[OPE-L:6455] Re: Re: general law of value and the world market - refs

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Sat Jan 26 2002 - 16:09:55 EST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jurriaan Bendien" <j.bendien@wolmail.nl>
Sent: Saturday, January 26, 2002 3:23 PM

Hi Jerry,

Thanks for the reference. I haven't studied Sau and don't know anything
about him so I cannot comment, and I haven't advanced very far at all with
my study of foreign trade and the world market yet - I just didn't have the
time in recent years. I would disagree though with Sau when he limits the
concept of superprofits (surplus-profits or "extra-Mehrwert") to industrial
capital. Surplus-profits can arise in any branch of capitalist activity,
for instance through the (temporary) monopolisation of new technology or
natural resources, or more generally any condition which creates a barrier
to competitive pressures or gives a special edge in productivity. This, as
Mandel indicated, is essential for understanding the trajectory and
dynamics of capitalist development in the real world, since what drives the
system forward (its dynamism) is precisely the search for
higher-than-average profits, i.e. surplus profits (in Mandel's
periodisation, freely competitive capitalism 1780-1885 is characterised by
the realisation of surplus-profits mainly at the expense of economically
backward (often agricultural) regions in a single country, classical
imperialism 1885-1940 is characterised by the realisation of
surplus-profits mainly at the expense of other, economically backward
countries, and late capitalism (1940-) is characterised by the realisation
of surplus-profits mainly on the basis of technological progress
(technological rents) - whether that is correct is difficult for me to
evaluate at this stage).

What Sau means by the "law of value" is not quite clear to me from what you
write. What I mean by it, simply put, is that the value of commodities is
determined by the average socially necessary labour-time required to
produce them. Therefore relative commodity prices (exchange-values) must
reflect differences in production costs measured by labour-time, i.e. the
valuation of labour-time is conserved in the circulation of
commodities.  This may be true more or less directly under conditions of
simple commodity production, such as it occurs in the economic life of
precapitalist societies, but as Marx shows, in capitalist society the
operation of the law of value gets more complicated, containing many more
mediations. It asserts itself through the competitive process among
industries, where production prices and market values are formed, and
profit rates are at least tendentially equalised - market-prices must
systematically deviate from labour-values and so on. On the world market
the operation of the law is modified again, among other things because more
labour ends up exchanging against less labour, as is reflected in the
"terms of trade". The ultimate basis of this is differentials in
productivity (of labour and of the soil). It may be argued, as Mandel did,
that internationally there is "no effective equalisation of the rate of
profit", but this would appear to be only a temporary or historical
circumstance, in function of imperialism - the long term trend would be for
rates of profit and productivity differentials to even out between
countries with the further development of world trade and international
competition (maybe not so clearly in the case of agriculture, but certainly
for industrial goods).

To construct a theory of the capitalist world market is difficult not just
because of the vast complexity of the subjectmatter (how can we say
meaningful things about such a vast subject within the boundaries of our
own limited experience) but also because the modalities of imperialism
differ in space and over time (the way one country is imperialised or
imperialises may be different to the way another country is). We have to
deal not just with world trade but with monetary policy, protectionist
measures etc. This is perhaps why many authors prefer to study a specific
country or region and its insertion in the world
market.  Nevertheless,  the Marxian law of value would seem to be a good
theoretical starting point which is consistent with Marx's method of
starting off with some simple pure abstractions and gradually incorporating
more layers of analysis. In that case, we would I think be faced first of
all with a critique of Ricardo's theory of comparative advantages, and a
consideration of the phenomenon of unequal exchange. That is more or less
where the currently Marxian scholarship is at, but like I say I never had
the time to really delve into it systematically. All I can really do at
present is refer to some authors who have, which I did.

I think one of the problems with the Marxian scholarship on
underdevelopment - insofar as it deals with a real object and not merely an
object-in-thought, and leaving aside faulty theories of unequal exchange
(through lack of a developed concept of the operation of the law of value,
which leads to a focus on distributional conflicts) -  is a very restricted
view of "primitive (original) accumulation", confusing the original
accumulation of money capital with the original accumulation of industrial
capital. Primitive accumulation is something that occurs all the time, and
under much more varied conditions than Marx describes with reference to
Britain. In many parts of the so-called Third World there was and is plenty
accumulation of money capital, yet it doesn't transform into industrial
(productive) capital - this is what has to be explained.



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