Law of Value 6: Socially Necessary Labor Time

Socially Necessary Labor Time

This video is part of an ongoing series: The Law of Value

part one:

part two:

Alone on his tropical island Robinson Crusoe can take as long as he wants to build a cabin for himself. It’s up to him. We don’t have that luxury when we produce for market exchange. When Wonder Bread makes bread they are competing in the market against Pepperidge Farm, Arnold and White Rose. If their workers are less productive, if they take longer to make bread, that doesn’t mean they can sell their bread for more money. The social value of bread is not set by individuals but by the average amount of time it takes to produce bread. This is called the “Socially Necessary Labor Time”. (SNLT)

In neo-classical economic theory there are all sorts of concepts that, though mathematically elegant on paper, have very little descriptive power in the real world. When was a capitalist society ever in General Equilibrium? When was there ever Pareto Optimality? When did consumers ever measure their desires in utils?

SNLT is not like that. SNLT is something very real that we can observe at work everyday. The private labor that goes on behind factory doors will not know for sure what its social value is until the products of that labor enter the market to be compared to the products of other workers. In the market these private labors become social. Socially necessary labor time is asserted. This SNLT then acts back upon production. It disciplines what goes on in the factory. Factories that were spending more labor than was socially necessary are considered inefficient. They must change their production methods or else go out of business. Factories that were producing under the socially necessary time, that were more efficient than average, are rewarded.

Let’s say that the average television takes 1 hour to make. 1 hour is the SNLT for televisions. But the owner of the ACME TV factory invests in some fancy new machines that make his workers twice as productive. They can now make a television in 30 minutes. They are producing way below the SNLT. This allows ACME to produce twice as many televisions in the same amount of time.

Now if ACME sold their new TV at half the old price they wouldn’t make any more money than before and there would have been no point in investing in all that new stuff. Rather than sell them at their individual value (30 minutes) they continue to sell them at the SNLT (1 hour), or perhaps just under the SNLT in order to out-sell their rivals. Because the price of TVs hasn’t changed significantly there is still the same demand from consumers for TVs, but now there is a giant surplus of TVs on the market because ACME has been making twice as many TVs. ACME’s rivals won’t be able to sell all of their TVs. Part of their product will go unsold. Meanwhile ACME will sell most of their TVs at the SNLT, making not just their normal profit, but an additional “super-profit” because they sold their TVs above their individual values by selling at or near the SNLT.

Profit vs. super-profit

Profit comes from exploiting workers. The only way to turn money into more money is to invest it in workers, or to be precise, in labor power, the only commodity which can produce more value than it costs. (This is all covered in the video “Law of Value 5: Contradictions”.) When ACME sells TVs at under the SNLT they don’t just reap their normal profits from exploiting workers. They also get super-profits: profit appropriated in exchange because their TVs are made at under the SNLT.

It is this race for super-profits that drives much of the technological dynamism of a capitalist society as capitalists compete to constantly lower SNLT. By doing so capitalists don’t just exploit value from workers. They also appropriate value in exchange.

Physical vs. Value Productivity

A superficial look at the ACME TV factory might give one the impression that ACME is making more profit because they are creating more value. But this is not the case. The same amount of workers are doing the same amount of work as before. The same amount of labor time is being performed, spread out over a greater number of commodities. Thus the amount of value they create is not increasing merely because the physical output is increasing. It is extremely important to understand this difference between physical productivity and value productivity. As it becomes easier to make TVs their prices fall. Thus, just because we can make more of something doesn’t mean we have created more value. If other firms were to adopt technology similar to ACME’s we would see the SNLT of TVs fall to half of its former value and ACME’s super-profits would disappear.

Appropriating Value in Exchange

What does it mean to say that ACME makes a super-profit by appropriating value in exchange? If you trade one commodity for another of greater value then you have appropriated value in exchange. There are lots of ways this might happen. One of these ways of appropriating value is to produce a product at less than the SNLT but to sell it at the SNLT. Thus we get back more in exchange than we put into exchange. But where does this appropriated value come from?

At first glance it appears to come from the consumers that buy the commodities. But these consumers are buying a commodity at its value, at the SNLT. They are not losing value in exchange. They pay $50 for a TV and they get a TV worth $50. The people that do lose value are all of the other capitalists who are still producing at the SNLT. They are not able to sell all of their product. They lose out. ACME is able to lure more consumers away from them.

Exchange is a zero-sum game. Whenever one person wins another must lose. There are only so many people willing to buy TVs at the SNLT. When ACME appropriates value in exchange this doesn’t mean that they are stealing money from the coffers of their competitors. It means that they are filching away sales from their rivals. More value comes to ACME than it actually created, less goes to its rivals. (1)

SNLT and the Labor Process

This process goes on everyday in a capitalist society. We have an obsession with time and efficiency. Everything from the working day, to the motions of workers are timed and rationalized. From the moment the alarm clock rings you are checking train schedules, punching time cards, and working as efficiently as possible. There is an entire field of industrial engineering which is devoted to decreasing SNLT in society. Some of the most influential minds of the last century have been people like Henry Ford and Frederick Taylor who made substantial contributions to the reduction of SNLT, all in the quest for a super-profit.

This drive to produce a super-profit does not mean that less and less labor is happening in society. It means that the same amount of labor is producing more output. We are often told that machines will make life easier, reducing the need for work. But this has never been the case in a capitalist society. Machines just create more output per hour worked. Often times machines are used to get more work out of workers because the machine can dictate the pace and intensity of work. SNLT is a force that presses down upon us, disciplining our motions, driving us to produce value merely for the sake of producing value, rewarding us when we can produce above the average productivity and punishing us when we fall behind.

SNLT and the centralization and concentration of capital

Capitalists compete to lower the SNLT by investing in fancier equipment. The better the machines the more efficient the labor process the higher the output the lower the prices the more super-profit the more money available to invest in new machines… Competition for SNLT means that more and more equipment is needed in order to stay competitive. This makes it harder and harder for small firms to stay in the market. The size of the firm gets larger and larger and the amount of firms in an industry shrinks. The winners gobble up the losers and capital is consolidated into fewer and fewer hands. If firms become powerful enough they may even take measures to blunt competition so that nobody can produce more efficiently than them. (2)

SNLT and Market Socialism

The tools we use to critique capitalism determine how we envision an alternative to capitalism. Models for market socialism that talk of worker-owned cooperatives coordinated by market exchange clearly see that production for the enrichment of the capitalist class must be done away with if we are to overcome capitalism. Yet any society coordinated by market exchange is still disciplined by SNLT.

