Monday, November 26, 2007


Spectrology comes out of social conditions, not ambiguities in old books. But I wonder if this passage in Ricardo inspired some of the gothic mise-en-scène in the first part of Capital:

“The real price of every thing,” says Adam Smith, “what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. What every thing is really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to dispose of it, or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself, and which it can impose upon other people.”

...what Smith and Ricardo mean is that transacting commodity for commodity, or labour for commodity is effectively reducible to a transaction of labour for labour, where commodities are valued according to the labour that goes into their production...

... on the other hand Ricardo's cut and paste can't help but suggest, though accidentally, that the commodity itself somehow attains hex properties, mysteriously "imposing toil on other people".

"labour was the first price"

Ricardo on labour as the source of value:

"In speaking then of commodities, of their exchangeable value, and of the laws which regulate their relative prices, we mean always such commodities only as can be increased in quantity by the exertion of human industry, and on the production of which competition operates without restraint.

In the early stages of society, the exchangeable value of these commodities, or the rule which determines how much of one shall be given in exchange for another, depends almost exclusively on the comparative quantity of labour expended on each.

“The real price of every thing,” says Adam Smith, “what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it. What every thing is really worth to the man who has acquired it, and who wants to dispose of it, or exchange it for something else, is the toil and trouble which it can save to himself, and which it can impose upon other people.” “Labour was the first price—the original purchase-money that was paid for all things.” Again, “in that early and rude state of society, which precedes both the accumulation of stock and the appropriation of land, the proportion between the quantities of labour necessary for acquiring different objects seems to be the only circumstance which can afford any rule for exchanging them for one another. If among a nation of hunters, for example, it usually cost twice the labour to kill a beaver which it does to kill a deer, one beaver should naturally exchange for, or be worth two deer. It is natural that what is usually the produce of two days’, or two hours’ labour, should be worth double of what is usually the produce of one day’s, or one hour’s labour.”

That this is really the foundation of the exchangeable value of all things, excepting those which cannot be increased by human industry, is a doctrine of the utmost importance in political economy; for from no source do so many errors, and so much difference of opinion in that science proceed, as from the vague ideas which are attached to the word value.

If the quantity of labour realized in commodities, regulate their exchangeable value, every increase of the quantity of labour must augment the value of that commodity on which it is exercised, as every diminution must lower it.

Adam Smith, who so accurately defined the original source of exchangeable value, and who was bound in consistency to maintain, that all things became more or less valuable in proportion as more or less labour was bestowed on their production, has himself erected another standard measure of value, and speaks of things being more or less valuable, in proportion as they will exchange for more or less of this standard measure. Sometimes he speaks of corn, at other times of labour, as a standard measure; not the quantity of labour bestowed on the production of any object, but the quantity which it can command in the market: as if these were two equivalent expressions, and as if because a man’s labour had become doubly efficient, and he could therefore produce twice the quantity of a commodity, he would necessarily receive twice the former quantity in exchange for it.

If this indeed were true, if the reward of the labourer were always in proportion to what he produced, the quantity of labour bestowed on a commodity, and the quantity of labour which that commodity would purchase, would be equal, and either might accurately measure the variations of other things: but they are not equal; the first is under many circumstances an invariable standard, indicating correctly the variations of other things; the latter is subject to as many fluctuations as the commodities compared with it. Adam Smith, after most ably showing the insufficiency of a variable medium, such as gold and silver, for the purpose of determining the varying value of other things, has himself, by fixing on corn or labour, chosen a medium no less variable.

