[OPE-L:4352] Re: SV, labour and machines

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Sun Oct 29 2000 - 11:51:15 EST

Hi Steve,

1) My argument does not 'explain' SV from supply and demand. 
Though it does recognise the obvious fact that supply and demand 
*proximately* (not truly or ultimately) explain prices. We would 
have nothing to explain at all if there wasn't a 'law of one price'; if 
the same goods at the same place at the same time had 
completely different prices. S and D explain this law of one price; 
that's all. Marx is interested in explaining 'averages' prices, ie. the 
hidden regulative price that lies behind the fluctuations due to S 
and D. S and D certainly do not explain these! BUT obviously, any 
such explantion must be *compatible* with the obvious features of 
free exchange - S and D and the law of one price. My argument 
shows how *through* these 'surface' features the true underlying 
law expresses itself. This is the difference between 'proximate' and 
'ultimate' explanation. The former is not really explanation at all.

2) What *does* explain SV then, on my account? Now, all 
commodities have use value and exchange value, so the key 
explanatory point does not rest upon this (though must be 
compatible with it). Rather, the key explanatory point is the 
distinction between machines and labour power. Machines have an 
already fixed contribution to production 'contained' in them prior to 
production. Thus in paying for the machine you are paying for the 
contribution. There are not two things paid for (the machine and its 
contribution) but one (the contribution of the machine). In contrast 
labour power has no fixed contribution 'contained' in it. It is both 
unlimited in what it can do and creative in that it can generate 
something which is new. All that is 'contained' in it is the prior 
process of reproduction of the labourer *in no way linked* with the 
future perfomance of labour. In the case of labour power, unlike that 
of machines, the capitalist pays for something that is entirely 
distinct from its contribution to production. There are two things, 
not one, so SV is possible without contradicting the law of one 

So the key is not an assumption but an ontological fact about 
machines and labour: Labour is universally and creatively 
transformative. Machines aren't. In the context of generalised 
commodity exchange this means that Labour is the only possible 
source of SV. That's the argument anyway.

Many thanks,


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