This means that workers in such a society would still have to discipline their actions to the social average. Cooperatives that worked at under the SNLT would appropriate value in exchange. Cooperatives would compete to modernize their equipment so as to lower the SNLT. And how would co-ops obtain the money to invest in better, labor-saving equipment? They would have to exploit themselves. That is, the more money that workers want to plow back into making their labor competitive, they less they can pay themselves. Not only would the workers be disciplined by SNLT, they would also find themselves disciplined by the need to amass surplus value so as to stay competitive. What happens to the workers in firms driven out of business by the centralization of industries? Where do they get the capital to start new firms? Do they have to sell their labor in the market?

Production of surplus-value for its own sake, fierce competition over super-profits, the disciplining of the labor process to the whims of impersonal market forces… sound familiar? Now perhaps one might be of the opinion that it is impossible to do away with SNLT, with market coordination. If this is the case then our best option is do debate what type of market socialism would be least exploitative, least alienating. But why not challenge ourselves to imagine a world without these things?

A world without What?

This seems to be the big question whenever we critique capitalism. Surely labor will always take time and we must have a way of coordinating labor to produce all of the goods society needs. Surely this labor must not just produce immediate goods but also surplus goods, as well as invest in long-term projects like infrastructure and machines that will make work better in the future. So we can’t say that we want to produce a society without work, without time, without surplus product, or without machines. (4)

What is unique about capitalism is that labor time, surplus and commodities are all measured in value. The types of commodities created, the types of assets the surplus is invested in, and the quality of the life of those who do the labor are not important. What is important is this endless expansion of value for its own sake. This is capital’s defining substance.

But if we are to coordinate human labor, the production of surpluses, innovation, distribution, etc without value production then what other method are we to use? It is not within the scope of this series evaluate different proposals for alternatives for capitalism. But it is the place to talk about how Marx’s analysis of SNLT might help us evaluate these different proposals.

We’ve probably all heard Marx’s famous description of the higher phase of communism: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” Marx didn’t actually come up with this phrase but he quotes it in one his rare commentaries on communism. Here an hour of one person’s work is equal to an hour of anyone else’s, creating a basis for real equality throughout society, regardless of the productive abilities (or privileges) of individuals. In the Critique of the Gotha Program Marx describes the lower phase of communism as a system in which, after an hour of labor, all workers receive a certificate entitling them to a certain amount of consumption goods in proportion to their working time, not their level of productivity. There is no SNLT, and no inequality, because everyone’s work has the same social power. Obviously this is not a robust plan for how a communist society should be run. But it gives us a glimpse into the sort of radical questions we should be asking ourselves when thinking about communism. (5)

Conclusion

Our private labor doesn’t immediately become social. It must become value in order to be social. But in becoming value it is disciplined by socially necessary labor time. SNLT acts as an external force which disciplines our private labor, constantly compelling us to work more efficiently, yet never actually making our work easier or more fulfilling. SNLT creates the possibility for super-profits when one produces under the SNLT, and the search for super-profits drives much of the mad, chaotic development of the productive forces of a capitalist society, generating all sorts of unforeseen consequences.

In a society not producing for competition or capital, but for communal ownership, there would not be a SNLT in this same sense. This means that work would not exist in order to make value. Work would exist in order to both provide use-values for society and to better the life of the worker. In our culture we have an intense fascination with those rare people whose work is fulfilling and challenging. Great musicians, athletes, artists, etc inspire us because these are people whose work has challenged them to become the best possible person they can be. Perhaps in a world without SNLT such an experience of work could become more universal.

Footnotes:
1. Here is another example of the way in which individual value and social value diverge. Many times lay-critics of Marx (like the trolls often found stalking this blog) think they can “disprove” Marx’s theory of value by pointing to instances where the individual value of a commodity (the amount of time an individual put into making it) diverges from its social value. But as we can see such deviations are a central part of Marx’s theory. In fact it is these deviations of individual value from social value that create the dynamism and disequilibrium that Marx was so intent on theorizing. It is important to constantly point this out as many lay objections to Marx’s theory of value come form the misconception that social value and individual value must always coincide.

2. On the other hand, there are counter-acting forces that sometimes exert pressures to decentralize capital. The opening up of new, labor-intensive lines of production is one.

3. From Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program:
“T]he individual producer receives back from society…exactly what he gives to it…He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor…and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor costs. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.”

4. No doubt many viewers are familiar with the ramblings of the “Zeitgeist Movement”. These folks believe that technology can liberate us from all work, establishing a labor-free, money-free paradise where robots do everything for us. These folks also believe, in some form or another, than the liberating potential of machines is being kept from society by the conspiring powers of bankers and other elites tied to “the money system”. As much as I share their desire for a society with out money, bankers, elites, over-work, etc, I am very critical of many of their explanations of the way capitalism works (they don’t use the word capitalist much actually) and the solutions these critiques point them towards. Chief amongst these complaints of mine is their notion of work. They have essentially projected the capitalist experience of work onto the entire experience of work for all time and space, implying that the universal nature of work is evil, something to be avoided. In contrast Marx sees work as the very substance of society, the thing that binds us together as it shapes our social life. The organization of our work effects how we understand our selves individually and collectively. I think that radicals need to recast the nature of work in a potentially liberating way. Similarly the Zeitgeist folks are entirely saturated by the contradictory experience of machines in a capitalist society. On the one hand machines fascinate us with their amazing, seemingly-liberatory potential. On the other hand the reality of the machine is that it is a tool for control of the labor process at the expense of the worker and that the consequences of technology are often socially, environmentally biologically, and psychologically degrading. The Zeitgeist folks make the assumption, then, that if we just had more machines then the problem would be solved. They share the bourgeois romance of the machine as liberator. Without going into an argument as to the ability of machines to replace all human labor, I would question what we would do without some sort of social labor.  What would be the point of anything? As well, I wonder that if machines could really do everything that people could do, including much of our creative labor as the Zeitgeist folks claim, would they not be conscious entities of some sort capable of refusing work, of withholding labor, of claiming some sort of juridical rights in society? I believe that in posing alternatives to capitalism we should aim to heal the separation of conception and execution in the capitalist labor process, not to carry that separation to a further level of alienation.
5. One of the crucial aspects of such a method of organization is that without productivity-based labor certificates there is no chance of these certificates circulating as money. Indeed this is Marx’s objection to some of the labor-money schemes advanced by his contemporaries. What would keep such labor-notes from circulating as money, merely replicating commodity production? Wouldn’t they just make labor indirectly social again? In Marx’s scheme all labor is directly social and therefore there is no reason to exchange labor notes on any black markets. For more on this point see Andrew Kliman’s “The Transformation of Capitalism into Communism in the Critique of the Gotha Program.”

