[OPE-L:7988] Re: Volume 1 about the total surplus-value

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Nov 11 2002 - 09:16:46 EST

Hi Fred,

I think I am now a step closer to grasping your interpretation. My 
own interpretation, unlike yours, is not in the public domain (except 
in the form of my PhD) and so need not detain us too much at this 
stage. Though I draw from Alfredo's interpretation obviously I can't 
speak for him.

> As I understand Alfredo's interpretation (Alfredo, please correct me
> if I am wrong), the inputs of constant capital and variable capital
> are assumed to be equal to the VALUES of the means of production and
> the means of subsistence (the ratio between these two are his
> interpretation of the OCC). 

I can't speak for Alfredo, but for what it is worth I think your 
interpretation here is not quite right, or at least unduly truncated, 
owing to the nuances surrounding the TCC/VCC/OCC distinctions 
(as you will see from my posts regarding these distinctions). You 
pick up on this in another post to which I'll reply later.

 Therefore, according to his
> interpretation, the prices of production determined by Marx in Chapter
> 9 are not actual long-run center-of-gravity prices, but are instead
> only the first step in the determination of such long-run
> center-of-gravity prices.  Subsequent steps would involve the
> transformation of the inputs of constant capital and variable capital
> from values into prices of production, which would eventually
> determine long-run center-of-gravity prices.  

There is certainly a two step procedure (as I understand it) but I 
think it better to say that the concept of price of production is 
'modified' or developed from one step through to the next. By the 
second step, then prices of production do correspond to Smith's 
'natural prices' and the like. Once more I can't speak for Alfredo  
but only for myself.

In the end, the
> determination of these long-run center-of-gravity prices is exactly
> the same as in the Sraffian interpretation (see Alfredo's equation
> (8.3) on p. 98).  Thus, Alfredo's interpretation is similar to the
> "iterative solution" of Shaikh and others.

On my view we do indeed end up with the Sraffian calculation. I 
haven't studied Shaikh's 'iterative solution'.

> However, Marx said many times that his prices of production are
> long-run center-of-gravity prices, essentially the same as Smith's and
> Ricardo's "natural prices".  I have written a paper documenting these
> many passages ("Marx's Concept of Prices of Production as Long-run
> Center-of-Gravity Prices") available on my website
> (www.mtholyoke.edu/~fmoseley).

Yes Marx certainly said all this but see above re the 'modification' 
of this notion.

> In addition, Alfredo's determination of prices of production is only a
> partial distribution of surplus-value.  In the subsequant
> transfromation of input prices, the distribution of surplus-value will
> be altered further.  And, most importantly, the distribution of
> surplus-value will be altered in such a way as to change the total
> magnitude of surplus-value.  In other words, the total profit
> distributed in Volume 3 will not be equal to the total surplus-value
> determined in Volume 1.  This result contradicts the key aspect of
> Marx's logical method, according to which the distribution of
> surplus-value does not alter the total magnitude of surplus-value
> "ever".  

On my view it is true that the external measure of surplus value 
diverges from the immanent measure. That is, once the inputs are 
transformed, aggregate money profits are not proportional to 
aggregate surplus labour time (nor, therefore to the aggregate 
magnitude of surplus value prior to transforming the inputs). 
Whether this contradicts Marx's own method is a matter upon 
which we disagree.

> But money and prices are derived in Chapter 1 of Volume 1, and prices
> are assumed to be proportional to labor-time, which applies to the
> aggregate level.  The theory of surplus-value presented in Chapter 7
> explains how the PRICE of commodities produced is greater than the
> costs of production (also in terms of money and prices).  In the
> example in Chapter 7 in terms of the average worker, surplus-value is
> 3 SHILLINGS, which is determined by the product of the number of hours
> of surplus labor (6 hours) and the money new-value produced per hour
> (0.5 shillings per hour) - i.e. surplus-value is proportional to
> surplus labor.
> Andy, how do you interpret the theory of surplus-value presented in
> Chapter 7?

I have a ch. in my PhD on this. The main point is that Marx's ch.7 
does not, in my view, *rest* on the assumption that labour times 
are propotional to prices, either individually or in the aggregate. He 
does *make* this assumption but purely for convenience. It is 
innocuous such that all Marx's key conclusions remain, indeed are 
further substantiated, once price determination is grasped, and the 
assumption is dropped. What Marx's view *does* entail is the view 
that there is a systematic relationship between labour times and 
prices. But a systematic relationship need not be a proportional 

> > Does this mean that, on your interpretation, the key to Marx's view
> > is this *assumption* (or could I also call it a 'hypothesis'?) of
> > proportionality between the appearance form of surplus value (its
> > money measure) and its substance (surplus labour time)?  Or more
> > precisely, the key is the assumption you state above which, via the
> > structure of givens you have clarified for me in your previous
> > email, leads to proportionality between the substance and appearance
> > form of surplus value. Does this mean, furthermore, that the way to
> > evaluate Marx's argument, on your view, is via 'testing' the
> > empirical predictions (to put it crudely) that arise from this
> > fundamental assumption? What I have in mind is your discussion with
> > Blaug, Steedman and others in the methodology collection that you
> > edited and contributed to. Is your view that all theories make some
> > or other 'assumptions' which form a 'hard core', to use Lakatos'
> > terminology, a hard core not directly to be tested but rather to be
> > evaluated in terms of the propositions in the 'protective belt' (to
> > borrow again Lakatos' terminology for the sake of clarity)?
> > 
> This is a separate issue from Marx's method of determination of the
> total surplus-value in Volume 1 and Volume 3.  

