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

From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Fri Mar 23 2007 - 14:08:36 EDT

> As Michele Naples argued long ago, if LTV incompatible with
> equilibrium--two equalities over-determine
> the set of transformation equations--then capitalism may well be
> incompatible with equilibrium, not the law of value. That is, one
> cannot deduce the falsity of the LTV from its incompatibility with
> equilibrium. You once agreed that Naples was quite right.

Yes I did. But my view has changed a little. The property of a
realised general rate of profit, that is uniform profits, is not
essential to demonstrate the existence of a transformation problem.
The mere existence of capitalist profits, however distributed, causes
a problem for the classical labour theory of value. Marx's assumption
of a uniform rate of surplus-value is a simplifying assumption.
Similarly, the assumption of a uniform rate of profit is a simplifying
assumption for Marx's critics. It is not essential to their critique.
I got misled on this point by some of the Marxian literature on the

> At any rate, Shaikh's solution certainly does not prove the LTV and
> assumes it throughout its iteration. But the two equalities can be
> shown to hold in a real sense in these unreal conditions. And I see
> no reason why the mass of surplus value should not change as the cost
> prices are changed since surplus value is total value, monetarily
> expressed, minus cost prices which are being modified in a so called
> complete transformation. If the equilibrium mass of profit seems
> larger than initial mass of surplus value, all that would have
> happened is that  wage goods and/or means of production were bought
> below value and this allowed for a nominal increase in the mass of
> surplus value as expressed in profit. Big deal. As far as problems in
> theories of value go, this is as about as trivial as one get. A
> trivial problem in unreal conditions. But there is no criticism too
> trivial to throw at Marx.

The criticism is not trivial but an important contradiction.
Contradictions require lots of theoretical attention, not immunizing
strategies, which is why, for instance, Shaikh expends such energy on

The TP is the modern appearance of the contradiction between a pure
labour theory of value and capitalist profits that appeared at the
birth of political economy. What you call trivial is in fact

> At any rate, Marx never said that the cost prices had been left
> unmodified in the form of simple prices or price values or values. He
> has been misread for a very long time.

Marx's proposal that prices of production redistribute surplus-value
is in my view correct, even in the special case of equilibrium. But to
say such things one has to engage with the modern critique on its own


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