Suggested readings:
Marx, Proudhon and Alternatives to Capital by Seth Weiss

http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/philosophy-organization/marx-proudhon-and-alternatives-to-capital.html

Limits to Capital by David Harvey – chapter 5 on centralization of capital

Kapital vol 1 Karl Marx, first chapter

Andrew Kliman “The Transformation of Capitalism into Communism”

http://www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/alternatives-to-capital/what-must-be-changed-in-order-to-transcend-capitalism.html

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64 Responses to Law of Value 6: Socially Necessary Labor Time

  1. Zach W says:

    I nearly jumped when I saw this appear on youtube this morning. I’m so happy.

  2. WurmD says:

    Hi, thanks for such an elaborate post. It took me a while to read all of it properly, but it was worth it.

    And just to give my two cents on a little detail:
    – “I would question what we would do without some sort of social labor.”
    I remember reading some famous retired person saying “There simply isn’t enough hours in the day to do all I would like to do.” in reply to a discussion about how to give old people what to do.

  3. Michael McLees says:

    I think these videos showed where we are disagreeing in our other comments. You believe that exchange is a 0-sum game. This, of course, is a fallacy of the highest order.

    • A fallacy? Which logical fallacy is it exactly? Or is it just the result of an entirely different concept of value? If the latter is the case then you are the one committing the logical fallacy of equivocation by substituting your definition of value into my argument and then concluding that I’ve made a mistake. Fallacies refer to internal faults in the logical structure of an argument, not differing views of the analytical framework for how we examine sociological phenomenon.

      • Michael McLees says:

        But your concept of value is untenable and fails to explain the way people actually behave. If I work 3 hours to purchase something that the seller built in 1 (and on average, only takes 1 hour to build in SNLT), that doesn’t prove that I lost and the other gained. We both gained, or at least, we both expect to gain. If I expected to lose, why did I make the exchange? And if I did lose, why do I make trade after trade, day after day, losing over and over again, yet continue to not only see my standard of living increase, but also be generally happy with the transactions.

      • Sellers that consistently produce far above the SNLT do not stay in business.

      • Michael McLees says:

        If that is the case, how do laborers stay in business. If they are producing profits for their employers, they are producing something like 3 hours of value for the employer and are only being paid 2. How can this be mathematically maintained? And don’t say exploitation; that’s just a cop out. I’ll admit that exploitation is taking place, in at least the way Marxists define it.

      • I don’t understand the question. Workers aren’t a business. They are hired by businesses. The fact that they are exploited has nothing to do with the SNLT. You could raise or lower the level of exploitation and not change the SNLT. This is all covered quite clearly in Kapital vol. 1 which you claim to have read.

      • Michael McLees says:

        Workers exchange their labor power for money, the same way a shoe shiner exchanges his labor (shining shoes) power for money (paid by the person getting his shoes shined). Where is the difference?

      • This is ridiculous. I am just explaining concepts that are already explained in my videos. A total waste of time. A shoe shiner does not sell labor power. They sell a commodity called shoe shining. (Yes services can be commodities.) Consider this the end of this “conversation”.

      • Michael McLees says:

        Hmm… but an employee selling a commodity called “labor” doesn’t count. Yes. I think this is the end.

      • allan says:

        michael mclees is right about the shoe shiner, but not in the way he thinks. The shoe shiner certainly does sell a commodity or a service. He owns the service and he sells it. No one else takes it from him and then sells it. No one ‘exprporiates’ it. The market value of his service might be, say, $1.00. He charges that amount and receives it. In a modern market the shoe shiner is replaced by a hundred shoe shiners who all work for an employer who charges each customer a $1.00 and keeps .50 for himself. Also, there is a police force making sure no independent shoe shiners get started.

      • He can’t be “right about the shoe shiner” b/c the point he was trying to make (that exploitation can’t exist b/c workers would go out of business) makes no sense. He’s trying to argue that selling a commodity called labor power and selling any other commodity are the same thing.

      • Michael McLees says:

        I made a reply but it looks like it didn’t take. I know I saw it on here… Was it deleted? Here it is again, in case anyone missed it the first time.

        The point I was getting at is that exploitation is impossible in a free society, where exchange happens without coercion. Marx’s view of exploitation runs along these lines… Employee A builds widgets and is paid 50 cents per widget, on average. Employer B attempts to sell the widgets for $1.00 each and then keeps the 50 cent profit per widget. Marxists view this as exploitation.

        Here is why it isn’t, even if we operate under Marxist terms (which I reject). It is not just the production of a commodity that we’re concerned with, but also the exchange. What is the purpose of producing a million widgets if one doesn’t intend to exchange them with people who desire a million widgets? So, who contributed labor and time to the exchange? Both A and B. A put 50 cents of labor into the widget, but so did B (through providing the means of production, taking on the risk of capital (paying the employee regardless of whether the widgets sell), putting in the labor time for making the sale, etc…), as evidenced by the total value of $1.00 in the market. B isn’t exploiting A; he is merely taking what he is due, as evidenced by the SNLT for making the sale (the addition of 50 cents per widget, on average).

      • Michael,

        I will not keep replying to these ridiculous comments of yours. They are a total waste of time. It’s clear that you don’t actually want to understand Marx. You just want to be a gadfly on this site and waste my time. Everytime I shoot down one of your arguments you just change your argument to a different nonsensical statement. For instance here you argue that Marx’s theory of exploitation collapses on its own terms b/c all surplus value can be accounted for by the labor of the capitalist. If you actually used any common sense you would know that this is a failed argument from the start. I’ll give just two reasons now: 1. If labor creates value then yes any actual labor a capitalist does creates value as well. But this is not the same as surplus value which is surplus labor performed by workers. Capitalist labor cannot be a source of surplus value as we can easily see when a capitalist expands the size of her production. If, as in your example, the capitalist’s labor is responsible for 50 cents of the value of the widget, then an doubling of the size of production would only be possible if the capitalist worked twice as much! But of course capital could never grow this way. 2. Of course a capitalist doesn’t have to perform any labor at all. All they have to do is own capital. Workers can be hired to innovate, sell, and do all of the other labor you mention. All the capitalist must do is own, which can’t create value.

        Again. I will not engage in any more of this useless prattle with you. This site is not designed so that I can waste my time with childish arguments from people that aren’t interested in understanding Marx.

      • allan says:

        Let’s look more closely at McLee’s widget argument. A worker puts in 50 cents labor to produce the widget; B capitalist pays for the labor. B then takes the widget from A. At this point B has paid for the labor, B has put 50 cents of his hard cash into the widget. If he has had to pay more for materials, machines, buildings,etc. McLees has not said. Whatever portion of the means of production which goes into the widget must go in before the widget is completed. Now he wants to sell the widget. He goes on the open market and finds that the fair market value (given the ups and downs of the market) is 1.00 per widget. McLees explains this happy outcome by showing that the capitalist is actually a worker himself. He uses his labor to sell the million widgets. No need to worry here about hiring another few hundred thousand workers to do the selling, as Sam Walton did. McLees’ capitalist is a kind of Super-Man/Capitalist/Worker.