Gold and silver are no doubt subject to fluctuations, from the discovery of new and more abundant mines; but such discoveries are rare, and their effects, though powerful, are limited to periods of comparatively short duration. They are subject also to fluctuation, from improvements in the skill and machinery with which the mines may be worked; as in consequence of such improvements, a greater quantity may be obtained with the same labour. They are further subject to fluctuation from the decreasing produce of the mines, after they have yielded a supply to the world, for a succession of ages. But from which of these sources of fluctuation is corn exempted? Does not that also vary, on one hand, from improvements in agriculture, from improved machinery and implements used in husbandry, as well as from the discovery of new tracts of fertile land, which in other countries may be taken into cultivation, and which will affect the value of corn in every market where importation is free? Is it not on the other hand subject to be enhanced in value from prohibitions of importation, from increasing population and wealth, and the greater difficulty of obtaining the increased supplies, on account of the additional quantity of labour which the cultivation of inferior lands requires? Is not the value of labour equally variable; being not only affected, as all other things are, by the proportion between the supply and demand, which uniformly varies with every change in the condition of the community, but also by the varying price of food and other necessaries, on which the wages of labour are expended?

In the same country double the quantity of labour may be required to produce a given quantity of food and necessaries at one time, that may be necessary at another, and a distant time; yet the labourer’s reward may possibly be very little diminished. If the labourer’s wages at the former period, were a certain quantity of food and necessaries, he probably could not have subsisted if that quantity had been reduced. Food and necessaries in this case will have risen 100 per cent. if estimated by the quantity of labour necessary to their production, while they will scarcely have increased in value, if measured by the quantity of labour for which they will exchange.

The same remark may be made respecting two or more countries. In America and Poland, on the land last taken into cultivation, a year’s labour of any given number of men, will produce much more corn than on land similarly circumstanced in England. Now, supposing all other necessaries to be equally cheap in those three countries, would it not be a great mistake to conclude, that the quantity of corn awarded to the labourer, would in each country be in proportion to the facility of production?

If the shoes and clothing of the labourer, could, by improvements in machinery, be produced by one fourth of the labour now necessary to their production, they would probably fall 75 per cent.; but so far is it from being true, that the labourer would thereby be enabled permanently to consume four coats, or four pair of shoes, instead of one, that it is probable his wages would in no long time be adjusted by the effects of competition, and the stimulus to population, to the new value of the necessaries on which they were expended. If these improvements extended to all the objects of the labourer’s consumption, we should find him probably at the end of a very few years, in possession of only a small, if any, addition to his enjoyments, although the exchangeable value of those commodities, compared with any other commodity, in the manufacture of which no such improvement were made, had sustained a very considerable reduction; and though they were the produce of a very considerably diminished quantity of labour.

It cannot then be correct, to say with Adam Smith, “that as labour may sometimes purchase a greater, and sometimes a smaller quantity of goods, it is their value which varies, not that of the labour which purchases them;” and therefore, “that labour alone never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared;” —but it is correct to say, as Adam Smith had previously said, “that the proportion between the quantities of labour necessary for acquiring different objects seems to be the only circumstance which can afford any rule for exchanging them for one another;” or in other words, that it is the comparative quantity of commodities which labour will produce, that determines their present or past relative value, and not the comparative quantities of commodities, which are given to the labourer in exchange for his labour."

from Principles of Political Economy

Friday, November 23, 2007

Government Buildings

What I noticed today at the Learning Disability Centre. These government buildings have a sort of ostentation, not at all in their decor, but in the extension of their space. It's plausable that rather than the cramped sensation that typifies the ordinary relay* being consistant with society's ultimate possibilities, they could instead be consistant with this "depth".

Piranesi's Imaginary Prisons are intelligible this way; that they are constructed in recognition of the principle that this indefinite extension of the social sphere is truly feasible. But secondarily this impression is made distasteful, conventionally blackened. Psychoanalysis seems to have half recognised that ideology quite often appears this way, with the superimposition of contradictory impulses. It's here again in this sort of invective.

