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

From: Pen-L Fred Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Tue Feb 27 2007 - 22:54:01 EST

Quoting Diego Guerrero <diego.guerrero@CPS.UCM.ES>:

> Fred:
> I would say Marx mentioned market prices a few times in Capital, mostly
> to deemphasize their importance, compared to prices of production,
> which are long-run equilibrium prices.
> ________________________________________
> Diego:
> Marx often uses the same terms for different concepts. It is true that he
> uses "market price" as you say in most cases. But when I say "market price
> (m)" I am thinking in long-term prices too, and I believe that Marx
> sometimes does the same. The 'm' include the prices of the commodities of
> the sectors where many reasons make their actual rates of profit differ-year
> after year and in average terms!!-from the uniform rate of profit included
> in their production prices.
> 1) Think of the influence of the ground-rent. When analysing the absolute
> rent Marx writes that "it is possible for agricultural products to be sold
> above their price of production and below their value, while, on the other
> hand, many industrial products yield the price of production only because
> they are sold above their value". He is clearly thinking of a long-term
> price, I believe, not in short-tem fluctuations.
> 2) Think of taxes. Many sectors use gasoline as an input: the price of the
> gasoline is persistently over its production price, not due to short-term
> fluctuations of any kind, but due to the tax system of almost all actual
> societies where the State is present. In the other pole you have a lot of
> agricultural products that systematically receive subsidies from the State
> that lower their market prices compared with their production prices .
> 3) And think of the following as a general reflection: "if there are taxes,
> payments to unproductive labor, rents, or interest payments, the tendency
> may be to equalize net profits after deducting these items" (Foley, 1982, p.
> 46). It is clear that it is a "tendency", not a short-term fluctuation, and
> also that the resulting prices, that include gross profits, not just net
> profits, would be different from production prices in all those cases.
> However, I think now that I should perhaps call my 'm' prices "actual
> prices" instead of "market prices" even if the ambiguity could remain in
> this case too. I was aware of this problem and I mentioned it in a footnote
> of my paper. W hat do you think?

Hi Diego, this is very interesting.

By “market prices”, I have been thinking you meant short-run prices
that fluctuate around long-run center of gravity prices, because (as
you say) that is what Marx usually meant by “market prices”.

However, now you seem to suggest that by “market prices” you mean
long-run center of gravity prices at a lower level of abstraction than
Part 2 of Volume 3 (taking into account unproductive labor, taxes,
etc.) (and perhaps even with unequal rates of profit).

If you indeed mean long-run center of gravity prices at a lower level
of abstraction, then I will have to think about that some more.  I
think you may be right about that, and then we really would have a

So would you please clarify?  Which of these two meanings of “market
prices” do you mean?

If you mean the latter (long-run center of gravity prices at a lower
level of abstraction), then I don’t think “actual” is a good
descriptive term.  Unless it were “actual long-run center of gravity
prices”, as opposed to hypothetical long-run center of gravity prices
at a higher level of abstraction. In Part 4 of Volume 3, Marx referred
to prices of production as modified by commercial capital and
commercial profit as “real prices of production”.  (p. 399)


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