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

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Fri Mar 23 2007 - 18:25:13 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
> TP.

I don't see how this is a reply to Naples' point which you did at one
point concede.

>> 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.

No the important contradictions are not logical criticisms but real
contradictions which Marx theorizes. The criticism is trivial, not the

> Contradictions require lots of theoretical attention, not immunizing
> strategies, which is why, for instance, Shaikh expends such energy on
> it.

yes real contradictions require theoretical attention--the contradiction
between the organization of the social relations of production via
commodities and capitalist production of commodities for profit by means
of wage labor. This is a real contradiction, which is expressed as a
contradiction between the law of value and the tendency for the
equalization of the profit rate. Marx gave the real contradiction
theoretical attention; the criticism of his theory of real contradictory
tendencies is trivial. It appears scientistic so it allows the voices of
bourgeois common sense and reaction to appear otherwise, as the logic
choppers of political economy.

> 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
> foundational.

It was foundational in the dismissal of the labor theory of value. Yes
Malthus' criticism of Ricardo has been foundational in the destruction of
any scientific basis for the understanding of capitalist dynamics, leading
to the jejune idea that the value of a good is whatever the market price
sellers and buyers agree to at any point in time. But Marx showed that the
contradiction was not logical but real; the real contradiction does not go
away by saying that the ONLY theory which captures it is logically
contradictory. Which it is not. It's not a logical contradiction not to
transform the inputs into the same prices of production as the outputs. If
that's not possible, all that may imply is the incompatibility of
capitalist production with equilibrium. Big deal. Time to move on.

>> 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
> terms.

The modern critique should engage with Marx on his own terms.


> -Ian.

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