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Saturday, November 15, 2014

READING NOTES


1.  As I plowed my way through the seemingly endless passages in Chapter XV, "Machinery and Modern Industry" in which Marx copies out and reproduces detailed descriptions of the appalling conditions of life and work of children in early industrial capitalist enterprises, I reflected that since all of this took place almost two hundred years ago, my students would probably have difficulty seeing it as anything other than a tale of horribles from an era long past.  A few moments with Google turned up a very nice story about the fourteen hour days put in by twelve year old girls and boys in Apple's Chinese factories, where they earn less than a dollar an hour for making the IPhones that I and my students carry about with us.  At an appropriate time, I shall read it to them.

2.  Deep in Part VI now, "The Production of Absolute and Of Relative Surplus Value," territory frequented only by the most fanatic of Marxist loyalists.  Grinding through Marx's rather tedious ringing of the changes on variations in the length of the work day, the intensity of the work process, and the productiveness of labour, I come upon a four-page chapter, "Various Formulae for the Rate of Surplus-Value," in which, suddenly, unexpectedly, wonderfully, I find the following passage:

"The habit of representing surplus-value and value of labour-power as fractions of the value created -- a habit that originates in the capitalist mode of production itself, and whose import will hereafter be disclosed -- conceals the very transaction that characterises capital, namely the exchange of variable capital for living labour-power, and the consequent exclusion of the labourer from the product.  Instead of the real fact, we have the semblance of an association, in which the labourer and capitalist divide the product in proportion to the different elements which they respectively contribute to its formation."

It may not be immediately obvious to some of you, but this is a brilliant attack by Marx on the neo-Classical use of Euler's Theorem to prove that labour and capital each receive their marginal product, and hence, as Professor Pangloss says, that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Since I am morally certain that Marx did not know Euler's Theorem, and since he published this book ten years before Walras, Jevons, and Menger each bestowed the marginalist revolution on a world hungry for enlightenment, it is simply wonderful that Marx had the genius to expose the meretriciousness  of that "gift" before it was even given.  [I use "meretriciousness" in its original meaning.]

8 comments:

David Auerbach said...

Do you know where Marx refers to bakers' boys (the loin-clothed dough mixers and bakers who breathed flour and worked at wood-fired ovens) as "white miners"?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

That does not ring a bell in my mind, and a little Googling does not turn it up.

The Constable said...

"White miners" may be from Maurice Bouteloup's "Le travail de nuit dans la boulangerie."

Magpie said...

Prof.

I can certainly appreciate that what Marx writes is related to Euler's theorem, applied to a linearly homogeneous production function of capital and labour:

if Q(K,L) is a linearly homogeneous production function (continuous, differentiable, etc.), then

Q = r*diff(Q,K) + w*diff(Q,L)

(r is profit, w is wage; K is capital, L is labour)

(You wrote about this some time ago)

But, I'll confess, Marx's criticism is not obvious to me. Could you please spell this out for me?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Sure, Magpie. Euler's Theorem has been used by neo-classical economists to support the claim that labor and capital are partners in the production of the output, each one receiving its marginal product and hence being fairly compensated. Marx shows that this is a fraud -- that what the capitalist gets is extracted from the worker, whose labor produces the entire product, not just a portion represented by his "marginal product."

Magpie said...

Thanks.

I thought it was something included in the quote itself, that I had missed.

Yes, in fact, if I am not mistaken, the sum theorem (as that result is also know) is... Adam Smith's adding-up theory of value!

So, when Marx criticizes Smith, he also indirectly criticizes the sum theorem.

Thanks again.

Jim said...

Professor Wolff --

Can you provide the link to the story about the 12 year old children working in the Chinese Apple factories?

-- Jim

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jim, the URL is http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/apple-sweatshop-problem-16-hour-days-70-cents-172800495.html

Hope that helps.