        So, if B must hire C (or himself) to sell his widget, then he must pay C 25 cents for C’s labor. This makes the total cost 75 cents, McLees is still making a profit, but less than he started with. But, of course, B has taken a risk, and he must be paid for his risk. After all, he could have taken his money and bought a yacht, a sports team, risked his money on the stock market, etc. etc., instead he chose to benefit society with widgets. (For which society is grateful and will pay him the fair market value of the widgets.) But how to account for the cost of the risk? Risk is the cost of the money he used to finance his widget scheme, i.e, interest. The bankers and hedge fund managers did not just give B their money for him to invest in the widget business. They loaned it to him at interest. (It doesn’t matter if B’s mother gave him the money or his won it at a casino, he still has to account for the risk of his investment.) Even if he makes a profit he must first pay off the risk/interest before he can count his profit.

        So, now we have the total cost: labor, materials, machine= 50 cents; labor for selling = 25 cents; interest = say, 10 cents. Total cost to the capitalist = 85 cents. The fair market value of the widget? 1.00. B makes a profit by selling the widget at its VALUE. Where does the extra 15 cents (small, you might say, but still a 15% profit) come from? Mclees will have to admit that the extra 15 cents comes from the magic of the market. Marx explained, along with Adam Smith and Ricardo that the extra value comes from the value added to the widget in the production process and in the sale of the widget, which in this case is simply part of the production process.

        The capitalist has appropriated the 15 cents added to the value of the widget by A and C.

    • X says:

      Of course, saying “of course” lends no credence to one’s argument.

      As to exchange: if a room full of people took off their shoes and took out their money and began buying and selling shoes all that would happen is that the shoes and money would get shuffled around. Not a single penny would be minted and not a single shoe would be manufactured in the process. No value would be generated; the mere act of exchange is a zero-sum game.

      Value is generated someplace outside the exchange process; namely, in the production process.

      • Alex says:

        Interesting debate. Don’t quite understand though how the example you offered represents a zero-sum game. A zero-sum game requires that A’s gains are equivalent to B’s losses, which, when added up, sum up to zero. In other words the sum total must be zero and there must be a winner and a loser. Any game where the transaction results in more or less than zero does not qualify. So if A and B start off with 1 (pair of shoes) each, and end up with 1 each, there are 2 pairs of shoes and no losers. This is not a zero-sum game.

      • Alex,

        I don’t follow you. If A and B start off with one pair of shoes each and end up with one pair of shoes each then all that has happened is that they have traded shoes. There has been no increase in shoes or value. There needn’t be a loser or winner.

      • Alex says:

        Yes I agree and it’s a clear point. I was merely making a (somewhat trite) remark that while the example demonstrates that no value is added by the act of exchange, this on its own does not constitute a zero-sum situation. It is merely an economically pointless act of exchange where no one gains or loses. A zero sum game would be like the one mentioned in the beginning of the post where actors compete for bigger shares of a finite market. Any increase in market presence for A means a loss of market presence for B, and A’s gain is equivalent to B’s loss. Even though the total amount of value in both cases has not increased, only the latter constitutes a zero sum game. In short, the mathematical definition of zero-sum requires a winner and a loser and a zero sum total of gains and losses. If these are absent then we cannot speak of a zero-sum game. You have to come up with another name.

      • Oh. I didn’t realize “zero-sum game” required one party to win and another to lose.

    • allan says:

      Here’s what Marx had to say (in part) about labour-power as a commodity: “[t]he labourer instead of being in a position to sell commodities in which his labour is incorporated (like the shoe shiner), must be obliged to offer for sale as a commodity that very labour-power, which exists only in his living self.” (Capital, Chapter Six.)

      Labour-power is certainly a commodity, the only commodity a worker has to sell. Mclees makes no sense when he says exploitation can’t exist b/c workers would go out of business. Workers get fired all the time and as long as there is an excess of supply (unemployment) of workers they will continue to be exploited. However, the true exploitation occurs when the capitalist pays a worker the true value, say, $5.00, for his labour, pays $5.00 for materials, etc. but then sells the worker’s product for $15.00. The extra $5.00 is the surplus value or profit, which the worker added to the product.

  4. Patrick says:

    Very nice video Brendan. I noticed that you talked about “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” I like that idea, but I have a question about it. How do you respond to that oh so common “doctor argument”? I have heard it so many times: why should a janitor make the same amount of money as a doctor? Or, why should someone make the same as a person who’s job require much more intense work and study? I’m curious what your response to that one is.

    • WurmD says:

      Hi Patrick, nice question, and I’m curious as well to hear the answer Brendan :).

      I’ll now ramble a bit:
      In a society with access to today’s technology, janitors shouldn’t exist, since floor cleaning vehicles are quite common already – albeit usually driven by humans – and self-cleaning toilets are also common.
      Still, the doctor question is still valid, as it seems reasonable to assume that there always will be some not-yet-”automatable” work that require different degrees of effort/time/study to accomplish. So, why should those two workers be rewarded equally?

      If the goal is to have all receive the same amount of money, then you are effectively removing money out of the picture aren’t you? The given amount of money then simply denotes the amount of goods everyone is entitled to each month (pay-check).
      IF the total amount of goods produced divided by the population size is bigger than the average consumption pattern, then you could effectively throw money out of the window and just open-wide the supermarket doors couldn’t you? As long as a lot of people didn’t go insane and started hoarding (uselessly?) more than the average consumption per person, then there would be more than enough on the shelves for everyone, no need to pay, just scan the stuff’s barcode at the exit so it helps with restocking.

      Now, back to the doctor issue, but in this new world. Why should a doctor and an engineer be entitled to the same amount of goods per month?
      Because society can provide? Because they are human?
      I know these aren’t satisfactory answers, and all of this ramble leads to another tricky question:

      “Why would the doctor and the engineer work if they can just go to the supermarket to get what they need/want with no apparent restriction?”

      Well :), that’s the beauty of trying to automate all the sucky jobs, only the jobs that people actually enjoy doing are left ^_^.
      And better yet, taking into account today’s unemployment rate, and realizing that most jobs today are repetitive and therefor automatable, the amount of interesting stuff that needs to be done is quite smaller than the amount of man-hours 6 billion people can provide.
      That being true, at any give year easily 3 billion people could be on vacation, couldn’t they?

      Fun ramble ^_^, care to comment?

      PS: this fantastic TED talk by Daniel Pink does a wonderful job of illustrating how engineers and doctors wouldn’t mind receiving the same amount of money/goods.

    • Patrick, This is a good question. I really like Michael Albert’s notion of Job Complexes (in his book Parecon). The idea is that everyone should do a variety of tasks. In today’s hospital the Babbage Principle reigns: anytime a job can be done by a cheaper worker the labor process is divided up and a less-skilled worker does this task. So why have a highly paid surgeon take your temperature when a less-highly-paid nurse could do it? Why have a nurse clean toilets when a janitor can do it? This labor process is a result less of the need to specialize and more of the need to save money on labor-costs.