*the relay of capital through consumption etc

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

... at least I am not a marxist

& I read this on Leninushka's blog, as an explanation of Karl Marx's notion of surplus value:

"Let us recall the gist of Marx's notion of exploitation: exploitation is not simply opposed to justice - Marx's point is not that workers are exploited because they are not paid the full value of their work. The central thesis of Marx's notion of 'surplus-value' is that a worker is exploited even when he is 'fully paid'; exploitation is thus not opposed to the 'just' equivalent exchange; it functions, rather, as its point of inherent exception - there is one commodity (the workforce) which is exploited precisely when it is 'paid its full value'. (The further point not to be missed is that the production of this excess is strictly equivalent to the universalization of the exchange-function: the moment the exchange-function is universalized - that is, the moment it becomes the structuring principle of the whole of economic life - the exception emerges, since at this point the workforce itself becomes a commodity exchanged on the market. Marx in effect announces here the Lacanian notion of the Universal which involves a constitutive exception.) The basic premise of symptomal reading is thus that every ideological universality necessarily gives rise to a particular 'extimate' element, to an element which - precisely as an inherent, necessary product of the process designated by the universality - simultaneously undermines it: the symptom is an example which subverts the Universal whose example it is."

(from Dr Žižek's Ticklish Subject)

According to Marx's theory, as laid out in Capital, the remuneration of the predominant form of labour, disqualified or undifferentiated labour, sold on the open market and so remunerated its "true" market value will tend to a conventional minimum, just enough to reproduce the worker as worker. The product of labour will likewise be remunerated its value as realised on the open market, which according to Marx, following the example of Ricardo, will be equivalent to the value of the labour of which it is comprised. Surplus value, which accrues to the capitalist, represents the difference of these amounts.

According to Baran and Sweezy's definition, surplus value is "the difference between total social output and the socially necessary costs of producing it", theoretically this could apply to situations other than that described by Marx.

This theory is eminently criticiseable, (though professional economists tend to prefer to ignore it altogether). Nitzan and Bichler describe the labour theory of value, where labour produces its value but is paid the value of its own production as "a dangerously circular notion". Certainly one wonders why the value of each commodity isn't bid down by "competitive markets" to the value of reproducing productive labour, so value added by labour equals the remuneration of labour and the neoclassical model holds*.

Karl Korsch supposed that the laws of motion of the capitalist system disclosed by Marx's model were evidently correct but that the presupposition underlying it should realistically be conditions of monopoly rather than pure competition (Sweezy concurred with this view). The tendency of capitalists to not compete on price would be a consequence of (a high degree of) monopoly, all other conditions would hold.

The crucial advance of Marx's theory over that of the economists of his time, and which their successors have conspicuously failed to make good, is to describe a dynamic economy in which both the remuneration of labour and capital are "real" outputs.

Žižek's reading of Marx, which to be fair to its context, is surely meant to be an "against the grain" piece of belle-lettrism, sets up an integral ambiguity on the phrase:

"the full value of their work"

which could mean either:

"the full value of the remuneration of their work"

or "the full value of the product of their work"

and "justice" could mean

"the most equitable"

or "according to the law"

...hence there's a number of meanings suggested here that seem more exciting than the only one that can be reconciled with what Marx writes in Capital: that workers are paid the going rate and that this is in accordance with the law of the land. This contrivance of ambiguity where none is necessary compliments and reinforces what one supposes to be the background impression of Marx and his work as evoked through the wider cultural and educational apparatus, as fundamentally ambivalent, both validated and discredited. This ambivalence seems to be often indicated, where our ideology "crystallises" into the form of the individual. And it is surely in this respect that Marx announces Lacan.

*The objection to neoclassical economics here seems to run something like this: while one business or one business sector could reduce its prices to merely cover inputs, this behaviour can't be aggregated to the level of the whole economy since price cuts are only relative price cuts (some players gain, some lose) and don't have the effect of lowering total output, while neoclassical economics considers the lowering of prices to be consistant with output being added to.

societies of control

This admittedly fatuous news story made me think Deleuze and Guattari could have been right after all:

Cat's daily routine baffles owner

"A cat is baffling his owner by wandering off at night before expecting to be collected by car every morning at exactly the same time and place.

