Re: [OPE-L] questions on the interpretation of labour values

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Tue Feb 20 2007 - 16:07:10 EST

After a  night's sleep and some retrospection I realize that some of  the
remarks I made yesterday (see below) were a bit too grumpy and sarcastic.

Without discussing the TP per se,  I do want to say that I agree
with Jurriaan when he emphasizes that values may be "contingently"
above or below production prices and market prices.  Jurriaan
alluded to the temporal dimension, but surely the spatial dimension is
important as well for comprehending unequal exchanges.  If we
consider the matter more concretely in terms of the world market
then there are new issues and problems:

Suppose there is one sector, called [X], where the sum of values
equals the sum of prices of production.  Now, suppose there is
another sector, called [Y], where there are no PoP.   Is there
any reason to suppose that the commodities sold by [Y] are sold
at prices in excess of their values?  I think there is.  If  the
capitalists in [X], however, pay rent to the capitalists in [Y], then
this would suggest that in [X] values do not in fact equal PoP.
If the rent is paid, instead of by the  [X ]capitalists, by  the
working-class then could it still be claimed that the real wages of
workers (working in both [X] and [Y]) equals the VLP?
(I think it could be claimed that wages = VLP only on average
and this means that wages would tend _not_ to  equal the VLP
at any single time or in any single place in the world market.)

Another issue: what about the sum (not of PoP but) of market
prices in relation to the sum of value?   And, how does the sum of
value relate to the sum of _wealth_ recalling that (non-human) nature
can create wealth but not (by itself) value?  Clearly the products
of nature come to be _valued_, though, even if they do not
represent _value_.

Clean air (in the atmosphere, as distinct from manufactured oxygen)
does not have value but may come to be _valued_.  How can we
grasp the _valuation_ of nature under capitalism using Marxian
conceptions? [In mainstream theory, there is the concept of
external costs.] How could one, for instance, calculate the _value_
of  clean air from a Marxian perspective?  By the costs in terms of
LP and MP in terms of  _cleaning_ the air?  But, how does one know
or estimate before the fact what those costs in the future will be?
And wouldn't the value of clean air from the perspective of capital
and the state be different from the 'value' of clean air from a working-
class perspective?  [Recalling Mike L's emphasis that social
issues should not be one-sidedly looked at from the standpoint of
capital.  Nor should they be looked at only from the general standpoint of
humanity.  They need, as Mitch Cohen emphasized, to be looked
at holistically. But has this been done?  How could it be done?]

As for unequal exchange, how do we know at any given point in time
that there is or is not equal exchange on the _global_ level? If
values may "contingently" be above or below production prices
and market values, isn't it also the case that during some entire
_epochs_ of capitalist history this could be the case?

There are tricky questions of dynamics here: e.g. in any given
social formation there is a standard for SNLT but this standard
changes temporally and is different in different social formations.
_How_ does it change?   Presumably, on the world market there
is a process by which there is not a SNLT for a particular society
but a SNLT for the world capitalist economy as a whole.  Yet, this
standard changes temporally not only as a result of competition but also
as a result of working-class struggles.  One could grasp this
process historically but I doubt whether it could be understood
in any meaningful sense algebraically.

There is much talk about value determination (and determination of
PoP) but what about the determination of market prices?  Some times
Marxists simply revert to saying that individual market prices are
determined by S and D.  But, isn't there are a _class_ analysis that we
can bring to an examination of the determination of market prices?
Don't we have something more and different to say about market
price determination than what has been said by mainstream economists?
Don't we need some 'microeconomic' theory of market price
determination rather than only a  aggregate perspective?

In solidarity, Jerry

> If it was completed last year (2006) then it would no longer be
> up-to-date.  The relentless march 'forward' for new interpretations
> of the TP continues.  Like a coming-of-age ritual, young Marxian
> scholars continue to boldly march off into the Wilderness in search
> of the Holy Grail of Marxian economics.  When they return from
> their Quest, they inevitably report on their findings (many claiming
> that they for the first time have unearthed the Grail!) but (mostly)
> older and wiser Sages say that the Grail has yet to be found.  And
> thus new faces in new generations continue to march off in search of the
> Marxian Grail. So it has been for well over a hundred years, so it
> will continue: all that has been will be again.  The Curtain will never
> come down on this Act.

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