      Michael Albert points out that in a post-capitalist workplace we can’t leave the capitalist division of labor in place because there are inherent power relations built into these jobs. Some workers have better access to information. Some have more power just as a result of their job. In order to change this he develops a notion of the Job Complex. All tasks in a workplace are rated according to their difficulty, the satisfaction they provide, etc. A person’s job consists of a variety of tasks that must add up to a specific number. In this way a doctor might also clean toilets on friday morning and take the temperature of his own patients.

      Now I’ve had this conversation with doctors and some say, “There’s not enough time to do that.” and “Every minute taken away from patient care deprives us of learning experience and makes us worse doctors.” I think these are both invalid arguments because they assume that certain features of the current capitalist labor process would remain in place. The modern doctor already wastes a lot of time doing things like filling out insurance forms, navigating electronic medical records, and just trying to navigate through the chaotic bureaucracy of the hospital. In an ideal hospital we would have none of these things. We would also need a lot more doctors to make such a system work, which would be entirely possible if medical education was free.

      Some might ask what the incentive would be for people to become doctors if they weren’t paid more than others. But right now there are thousands of doctors every year who go into fields like family medicine (the lowest paying medical profession, and one of the hardest jobs in terms of hours) because they care passionately about family medicine. I would much rather have a doctor like that provide care for me than someone who went thru med-school so that they could make 200,00 a year working 30-hour weeks as a plastic surgeon. And there are many jobs that people go into in our society not for money, but because they care about the job. Musicians and teachers come to mind.

      • Patrick says:

        Excellent argument Brendan. Thanks for the insight. I’ll try to check out that book some time. I just need to add it to my already massive reading list that I am slowly chipping away at.

      • WurmD says:

        Michael Albert makes great points :), he just doesn’t go far enough ^_^.

        “tasks that people SHOULD do”
        The beauty of the paradigm shift we could have on today’s technological world is on the concept of “work that SHOULD be done”, on the obligation of work.

        On a personal scale, whenever I travel and stay in friends’ or family’s home’s I happily help with the dish washing. It’s not something that I HAVE to do, but something that I CAN do by choice, by volunteering my time. When I get home, and I look at the dishes that I HAVE to wash, since there is no one else to wash them for me, or because it is my turn, I take any excuse to postpone it, I might as well curl up and die before I get the will to do them.
        The only difference between washing dishes at a friends’ place and at my place is the “sense of obligation”, on one hand I’m a volunteer, on the other I’m obliged to do the work.

        Now back to our future post-capitalist world.
        If society puts its collective effort into automating each automatable job, freeing up massive amounts of laborers to join the already free and quite large group of unemployed laborers, then the man-hours amount of leftover unwanted tasks becomes very small compared to the available man-hour pool of laborers.
        – First, the interesting tasks/jobs, there really isn’t any need to tell people to do them right? It’s reasonable to assume people will spontaneously do them.
        – Now, what about the undesirable tasks? Is it that far-fetched to say that there will be enough people volunteering to do them? Today, in Germany, apparently 6% of the population already participates in volunteer work. Is it really far fetched to visualize a point where the amount of undesirable task-hours is smaller than what is spent today by people in volunteer tasks?

        If that isn’t far-fetched, then we have just reached a society where all work is volunteered :)

        The world CAN blow up tomorrow… But it can also become so bright ^_^… And IF it blows up tomorrow, then we won’t be here to worry about it! So it really doesn’t matter :D.

  5. Clive says:

    I guess an extra point that can be added about the doctor situation is that if everyone was helping out with the boring jobs such as cleaning then the work would become so light that it would take next to no time at all to finish. Perhaps a doctor would devote only one afternoon a month to low ranked tasks.

  6. allan says:

    Here is a suggestion on the exchange of commodities. You say, “What does it mean to say that ACME makes a super-profit by appropriating value in exchange? If you trade one commodity for another of greater value then you have appropriated value in exchange.” Marx often said (what the classical economists taught) that one of the fundamental laws of commodity exchange is that commodities are only exchanged for equal value. Certainly, in the day to day exchange some commodities are sold above, some below their actual value, but on average every commodity is exchanged for its real value. Thus, the new ACME tv is sold not below its value but at its new, cheaper value. The fact that ACME is more productive establishes a new standard for socially necessary labor time. In a free market, however, other producers will catch up with ACME. Of course, ACME will want to establish a monopoly if it can.

    The only value that ACME can expropriate is the surplus-value the ACME workers added to each TV. ACME paid the market value for the labor commodity of each worker, i.e. ACME exchanged equal money for the equal value of labor time. In the course of producing the TVs workers add the surplus value. When ACME sells the TV it trades the TV for an equal amount, an equal value, of money. The value of ACME’s competitor’s TVs also have the new, cheaper value, but their costs are higher (they cannot produce as many TVs in the same amount of time.) They are forced to adapt or go out of business.

    Marx’s solution was for society at large to appropriate the surplus-value. Some modern economies, such as Germany, have started doing this by setting up large companies’ boards of directors with 50% ownership by workers. Some companies in Argentina are wholly owned by workers. Marx’s solution was revolutionary. The latter is more conservative, evolutionary.

    • I disagree w/ your reading of Marx. Everywhere in Marx’s theory you see individual value deviating from social value and surplus value transferred in exchange because of this. Marx did not hold that commodities always traded at their values. In fact he says they only trade at their values by accident. SV is redistributed in exchange all the time. Yes value and SV can only be created in production, it does not originate in exchange. But it can be transferred in exchange.

      • allan says:

        It is true Marx said surplus value is transferred in exchange, but his entire theory is based on the understanding that surplus value is not created in exchange, only in production. When the capitalist takes the product from the worker, the surplus value has already been added.

        On the exchange of commodities Marx says, “It is true, commodities may be sold at prices deviating from their values (as in the day to day changes in market prices), but these deviations are to be considered as infractions of the laws of the exchange of commodities, which in its normal state is an exchange of equivalents, consequently, no method for increasing value (thus no method of creating profit or adding surplus value.) Capital, Chapter Five.

        Here is Marx from Chapter Seven, Section Two of Capital (Vol. I): “Every condition of the problem (how the capitalist derives profit from the sale of a commodity) is satisfied, while the law that regulate the exchange of commodities, have been in no way violated. Equivalent has been exchanged for equivalent.”

      • Yes I am familiar with these passages. I don’t see what the disagreement is. I was clear in the video that SV is not created in exchange, only transferred. And the theory of SNLT is clearly one in which there is a value transfer due to individuals producing below the SNLT.

