[OPE-L:8609] From Ian Wright on Weeks and Simple Commodity Production

From: rakeshb@stanford.edu
Date: Thu Mar 13 2003 - 21:45:57 EST

From: "Ian Wright" <ian_paul_wright@hotmail.com>

After reading your posts I think there isn't really any 
disagreement, except perhaps on the weight you give to Weeks' 
example.I have not read Weeks, and therefore state the following 
based only upon what you've posted, but it seems that the 
example of production units that (i) are largely self-subsistent and 
(ii) sell only excess produce, is not an example of a simple 
commodity economy (and therefore you were correct to
guess that I would not count it as such). The main reason is that 
these conditions fail Marx's criterion for "the exchange of the 
various commodities to cease being purely accidental or only
 occasional". (In fact, the law of value fails to emerge in my 
simulation if exchange is only occasional). Such units, being 
self-sufficient, do not need to enter into exhange relations with 
others. Bringing excess produce to the market is an unplanned, 
and therefore accidental, side-effect  of their self-reproduction. 
Once at the market, the units are 
satisifed with any sale: there is no objective necessity for
them to realise a particular price for their excess product, so in 
some sense they are disinterested in market outcomes: any 
income from sale is a non-essential "bonus". In this scenario, 
there aren't ubiquitous exchange relations and there isn't 
productive interdependence. In an economy of
non-competitive, self-sufficient producers (as in Weeks' example) 
there is no systematic need for a market, and of course the law of 
value will not operate. He is therefore correct to deny that this kind 
of production would be regulated by a law of value (on the 
assumption that patriarchal agrarian households interact with the 
marketplace in the manner described). I think Marx would readily 
accept this conclusion because it fails at least one of
his stated conditions. I think that the example of patriarchal 
agrarian households is pretty much irrelevant to determining 
whether the law of value ever operated in a direct and unmediated 
form as Engels suggested, and which I think this is your main 
concern here. It would be more productive to
consider other pre-capitalist economic formations that do support
specialisation, interdependence and continual exchange. The 
example of an economy of self-sufficient, accidental market 
participants is a red herring in this context.

 In the SCE, prices tend to correspond to values because mean 
incomes tend to equalise although products require unequal 
periods of time for their production. Hence, it seems reasonable to 
consider that any systematic income inequalities, such as may be 
due to the presence of an exploiting class, implies a deviation 
from a community of free commodity producers and
hence the expression of the law of value is likely to be modified. 
Engels may have been rash in stating that prices correspond to 
values up to the 15th century due to the unmediated
operation of the law of value, rather than simply stating that the law 
of value operated before capitalism. As an aside, I think it would be 
very interesting to analyse ancient city-state economies from this 

> >If so, this raises the question of whether it makes sense to 
>>speak of such specialization and interdepedence in the 
>>absence of social classes. I do have my doubts.

I didn't understand this. There are many models that contain
specialisation and interdependence without classes (e.g. 
Debreu's theory of value, Marx's discussion in Capital prior to the 
introduction of capitalists and workers, any organisational model 
of a firm etc.) I have every intention of studying models with 
classes, but you've got to start somewhere.

All the best,


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