Sgt Podge, a Norwegian Forest Cat, disappears from his owner's home in Talbot Woods, Bournemouth, every night.

The next morning, the 12-year-old cat can always be found in exactly the same place, on a pavement about one and a half miles (2.4km) away.

His owner, Liz Bullard, takes her son to school before collecting Sgt Podge.
She said the routine began earlier this year, when Sgt Podge disappeared one day.

Ms Bullard rang the RSPCA and began telephoning her neighbours to see if anyone had seen him.

An elderly woman who lived about one and a half miles away called back to say she had found a cat matching Sgt Podge's description.

Ms Bullard collected him but within days he vanished again. She rang the elderly woman to find Sgt Podge was back outside her home.

She said a routine has now become established, where each morning she takes her son to school before driving to collect Sgt Podge from the pavement between 0800 and 0815 GMT.

It is thought Sgt Podge walks across Meyrick Park Golf Course every night to reach his destination.

Ms Bullard said: "If it's raining he may be in the bush but he comes running if I clap my hands."

All she has to do is open the car passenger door from the inside for Sgt Podge to jump in.

Wandering the streets

Ms Bullard also makes the trip at weekends and during school holidays - when her son is having a lie in.

She does not know why, after 12 years, Sgt Podge has begun the routine but explained that another woman who lived nearby used to feed him sardines, and that he may be on the look-out for more treats.

"As long as you know where they are you don't mind as a cat owner," Ms Bullard said.
"I know where to collect him - as long as he's not wandering the streets."

Back at home, Sgt Podge has breakfast before going to sleep by a warm radiator. "

Saturday, November 03, 2007

acted version

(This is a review of the BBC's Bill Turnbull Programme. It's like an acted version of The Daily Mail.)

It's noticeable that the interrelation of the military industrial complex and the media apparatus in these societies is such that while one does not find oneself hypnotised to the extent of uncritically accepting their worst excesses, to some extent real disquiet is deadened, routinised. If the media hasn't been so succesful in legitimising the warfare state its illegitimacy has been allowed to persist.

(and they invite me, if indirectly, to write about this stuff, as undifferentiated sausage filler)

We are not permitted to know how serious the administration is with respect to potentially bombing Iran, or what would be at stake, or even if publicity of all this is or is not a deliberate tactic. Apparently it has something to do with Our Reluctant Pipelines.

The dissemination of fake news or news styled entertainment should therefore be considered as part of a wider politics.

In common with many other commodities one feels impelled to criticise the BBC's Bill Turnbull Programme on aesthetic grounds (in which respect it's evidently deficient), though it really deserves to be criticised politically.

It's stretching things to say that this programme is neo-liberal propaganda: its obvious complacentcy being precisely what is forced by "harsh realities";

but in another way a kind of mill logic is at work. One is shown the commodity as flux and invited to imagine its total situation. Here one is shown a series of great banalities, and invited to connect:

- the flatness of this "news" - the relative inelasticity of its supply schedule - the total labour crystallised in total news production - the veracity of this news, and by extension that news which is not shown.

(as one of those queries about things that switch with the changes in the mode of production, it would be interesting to know if in the past this sort of "flat news" would have been considered straightforwardly incompetent, and if this changed, when.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Britney Spears video

...anyway this is a better example than all that about renaissance drama:

They hired a bare arse double for this video*; it's meant to be something like:

this unexpected social convention, a red hot bared arse projected out of the usual neolib austerity, this estrangement invites one to "spiritualise" the social world as it appears**; to find society tiered, and so, in a way, artistic.

This seems to be what Pierre Bourdieu missed: that bourgeois art isn't made in the image of bourgeois man, but is rather constituted as a compliment of the major bourgeois idea: bourgeois individualism; and as such this art is quite often presented as a series of imaginary exoteric networks, such as can be observed.

*surely an original stage in the progress of division of labour

**what Lacan imprudently generalises in his "big other" theory