        I also think that it is important to understand what level of abstraction we are dealing with when we talk about this issue. If we assume supply and demand are in balance than there is an equivalence of exchange. If we drop this assumption and set the economy in motion, supply and demand in constant flux due to revolutions in SNLT, then there is no longer equivalence in exchange all the time. The two quotes you mention pertain specifically to Marx’s point that unequal exchange is not an adequate basis for capitalist accumulation. I don’t think they are quotes meant to describe the actual state of affairs in a capitalist society. Unequal exchange happens all the time and it is what attracts capital to certain sectors/investments. Without this attractor we could have no SNLT, no capital, and no law of value.

  7. allan says:

    I’m not sure there really is a disagreement. However, since Marx was extremely careful with his use of language, I think we should be, too. For instance, SV is created in production but not “transferred,” it is appropriated. Also, value is not created or transferred because anyone produces below the SNLT. Value is created by people who produce at the SNLT, who get paid at the fair market value of their labor time, BUT who also create surplus value in the production process. It is this SV which creates profit and capital. I think what you are doing is trying to explain SV and SNLT by the temporary fluctuations in market price. You also say that unequal exchange is not an adequate basis for capitalist accumulation, but then you say that unequal exchange is the basis of capital.

    Marx spent his entire life describing the actual state of affairs in a capitalist society.

    • Unequal exchange is not the source of SV. However super-profit is the motivation to produce under the SNLT. And super-profit, by definition, is a difference between individual and social value. And the race for super-profit is part of the hunt for relative SV (the other part being the cheapening of means of subsistence, which is not usually consciously understood by capitalists in the way producing under the SNLT is). Do you dispute this?

      “Marx was extremely careful with his use of language, I think we should be, too. For instance, SV is created in production but not “transferred,” it is appropriated.” I agree which is why this section of the video is entitled “Appropriating value in exchange”.

      “I think what you are doing is trying to explain SV and SNLT by the temporary fluctuations in market price. You also say that unequal exchange is not an adequate basis for capitalist accumulation, but then you say that unequal exchange is the basis of capital. ” No I’m not saying this. I am explaining super-profit, which is a more modern term for a specific type of relative SV which Marx himself talks about at length. Please watch the video or read the script. I explicitly say this:
      “Profit vs. super-profit

      Profit comes from exploiting workers. The only way to turn money into more money is to invest it in workers, or to be precise, in labor power, the only commodity which can produce more value than it costs. (This is all covered in the video “Law of Value 5: Contradictions”.) When ACME sells TVs at under the SNLT they don’t just reap their normal profits from exploiting workers. They also get super-profits: profit appropriated in exchange because their TVs are made at under the SNLT.
      It is this race for super-profits that drives much of the technological dynamism of a capitalist society as capitalists compete to constantly lower SNLT. By doing so capitalists don’t just exploit value from workers. They also appropriate value in exchange.”

      Here I very explicitly differentiate super-profit, the topic of this video from surplus value, the topic of the previous video. In fact, at the recommendation of another viewer, I intentionally preceded this video with my “contradictions” video which discusses exploitation and SV.

      So, again, respectfully, I think your criticism is misplaced.

  8. FastForward says:

    Hi,

    I’ve read “DAS KAPITAL” and I compared it to the critics of the Zeitgeist Movement respectively The Venus Project.

    What I see, is a strategy of the Zeitgeist Movement to make a “new approach” to criticize the System, so nobody can make connections between “Zeitgeist” and “Communism” or “Marx”.

    The biased public isn’t ready to go into depth with Marx’ Critic of Capitalism, because people refuse what they were taught is “evil”. So I would definitely support this approach to reach the masses. In fact there were already some discussions between Zeitgeist Members about Socialism, Marx and the things the “RBE”-Idea has in common with it. In Great Britain both groups have already met and exchanged thoughts.

    I think we want the same. :)

  9. ultraviolet says:

    Hello again! :)

    These videos on SNLT has got me thinking once again of what things will/should be like in a communist society.

    I obviously don’t want a society in which we are held hostage by socially necessary labor time, and if SNLT was still the disciplining force that it is in capitalism, then I doubt we could even call that communism.

    But I wouldn’t want to go to the other extreme, either… where there are no consequences for people who choose to be grossly inefficient. After all, when the means of production are owned by the world as a whole, we don’t want our resources to be wasted. If there is a collective where workers are producing significantly below the SNLT, then I think the community should be able to vote to disband them. The exception being workplaces with inferior equipment who of course won’t be able to produce at the average level, so they should be evaluated with that in mind. What I’m talking about is collectives which have a group of irresponsible people who mostly dick around, and by doing so are being rather wasteful of community resources. I also think the community should be able to vote to disband a collective that is producing unsafe or just plane shitty goods.

    This is my inclination, but part of me wonders if others might consider it a violation of the spirit of communism. What do you think?

    • mr.anonymous says:

      Ultraviolet:

      “If there is a collective where workers are producing significantly below the SNLT, then I think the community should be able to vote to disband them.”

      AND

      “I also think the community should be able to vote to disband a collective that is producing unsafe or just plane shitty goods.”

      Let me add something from my side too. Ultraviolet, don’t you think that too much reliance on ‘communities’ in a post-capitalist society would be harmful and detrimental to the ‘individual’? What if an individual has some justified problem[eg. grievance with post-sales services? or defected products given?] with the producers[eg. a workers' cooperative]?

      Will then this individual have to form a union[i.e. a group of people] & win some sort of majority to vote out the said producers against whom she has grievances? What if this individual cannot do so? Is then she required to stay mum because she cannot vote with the majority?

      I’m curious to know your take on this.

      • ultra-violet,

        I think that the important thing to point out here is that if SNLT is not governing production then production becomes a question of politics, political will, political structures, etc and not a question of blind economic forces with their built in biases. A society can decide consciously to allocate labor through a number of different schemes and these can be debated as to their efficiency, humanity, etc. But these structures must solve the question of the allocation of labor without recourse to market exchange if they are to escape capitalist social relations. I don’t know if there is one ‘right-answer’ to the question of how to allocate labor in a non-capitalist way. But there is one wrong answer and that involves the establishment of SNLT through commodity exchange.

        I also recommend the critique of the gotha program. It is a quick read and there is much material for discussion there.

        Brendan

  10. ultraviolet says:

    “might consider it a violation of the spirit of communism”

    I phrased this wrong… I should have written:

    “might view this as a continuation of our being disciplined by socially necessary labor time, albeit on a lesser level.”

    • Ultraviolet: have you read the critique of the Gotha program? http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/ch01.htm

      It may answer your questions.

