From Thu Mar 8 08:00:13 2007
Subject: Re: [Marxism] Two questions related to marxist theory
Date: Thu, 8 Mar 2007 07:41:26 -0500 (EST)
From: (Haines Brown)

Two questions related to marxist theory

Part of a dialog on the list, 8 March 2007

> Does anyone know of a marxist explanation / discusssion of what
> the Labour Theory of Value says about the relationship between
> energy and value? For example, what does the LTV say about the
> value of a barrel of oil: Is it valued only according to the
> labour required to produce it? Or does it have added value due to
> its capacity to improve labour productivity? In other words, does
> oil's capacity or potential to increase labour productivity embody
> it with potential surplus value? Is (fuel) energy part of the
> organic composition of capital or is it just another raw commodity
> input like iron-ore or soy beans?

Rohan, please indulge some off-handed comments.

“Value”, as in the labor theory of value, always refers to a relation between things. When a good is produced, it acquires two kinds of new value: a use value (the ability of its empirical qualities to satisfy the needs of its potential consumer), and exchange value (the power of the commodity in the marketplace to “command” other commodities—the extent to which it can be exchanged for other commodities there).

This new value is a kind of power in that it represents a potential for change in something else. So we here we already impinge on the question of energy, for power can be defined as the rate of energy dissipation. However, we still have not explained why this is so.

In both labor value and exchange value, there is implied some new quality that did not exist before. In scientific terms, we say that new value has “emerged” in the process of economic production. That is, the new value is improbable in relation to some initial state of the system (the outcome of the process has acquired lower entropy in the subsystem we call human society). But a condition for this emergence is a) that there is a relationship of proudction with an “environment” (in the scientific sense, not just our natural environment), b) that there is a constraint upon that relationship (in old Marxist terms it was called a “mediation”, such as the means of production), c) and there must be a dissipation of matter and/or energy in the system's environment that drives the production of new value. In scientific terms, this is what is called a “thermodynamic engine”; in Marxist terms, a “contradiction.”

This explains two points: a) In a far-from-equilibrium system such as human society, system structure is maintained through the dissipation of energy and matter in the environment. Being far-from-equilibrium, human society requires the continual production of new value and therefore a condition of social existence is the dissipation of our environment. b) The production of new value by labor always involves struggle, by which we mean the dissipation of energy. I'd be happy to be challenged on these points, but I believe them to be sound.

A condition for the production of new value through labor is the dissipation of matter and energy in the natural environment. The means of production determine just how much dissipation of the environment (or human effort, which is our bodily dissipation of energy and matter) is required to produce the new value. The mathematical relationship between the _magnitude_ of emergent new value and the dissipation of the environment that drives it is addressed in thermodynamics as the measurement of entropy change.

Your question, on the other hand, might seek a relation between labor and value in specifically empirical terms, and if so I'd argue there is none. We are not looking at a system in functionalist terms (in which the empirical qualities of one part are predictable from those of others), but at an emergent (and therefore necessarily contradictory) process that by definition is non-functional. It is possible to translate units of labor into units of value because their common denominator is entropy, but this abstracts from empirical specifics. While the parts of a contradictory system such as economic production are interdependent, their relation is not functional in because the qualities of one part are not predictable from the qualities of the others to which it is causally related.

To address your second question, I'm not sure I'd classify oil as a raw material or means of production. Oil is a part of the natural environment that we dissipate (into the dissipated form of energy we call heat, and into the relatively probable molecules of water, carbon monoxide, etc.). Now, of course, oil is sold as a commodity and so is factored in as a cost of production, as is labor time, but not all costs of production are raw materials or social forces of production. Fuel is not a raw material because raw materials are what are given new value in the productive process, while fuel looses its value in production. And fuel is not a means of production because it does mediate our relation with the natural environment. It essentially is the natural environment, the dissipation of which drives the production of new value.

It would be nice to hear some reasoned objections to the arguments I've offered here. Some of them are fairly conventional; some are not. Some are readily defended; some are more difficult.

Haines Brown