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Fred, it just comes down to your interpretation of the meaning of "modified
significance of cost price". Our attention has to be on this passage
because that's where Sweezy's in particular was. And Meek made much of it.
So in this post I'll stick to Capital 3, p265
If dropping the assumption that the value of the means of production
equals the price paid for them has no importance since constant capital
simply remains the latter, then why did Marx say it was always possibe to
go wrong unless one remembers that the assumption does not in fact hold?
What role does the value of the means of production play for you in the
calculation of the value of a commodity? NONE, right?
So Marx said it was always possible to go wrong if one made an assumption
which in your interpretation does not matter one way or another, i.e.,
whether the money price paid for the means of production is equal to its
value or not?
And if constant capital were simply the cost price of the means of
production, then why does Marx insist that we have to allow for a
divergence between cost price and the value of the means of production,
which he cleary says here goes into the commodity as the constant capital?
I simply don't think your interpretation is an effective reply to the
Sweezy-Meek interpretation of this crucial passage.
I think the problem here is a simple one.
Tell me whether this is what you are thinking:
Since in the tableau the inputs are in prices, that being the necessary
form of appearance of value, there is no way to understand the value
transferred from the means of production, which we agree is the constant
capital, unless we assume that constant capital is determined by the money
price of the means of production.
If instead we assume that constant capital is the value of the means of
the production, then there is no way to do the transformation since we
simply do not know it. The only way to calculate the transformation is to
assume that what Marx means "by the value of the means of production
consumed" in a commodity is the money price paid for them and further to
equate this with constant capital.
I simply don't think this interpretation of the crucial passage holds.
It is simply not true that we really do have to know the value of the means
of production to calculate the average rate of profit and prices of
production in the tableau. We can assume (as long as we are assuming that
the law of value regulates prices) that in the aggregate the value of the
means of the production from the last period is equal to the price paid for
them, though in some branches the price paid for the means of production
will be below and in others above the value which they will transfer to
this period's output.
And in actual fact we can never know the value categories directly: value
of the means of production, mass of surplus value produced, the value rate
of profit (which after all has to be calculated before rent and interest
What I am saying is that the average rate of profit and prices of
production can however be calculated on the assumption that value of the
means of production is given by their price (which is true in the
aggregate) even if we recognize that in individual branches constant
capital is not simply a component of cost price but indeed the value of the
means of production consumed in a commodity AS MARX CLEARLY SAYS HERE.
Dropping this assumption would however allow us to further investigate the
actual magnitude of value/price of production divergences in the output
commodities--this is where it is possible to go wrong--but would not impact
the logic of Marx's theory of the formation of the average rate of profit
and prices of production.
But to indicate that I understand what you are getting at, let me follow
OK so let's say it has become possible for a capitalist to produce the same
commodities with cheaper means of production but he is still using the c
which he has not used up? What is the cost price of his commodities? Now we
agree that cost price is what the production of a commodity costs a
capitalist, right? So the new technical possibility cannot change what the
production of commodities is costing our poor backward capitalist, right?
OK, so you say that the cost price has not changed but what those old means
of production can transfer is now determined by their replacement prices.
So now constant capital is not defined by the money price that WAS PAID for
them. Constant capital is defined by the money price that would have to be
paid to replace the means of production at their current costs. (of course
I say that what can be transferred by the means of production is their
value as dynamically redetermined, which of course will be reflected in
their price, so our corrections for what the means of production transfer
in a dynamic setting here are going in the same direction).
In this sense constant capital would indeed diverge from the means of
production component of cost price. For the capitalist it would be a great
mistake to ignore this, for he will now have to achieve a higher rate of
exploitation (intensification, overwork) to receive the same rate of profit
on the capital he has advanced.
In your interpretation the commodity now has several cost prices--one real
and the others hypothetical. On which one is the rate of profit calculated?
Which one is meaningful for capitalist dynamics? Where does the lost value
of the old means of production go? How does this loss affect capitalist
dynamics...And how can one proliferate the number of cost prices of a
commodity while recognizing that cost price is a datum, a given
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