      • ultraviolet says:

        Hi MrEverpresent, and thank you again for your reply. I appreciate the book recommendation but unfortunately I don’t have the time to read anything so lengthy at this point in my life. Can you give me in your own words the point(s) from this text which address my question? Or at least tell me which chapter addresses the question? Thanks :)

      • MrEverpresent says:

        The text is only 18 pages long. It’s always better to read Marx in his own words. Reading Marx is like reading the divine comedy of Dante: you start in Hell (in a dark wood), progress to purgatory and end in heaven. It’s necessary to struggle with his words.

  11. ultraviolet says:

    Brendan, I’m also hoping to hear your opinion on this, when you have the time. :)

  12. Somak Mitra says:

    Hi,

    In your video on SNLT part 1, you mention that making more TV’s in the same amount of time DOES NOT create more value. I can’t understand why this is the case. Why wouldn’t more TV’s mean more value?

    Thanks

  13. Ed George says:

    Because the value of a commodity is directly reducible to the quantity of labour-time socially necessary for its production; hence, the value of a given commodity property is dependent upon factors such as the existing level of development of skill and technology, the availability and ease of procuring raw materials, and so forth. The value of a commodity will vary with the quantity of socially necessary labour realised in its production, but inversely to the productivity of labour realised in its production. Value is therefore not the same as material wealth, as the value realised by the same quantity of abstract labour-time is always the same. Productivity is a feature of human labour in its useful form, not of labour in its abstract, value-creating, form. Thus an increase in the productivity of labour can, if it increases the quantity of use-values produced at the same time as it reduces the amount of time necessary to produce this new quantity of use-values, bring about an increase in material wealth and a fall in the total magnitude of value created simultaneously.

  14. lifeisgood says:

    Dear Brendan, I am a regular reader of your blog. Since a few months I’ve been studying Resnick & Wolff’s book: “New Departures in Marxian Theory”. Therein, they’ve alleged Marxism to have inherited empiricism & rationalism in order to build its ideas and theories. They assert that Marx’s method[his dialectical materialism] does not allow for such an epistemology. They thus state that Marx rejected all forms of deterministic.

    But, I find Marx’s work consisting many deterministic propositions, isn’t it? For eg. When we say that Value of a commodity is determined by SNLT, it implies a causal & deterministic relation between two social phenomenons, which, given Marx’s anti-deterministic stance, cannot be accepted.

    What is your view on Marx’s method and presence of Determinism in it?

    - Thanks for helping out.

    • lifeisgood,

      I haven’t read the Wolff/Resnick book so I can’t comment on the particular ideas there, but I would agree that Marx does not employ a concept of determinism in the narrow empiricist sense. For one, in a dialectical relation there is a mutual reciprocity so that both sides of a relation determine each other. My interview with Bertell Ollman goes into this a little. There are different ways in which this dialectical idea has been characterized by different readers of Marx. Some talk about the way a determining influence limits the possible outcomes of the thing being determined. Others talk about tendencies and counter-tendencies. Others talk about dialectical reciprocity. I suppose that the nature of the ‘determination’ depends on what specific relation we are looking at.

      You ask about value and SNLT. hmmm, perhaps others would have a different response but I’d say that value IS SNLT, or more specifically the magnitude of value is given by SNLT, so there isn’t any way one can determine the other. Value is then expressed in exchange values and prices. One can say that value determines prices, but again, not in a narrow empiricist way. Value limits the ranges within which prices fluctuate. And the social relations which cause revolutions in value contribute to these fluctuations. But these fluctuations of price also act back upon production, conditioning labor to the SNLT. In this way the price-value relation is dialectical and we see limitation, tendency/counter-tendency and reciprocity at work.

      Sometimes I think that people use dialectical language too loosely and that it is always more helpful to be specific about the way a relation actually functions.

    • lifeisgood,

      I haven’t read the Wolff/Resnick book so I can’t comment on the particular ideas there, but I would agree that Marx does not employ a concept of determinism in the narrow empiricist sense. For one, in a dialectical relation there is a mutual reciprocity so that both sides of a relation determine each other. My interview with Bertell Ollman goes into this a little. There are different ways in which this dialectical idea has been characterized by different readers of Marx. Some talk about the way a determining influence limits the possible outcomes of the thing being determined. Others talk about tendencies and counter-tendencies. Others talk about dialectical reciprocity. I suppose that the nature of the ‘determination’ depends on what specific relation we are looking at.

      You ask about value and SNLT. hmmm, perhaps others would have a different response but I’d say that value IS SNLT, or more specifically the magnitude of value is given by SNLT, so there isn’t any way one can determine the other. Value is then expressed in exchange values and prices. One can say that value determines prices, but again, not in a narrow empiricist way. Value limits the ranges within which prices fluctuate. And the social relations which cause revolutions in value contribute to these fluctuations. But these fluctuations of price also act back upon production, conditioning labor to the SNLT. In this way the price-value relation is dialectical and we see limitation, tendency/counter-tendency and reciprocity at work.

      Sometimes I think that people use dialectical language too loosely and that it is always more helpful to be specific about the way a relation actually functions.

      • lifeisgood says:

        I got the point. Dialectical method does not give deterministic analysis but a mutually related relationship between any two or more given factors. Hence, deterministic claims within the Marxist tradition, if any, must be critically examined in this light.

        Thus, it can be extended to the base-superstructure model too, characteristic of many interpretations of Marx. Based on mutual-reciprocity of dialectical materialism, Economic factors will influence the other factors just as much as Non-economic ones will influence the Economic factors, constituent of the social totality. I hope am getting it correct.

        I’ll surely go through your interview with Bertell Ollman, to get more information on this issue. Also, whenever you have some time on hand, do put a list of reference material for understanding Marx’s method, and its distinction with other epistemologies. Am asking for this as there is lot of controversy over this. Resnisck & Wolff’s book[cited above] proposes an Althusserrian interpretation of Marx. But there are many such analyses. Hence, a reading list can provide a road map to understand these.

        Keep writing!

  15. lifeisgood says:

    Error in last message: They thus state that Marx rejected all forms of determinism.

  16. Mr.Everpresent says:

    @life is good

    Not only mutually related. The concepts are instrinsically defined by the other concepts (or should be). For example the separation of use value and value incorporates or takes account of the relation between capital and labor. Without this capital labour relation there would be no separation between use value and value. Each concepts includes other relations. This is why the study ofa new phenomenon in the Marxist tradition should always look it relates to the other concepts (perhaps redefine them by the new relations)

    • lifeisgood says:

      To Mr.Everpresent: Thanks for giving further clarity on the issue. Your note above very much parallels the idea of overdetermination as proposed in the above cited book of Resnick & Wolff{New Departures in Marxian Theory}, which they credit to Althusser. Of course, your understanding might be independent of their ideas.

      I also find it important to grasp Marx’s Philosophy while studying his Political Economy though others might disagree on this. What is your take on Richard Wolff’s Class analysis theories[which according to him are based on Marx's concepts of 'Surplus produce' & 'Class analysis' done in Vol. 1 & 3]?

