In earlier installments I discussed the non-parliamentary, non-democratic and accounting error dimensions of the current crisis. I indicated that in the next posting I would address "accounting for labor power." Before doing so, I would like to comment on the crackpot title of a feature in this week's Newsweek, "How to save capitalism." What an absurd way to frame the question! The point is not "saving" or "abolishing" capitalism. The point is getting on somehow with life and livelihood. If there are indeed elements of capitalism that we might want to retain, they must withstand some reasonable tests of usefulness and durability.
Having previously cited Engels and Lenin on book-keeping, I now will cite Marx, himself:
After the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, but still retaining social production, the determination of value continues to prevail in the sense that the regulation of labour-time and the distribution of social labour among the various production groups, ultimately the book-keeping encompassing all this, become more essential than ever.
Thus, for Marx, the key to determining value is the regulation of labor time and the distribution of social labor. This is regardless of whether one is intent on saving or abolishing capitalism. But how does capitalist book-keeping encompass the regulation of labor time? By compiling a payroll that records wage rates and hour worked by employees.
Is that how post-capitalist book-keeping with regard to labor time would also work? No. According to Moishe Postone, Marx analyzes four distinct elements of labor time. Necessary and surplus labor time from the perspective of the individual worker, socially necessary labor time from the global perspective and superfluous time, a fourth category that arises as labor time itself ceases to be the primary source of material wealth. Although this labor time is superfluous to the production of material wealth, under capitalism it remains a prerequisite for the performance of necessary labor time to the extent that labor time remains the source and measure of value. The material wealth that results from this fourth kind of labor time needs to be destroyed. War is the accustomed method for destroying this superfluous material wealth. But anything that promotes conspicuously wasteful consumption helps. After capitalism, this superfluous labor time (in theory!) could be converted to time free from labor.
I like Postone's interpretation but the categories may be a bit too abstract for book-keeping purposes. That's because he starts out from marxist theory rather than accounting practice. My own approach is to begin from an instance of accounting practice that is uniquely relevant to the analysis of labor time: the costing of collective bargaining proposals by unions and employers.
It so happens that unions and employers evaluate working time differently in their costing models. Unions typically use "paid hours" as the divisor for evaluating hourly labor rates. Employers use "hours actually worked". Neither side explicitly recognizes the productivity effects of different working time arrangements although the union approach does implicitly and very imprecisely. It's not difficult to build a spreadsheet model that reconciles the union and employer perspective while incorporating an explicit productivity factor. I've done it. What has proven difficult is convincing unions, employers or governments of the urgency of doing a more responsive costing of labor time.