorial paper showing how you can use Kantorovich's method to solve
for environmental constraints in energy production on my web page
It also doesn't help in trying to analyze free software and similar
production, or in working out how to generalize it - one thing I'm quite
sure of is that as soon as you try to measure the labour time used in
communal free software production (the Stefans' 'triply free
production'), that production stops dead.
The labour used in communal free software is part of the social surplus
labour. It is only possible for it to be produced insofar as there are
people who are either able to put time into it because they are
in an academic environment where they have surplus paid time, or
because the advance of technology has reduced the working week
sufficiently that people have time after paid work to do it.
As I said in an earlier post, goods whose marginal costs of reproduction
tends to zero fall into one of the categories for which even indicative
markets are not appropriate.
I specified that I thought that the role of a consumer goods market was limited to
those goods whose labour of reproduction remained considerable, and
for which no objective assesment of need can be arrived at.
Where either of these criteria are absent, a market is not appropriate.
Information goods -- scientific laws, mathematical theorems, software,
electronic copies of music, etc should be distributed freely.
Goods that require substantial labour input but for which need can
be objectively assesed, should be free but not ad libitum, distribution
has to be rationed on the basis of need: examples would be surgery,
speech therapy, communal childcare etc.
Contact: projekt oekonux.de