      • Mr.Everpresent says:

        My understanding of Marx his concepts derives from reading Marx capital, Harvey and Ollman. I’ve never read any Althusser. I liked Wolff’s class theory. I’m working on a paper on Marx and old marxist work. It is time to settle old accounts and start again.

  17. Ezequiel says:

    Hi, i´m reading your posts and i think they are a model of clarity, congratulations.
    I´m wondering if you have written anything about the idea that there is a second aspect to socially necessary labor, that which involves the “acceptance” (i don´t know the English terminology) or the “validation” of the value of a commodity by society. In other words, the acknowledgement that the time invested in producing a commodity is not only private work, but instead social work, part of the social division of labor, and if it is, in what degree (depending on the demand).
    I haven´t been able to find this idea in English literature, only in Spanish-speaking marxism, and within it, as the idea of an absolute minority, and i´d like to know if it´s been debated more widely.
    Thanks a lot.

      • Ezequiel says:

        Hi Ed, thanks for your reply, but i believe i haven´t made myself clear.
        I´m trying to find discussions about what Rubin calls the “economic” concept of socially necessary labor http://marxists.org/archive/rubin/value/ch17.htm

      • Ed George says:

        But this *is* exactly what Marx is saying in chapter 10.

        Form the summary section of my own notes:

        “At any given moment, there is a given level of social need for a given type of commodity. This social need, expressed as money, represents a determinate quantity of social labour time. This social labour time is the commodity-type’s market value; the market value of an individual commodity – in money form its market price – is an aliquot part of the total market value. Competition between capitals producing the same commodity within a given branch of production produces a tendency towards the equalisation of individual market prices independently of the specific conditions of production of the individual capitals. If, in a given branch of production, the total social labour time in which the social need for a given commodity consists coincides with that embodied in the commodity product (the latter taking the monetary form of prices of production) – i.e. if demand coincides with supply – then the total market prices of those commodities equals their total market value and an average profit is realised in the branch of production in question. If, however, supply outstrips demand – if more social labour time is embodied in production than that expressed as social need – then either the unit price of commodities will fall, or some of the commodity product will either go unsold, or some of it will remain longer in circulation than normal, or a combination of these factors will occur; but, in short, market price will fall below market value and a below than average profit will be reaped. If, contrariwise, more social need is expressed in the monetary form of social labour than that embodied in production – if, in other words, demand exceeds supply – then market price will rise above market value and a greater than average profit will be reaped in the branch of production in question. At the aggregate level, since the social need for a given commodity represents an aliquot part of the total aggregate labour time available to society, total market price is equal to total market value: differences between market price and market value in given branches of production cancel themselves out in the aggregate. Capital, which is disinterested in use-value other than insofar as its sale as a commodity allows the valorisation of capital, flows, in function of its own mobility, from those branches of lower profitability to those of higher profitability: production expands where demand outstrips supply and contracts where supply outstrips demand. This movement, the product of the competition between capitals of different branches in search of above average profits, is the mechanism whereby the rate of profit for the whole social capital tends to equalise. Were, on the one hand, the productivity of labour, and, on the other, the scale and distribution of social need fixed and unchanging, this movement of capital in function of the interplay of supply and demand would generate an equilibrium point where market price and market value would be equal in all branches of production and an average profit would be garnered everywhere. Yet both the productivity of labour and the shape of that social need expressible as money change constantly: pressure of competition and the need to realise ever more surplus-value impel the capitalist – all capitalists – to cheapen individual commodities, reducing market value (as well as increasing the organic composition of capital), while social need is determined by the relations between classes and the division of ‘revenue’ into wages and surplus-value, as well as the division of the surplus-value itself into its various forms. As such, instead of a fixed equilibrium towards which the process of equalisation of the rate of profit inexorably orientates, alongside the process of equalisation there obtains an equally strong process of disequalisation of profit rates, such that permanent and shifting unevenness of profit rates and the consequent constant movement of capital towards surplus profit mark the essential dynamic of capitalist reproduction.”

      • Ezequiel says:

        Thanks Ed, i thought you were talking about the formation of prices of production, but there are interesting passages in Chapter 10 that mention and in some extent develop the question i´m trying to find an answer to.

  18. Andrew says:

    Brendan, I’m very confused about this “transformation” aspect going from capitalist mode to post-capitalist mode. I know this is 4 years old, but hopefully you still check it.

    I read Andrew Kliman’s “The Transformation of Capitalism into Communism in the Critique of the Gotha Program.”, and it seems like he is saying that in order for this transformation to occur, there needs to be a fundamental and widespread shift, not necessarily in the act of production and distribution, but in the way people THINK about production and distribution. That seems impossible, and even if it is not, wishful thinking (I believe labor is equal) doesn’t change reality (labor is not actually equal).

    His first point is that after the transformation -

    - “individual labor no longer exists in an indirect fashion,” [...] What the producer contributes to society is now [...] her “individual quantum of labor”–the actual amount of work she does.

    So basically – the amount of labor an individual contributes is the amount of labor the individual is recognized as contributing. But this seems to contradict the following point that this transformation must also result in direct labor all being necessarily social and thus equal. Yet, socially equal labor doesn’t mean actually equal labor.

    My understanding is that Andrew Klimans (and Marx’s) point about equal labor is basically that the transformation from capitalism to communism results in all labor involved in production being necessarily social and thus equal, whereas in capitalism some of it is social and some of it is not therefore this inequality exists. In capitalism, exchange in equivalents only happens on the average (hence average socially necessary), in communism this happens individually, and it happens because the standard of measurement is changed (from commodity exchange to labor exchange).

    The problem here is that, according to Kliman, Marx asserts that this change in mode of production changes the mode of distribution, but I’m having a hard time figuring out what this would be given that the standard of measurement is entirely focused on production (it’s entirely inefficient and unrealistic, from my point of view).

    The reality is that there is still, practically speaking, inequality in each individuals labor as it is performed and the result is a real material difference in how much of a THING, or how many THINGS, are actually produced in reality in any given hour with any one specific individuals labor. So counting each labor hour as equal anyway would seem to me to lead to inefficiencies that are entirely unsustainable, REGARDLESS of whether or not the social relations required for counting each labor hour as equal exist and persist, as per this paragraph.

    “So the issue is not whether we count different labors equally-politics is not in command, despite what Mao said-but whether the social relations are such that different labors actually count equally. The task is to work out what such social relations are, and what is required to make them real.”

    This itself seems far more damning a revelation for communism than the notion of a transition phase where labor vouchers are used. It’s kind of frustrating, if I’m honest. What are your thoughts? Are there other resources that attempt to tackle this? Or have I got it all wrong in my understanding?

    -Andrew

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