[OPE-L:4607] Re: Re: reply to Fred (1)

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@MAIL.WESLEYAN.EDU)
Date: Mon Dec 04 2000 - 18:30:28 EST

Andrew Brown writes, among other things,

>'Postulating' exchange at value in volume one certainly does make 
>life easier for Marx. But he is, from ch 6, through volume 1, looking 
>at only the abstract and general features common to all industrial 
>capitals, so he cannot introduce price / value deviations that are 
>due to systematic differences between capitals (different OCCs for 
>instance). **Indeed, without these distinctions he has no basis to 
>assume anything other than price / value equivalence.** Also chs 1-6 
>have established that with or without this assumption surplus 
>labour is the sole source of SV.  [Emphasis added--GS]

I have neither the time nor the inclination to start a major OPE-L debate
on the Volume I, Part 2 issues again, but I want to note for the record
that the statement set apart by asterisks above is problematic, and in
particular does not follow from anything Marx validly argued in Volume I.  

Here's why: 

(1) A necessary condition for the existence of surplus value is that the
commodities entering into the circuit of capital are scarce relative to the
effective demand for them.  In Marx's reading, this required two
conditions:  first, a class condition, such that the working class is "free
in the double sense," that is, have no significant ownership of means of
production.  He establishes this point in I, Ch. 33: "So long, therefore,
as the worker can accumulate for himself--and this he can do so long as he
remains in possession of the means of production--capitalist accumulation
and the capitalist mode of production are impossible." [p. 933, Penguin
ed.]  He closes the chapter with a similarly categorical assessment.

Marx's second condition is macroeconomic, to the effect that the capitalist
*rate* of accumulation is not so strong as to eliminate the scarcity of
capital and thus drive the rate of profit to zero.  He acknowledges the
*logical* possibility of excessive accumulation in Ch. 25, even as he
argues for conditions that ensure this will generally not occur.

But even if Marx didn't say that surplus value requires capital scarcity,
the point would still hold.  If capitalists incur no subjective costs in
supplying constant capital commodities and the effective supply exceeds
effective demand, competition among capitalists must drive the profit rate
(or, under value accounting, the rate of surplus value) to zero. 

(2)  Under such conditions of scarcity, **the price of a commodity will in
general exceed (the monetary expression of) its labor value,** even
assuming all other commodities exchange at their respective values.  The
reason is basic:  under such conditions, the market price for the scarce
commodity must include either a "supply price" corresponding to the
*subjective* cost of supplying the good (a risk premium, for example, or an
interest payment understood as a return to impatient time preferences of
the supplier), or else an economic rent.  Indeed, when the scarce
commodities are capital goods (whether represented in real or financial
form is immaterial) this creates the familiar result that differential OCCs
lead to *generalized* price-value disparities. **But even without
differential OCCs across sectors, there will in general be a price-value
disparity for the scarce (capital) commodities.  Thus, light of point (1),
the existence of SV generically corresponds to a situation of price-value
disparity, and to suggest otherwise is fundamentally to misrepresent the
systemic basis for the existence of surplus value.

(3)  But if this is true, how does Marx account for the existence of SV
given PVE in Chapters 6 and 7?  Answer: through an unjustified analytical
sleight of hand.  That is, he *assumes* without any justification that
workers who are "free in the double sense" must gain access to the means of
production by selling their labor power as a commodity.  But this does not
follow, since workers could, for example, just as readily gain access to
the same means of production if capitalists *leased* them these constant
capital commodities (see OPE-L post 3538, where I work out this scenario in
detail).   **But under this otherwise isomorphic scenario, the existence of
surplus value REQUIRES targeted price-value disparities, in the form of
rental payments on the leased constant capital commodities.**  

(4)  There are no other valid economic grounds for invoking PVE as the
basis for explaining surplus value, either.  That is, there is no
independently valid sense in which it corresponds to "the pure case of
commodity exchange," or to "competitive equilibrium" or to the classical
case of "natural prices."   (See OPE-L 3537, where I spell this point out
in detail.)  Indeed, reversing the judgment Andrew offers above, since OCCs
*always* vary in real-world capitalist economies, it would be more
appropriate to take price-value disparities as the representative condition
of commodity exchange.

But in any case, there are powerful reasons, given in steps (1) and (2), to
*reject* PVE as the basis for accounting for SV.

  Conclusion:  the claim that "...without these distinctions [in OCCs,
Marx] has no basis to 
assume anything other than price / value equivalence"  is invalid.  There
*is* a basis, in fact one that is fundamental to the existence of surplus
value; but Marx simply dismisses it without justification.   

For what it's worth, 

Gil Skillman 

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