[OPE-L:3167] Re: Re: Re: Fwd: Re: RE: starting points

From: Allin Cottrell (cottrell@wfu.edu)
Date: Fri May 12 2000 - 21:47:23 EDT

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On Fri, 12 May 2000, Gil Skillman wrote:

> I agree that assuming price value-equivalence creates a
> puzzle, Allin, and that the logical answer to the puzzle as
> Marx poses it is the distinction between the use and
> exchange values of labor power sold as a commodity. But for
> several reasons it's the *wrong* puzzle, representing the
> significance of the labor/labor power distinction in an
> essentially misleading way.

I'm puzzled, but prepared to read on...

> ... price-value equivalence is not an economically
> meaningful condition for describing an economy that
> systematically yields surplus value, even in the abstract:
> it doesn't correspond to the classical system of "natural
> prices," it doesn't correspond to neoclassical "competitive
> equilibrium," ...

Hold on. It would be difficult to maintain that David Ricardo's
system was not the most highly developed version of
"classical" theory and of course Ricardo held that natural
prices correspond closely with embodied labour contents.

> To the contrary, an economy that systematically yields
> surplus value is *generically* one in which price-value
> disparities arise, and unless the circuit of industrial
> capital is *universally* the vehicle for appropriation of
> surplus value (bear with me for just a second), targeted
> price-value disparities are to some extent even *necessary*
> conditions for that appropriation.

Well, "just a second" perhaps, but If the deal is that
price-value discrepancies are the /necessary/ basis of surplus
value I emphatically do not buy it.

> And now to the key point you raise: restricting attention
> to the analytically polar (and in no real-world capitalist
> economy exactly descriptive) case in which the purchase and
> subsumption of wage labor is the *only* basis for
> appropriating surplus value...

No theory worth bothering with is "exactly descriptive". But
what percentage of surplus value today, would we reckon, is
appropriated on the basis of hiring the labour-power of those
not possessed of their own means of production? Seems to me
that anything without a "9" in front is out of order.

> Suppose that there are significant disparities in ownership
> of the means of production, but workers are not entirely
> expropriated. This is a world, for example, of family farms
> and cottage industries, perhaps in addition to
> capitalist-run factories.

OK, the early 19th century.

> There are two characteristics of the general competitive
> equilibrium (simply a point of reference) that emerges from
> this scenario:
> 1) Assuming that there is a range of available technical
> compositions of capital, and individuals can freely choose
> among (economically feasible) production processes, the
> wealth inequalities described above will lead to systematic
> differences in the factor intensity (organic composition) of
> production, with relatively wealthy producers choosing
> "constant capital-intensive" techniques and relatively poor
> producers choosing "variable capital-intensive" techniques.
> For well-known reasons these differentials will create
> equilibrium disparities in commodity prices and values.
> Thus price-value disparities are *characteristic of*, rather
> than *accidental to*, this scenario of wealth
> inequalities---inequalities that, in extreme form, Marx
> takes as a necessary condition for systematic capitalist
> exploitation

OK, price-value disparities may well be essential to forms of
exploitation that existed on the margins of early capitalism.

> But John Roemer has demonstrated...

Roemer is smart, alright, but for my part I can't credit his
counterfactuals with the same sort of importance one grants to
Marx's attempt to come to grips with the _actual_ mode of
production that was emerging in his day, and that has since
taken over the world.

For the rest, Gil, I think you are too smitten (you're certainly
not alone in this) with the idea that a normally functioning
capitalism requires substantial, systematic price-value
discrepancies. Remember, that is a theoretical proposition,
based on strong assumptions regarding the equalization of the
rate of profit and an arbitrary variance of organic
composition. Paul C and I (and others who've dome empirical
work) do not find it to be borne out.


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