Fred, I don't think that it can possibly be a separate issue. Or at 
least, my own interpretation of Marx's method would highlight the 
question of the nature and status of 'basic assumptions' or 
'hypotheses' to theory construction. I do not think Marx approached 
this in the same way as you do and *therefore* I do not agree with 
your interpretation of his treatment of total surplus value in Vol 1 
and 3.

> But, yes, your description of my understanding of the appropriate way
> to evaluate the validity of Marx's theory is essentially correct. 
> Marx's labor theory of value and surplus labor theory of surplus-value
> cannot be empirically tested directly because abstract labor is
> unobservable.  The way to test the theory is by means of the
> conclusions that are derived from this theory: the necessity of money,
> conflict over the length of the working day and over the intensity of
> labor, inherent technological change, etc.
> I am not sure that I would accept Lakatos' framework, but that is
> secondary.

Just to clarify one point: of course it is important to evaluate 
abstract theory via more concrete evidence; this is a vital 
procedure. But in my view that is not the only or even the main way 
in which one must appraise abstract theory. Rather, one can 
appraise it *directly* by asking if the claims to necessary relations 
that it makes are valid. This in turn entails that necessary relations 
are objective.

> The rest of Volume 3 is very important.  It shows that Marx
> consistently follows his logical method of taking the total
> surplus-value as given, as determined in Volume 1 (i.e. proportional
> to surplus labor), and that this total surplus-value does not change
> as a result of the distribution of surplus-value (as I have documented
> in my two papers referred to in my last post).  Your (and Alfredo's)
> interpretation of Part 2 contradicts this aspect of Marx's method,
> both in Part 2 and in the rest of the volume.  

As I said, I cannot comment since I haven't read it in detail. As 
regards the cites in your papers, then they are all consonant with 
the view that the key quantitative proposition is not that of 
*proportionality* of prices to labour times, rather it is of a 
*systematic relationship* between prices and labour times. It is 
true that, at face value, these cites are more supportive of your view 
than mine, since they stress proportionality. Though, to the extent 
that these cites are at the level of the OCC then they also support 
my view (my view entails proportionality at the level of the OCC). 
Furthermore, the natural thing to do is to work at the level of the 
OCC, since the level of the VCC obscures the underlying 

> Marx's conclusion that surplus-value is proportional to surplus labor
> is not merely "one of convenience" that can be dropped without any
> effect on the theory.  This determination of surplus-value provides
> the basic quantitative premise for the theory of the distribution of
> surplus-value in Volume 3.

Well, the basic quantitative and qualitative premise is provided by 
Volume 1, and we have different interpretations of Volume 1.

> Andy, how do you think Marx "established" in Volume 3 (Part 2) that
> the proportionality between surplus-value and surplus labor obtains
> "when working at the level of of OCC"?  As I understand Alfredo's
> interpretation, at the "level of the OCC" in Volume 3, surplus-value
> is taken as given, as determined in Volume 1, i.e. as proportional to
> surplus labor (please see Alfredo's table on p. 85).  In other words,
> his interpretation assumes that the proportionality betwen
> surplus-value and surplus labor holds in Volume 1, and then the
> surplus-value thus determined in Volume 1 is used to determined the
> INITIAL general rate of profit (= S / C+V) and the INITIAL prices of
> production in Volume 3, at the level of the OCC.  The proportionality
> between surplus-value and surplus labor is not established in Volume
> 3, but is rather assumed, as determined in Volume 1.

The question you ask me is too complex to be fruitfully answered 
without reference to my chapters devoted to this issue. But the 
main points are as follows:  Vol 1 shows that labour is essence, 
and price is appearance. This is a qualitative necessary 
relationship.  This necessary relationship entails that there *must* 
be a systematic quantitative relationship between labour times and 
prices. However, Vol 1 does not show *how* this quantitative 
relationship is enforced; it does not reveal the social process 
whereby labour time magnitudes are connected to price 
magnitudes (so it does not, in this sense, 'establish' proportionality 
or any other relationship). It is Vol 3 that shows *how* labour time 
magnitudes are related to price magnitudes (the key mechanism, 
i.e. social process, being the competition between capitals). The 
quantitative key is *not* the *proportionality* of aggregate or 
individual values to prices. Rather, it is that Vol 3 shows how 
competition enforces a *systematic relationship* between labour 
time magnitudes and price magnitudes. 

Regarding Alfredo's view: I interpret Alfredo's position differently to 
your interpretation of it. The key question here is what does it 
mean for something to be taken 'as given'. I think you incorrectly 
project your own notion of 'givens' to Alfredo. But that's just my 

Many thanks Fred, now I will go away and try to think through your 
own view having, thanks to this exchange, gained a better idea of 
what that view is.


PS Your own view is presented as an interpretation of Marx, hence 
I have couched my remarks accordingly. But I would like to make 
clear that my main concern, like yours and everyone elses, is with 
grasping and changing reality rather than with 'what Marx really 

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