Eighteenth note on Moseley’s “Money and Totality”

by Jehu

In the last note we saw that although the capitalist only pays out four hours of labor for the labor power he employed in the production of the shoes, when he gets to the market he finds that the shoes themselves still have a value of eight hours. The value of the shoes he wants to sell is determined not by the duration of labor he actually paid out to produce his shoes, but the socially necessary labor time required to produce shoes under the normal conditions of production, etc.

At the same time, the capitalist has purchased the labor power of the worker. The value of this commodity, like the value of the shoes, is not determined by the exchange value the capitalist paid for it. Rather, the value of the labor power is also determined by the socially necessary labor time required to reproduce labor power under the normal conditions of production, etc. The value of labor power, like the value of the shoes, is socially, not individually, determined.

The value of the shoes forms the upper limit on the total surplus value that can be produced by the capital. If the value of the shoes is eight hours of socially necessary labor time, the surplus value created can be no more than this. At the same time, the magnitude of surplus value that can be produced by the capital is further limited by the value of the labor power that must be consumed in the production of the commodity. If the value of the labor power is four hours and the value of the shoes is eight hours, the magnitude of surplus value can never be more than eight hours minus four hours, i.e., four hours.

However, we must add this caveat: In the system of production based on exchange value, the magnitude of the value of labor power can never be zero for the obvious reason that labor power is the source of all value and surplus value. If the value of the labor power consumed in the production of commodities ever reached zero, the production of surplus value would cease altogether. Thus, no matter how small the magnitude of the value of the labor power employed in the production of commodities, this value can never be zero without bringing about the immediate collapse of capitalism.

While at least in theory it may be technically feasible to produce use values without any application of living human labor, this would be incompatible with the production of value and the capitalist mode of production. The system of capitalistic commodity production has its limit that it requires some application of human labor in the production of commodities.

Assume two capitals, one of which buys labor power to produce shoes and a second capital that has completely automated the production of shoes and employs no labor power at all.

The first capital, “A”, pays out four hours for labor power and sets this labor power to work for eight hours. At the end of eight hours, one pair of shoes has been produced.

The second capital, “B”, however, pays nothing for labor power. The capitalist sets his machines to work for eight hours, while he goes fishing, hunting and criticizing. At the end of eight hours, he returns to his workshop to find one pair of shoes has been produced by his machine.

This brings us to an odd result that I will discuss next.