[OPE-L:3106] Fwd: Re: RE: starting points

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Date: Wed May 10 2000 - 15:27:48 EDT

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Michael writes:

>I would just like to pose an apparently simple question into the complex and
>interesting debate between Fred and Gil. Gil writes:
>>there is no useful sense in which
>> price-value equivalence constitutes a necessary, or even economically
>> relevant, starting point for the analysis of capitalist exploitation.
>Is price-value equivalence not a relevant starting point for a (sensibly
>useful) 'even if' argument: 'Even if price-value equivalence holds' claims
>Marx, 'I can derive the conditions of existence for exploitation of labour'.
>And then does it.
>Or am I missing something?

Elegantly put, Michael. This certainly gets to the crux of the matter.
What's missing, in response to your question, is a coherent basis for
believing that price-value equivalence has any analytical relevance
whatsoever for the phenomenon under discussion. If I were to replace your
hypothetical "even if" clause above with one of the following: "Even if all
capitalists are the same height,...." or "even if all transactions are
conducted with fiat rather than commodity money,..." or better yet, "even
if all capitalists had the same technical conditions of production,..." , I
imagine that you would be unimpressed with the resulting claim, and
legitimately so, since none of these "even if" clauses has any apparent
relevance one way or another to the phenomenon of capitalist exploitation.

Well, price-value equivalence has the same merit as the height of
capitalists in analyzing the logic of capitalist exploitation: at best it's
essentially beside the point. It does not correspond to the classical case
of exchange at "natural prices," it does not correspond to an assumption of
competitive markets, and it is not logically justified by the observation
that surplus value cannot arise from price-value disparities, *taken alone.*

Indeed, the problem is worse than that: in an important sense, a world that
gives rise to capitalist exploitation is *essentially* one in which
price-value disparities arise, and as a consequence, focusing on this
economically meaningless case can--and arguably, does-- induce serious
apprehensions about the nature and basis of capitalist exploitation.

I realize I'm swimming against the tide of our common educational experience
here. I'm sure we were all introduced to the Marxian problematic of surplus
value with the suggestion that there was something meaningful in the
exercise of demonstrating that surplus value could exist *even if* all
commodities exchange at their respective values, the way out of the
resulting dilemma being the distinction between the use and exchange values
of labor power. But hindsight shows that this suggestion was fundamentally
misconceived: it invalidly exalts the analytical status of price-value
equivalence, and it essentially misrepresents the political economic
significance of the labor/labor power distinction.

In sum, the case of price-value equivalence is not relevant, let alone
"sensibly useful," for the analytical task at hand.


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