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

From: Pen-L Fred Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Sat Apr 14 2007 - 13:22:51 EDT

Quoting Rakesh Bhandari <bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU>:

> Hi Fred,
> Well first this passage is not actually about the infrequency of
> changes in unit values.  The constancy in prices of production for
> any branch of production is compatible with changing unit values in
> the respective branches. As long as productivity growth is fairly
> proportional across branches, their prices of production may remain
> fairly stable in both absolute and relative  terms, and the periods
> of excessive market prices for any one branch may well be balanced by
> periods of weak market prices, such that over time the respective
> branches will all have made an average rate of profit.
> In using this passage as proof of the constancy of unit values, you
> are ignoring your point that prices of production should not be
> conflated with unit prices and values!
> Secondly unit values are not affected only by or even mainly by
> changes in labor productivity to which Marx refers in the passage
> below but by changes in the unit values of the means of production.
> But Marx focuses on only one reason for a change in unit values in
> the passage below--change in direct labor productivity. Why?
> Well, it is quite possible that changes in the absolute and relative
> level of prices of production for any one branch would change if
> there were explosive growth in direct labor productivity. In other
> words, if a branch were all of a sudden to leap from a low OCC to
> high OCC, then one would see the sum of the market prices of that
> branch's produced commodities changing both absolutely and as a
> relative portion of total prices. Market prices would not be seen to
> be hovering around stable prices of production in that case.
> But it does not follow that Marx thinks unit values are constant in
> all the other branches as the unit values of the goods which are
> consumed as means of production will have tendentially continued to
> decline, bringing about a constant reduction in unit values. The
> prices of production--which are defined at the branch level--can
> remain stable with market prices hovering around them while unit
> values and use values continue to move in inverse direction.

Hi Rakesh,

The kind of scenario that you suggest (constant and more or less
proportional changes of values for all commodities) is possible, but
there is no indication in this passage that this kind of scenario is
what Marx had in mind.

And, even in this case, if the prices of production of outputs remain
constant over longer periods of time, then so will the prices of
production of the inputs, and thus the prices of production of the
inputs will be equal to the prices of production of the outputs, as I
have argued.

In addition, I think that Marx thought that prices of production would
remain constant prolonged periods because the values of commodities
remain more or less constant over longer periods and would change only
occasionally for any single commodity.  At least this is what he
assumed in his theory of prices of production.

> As far as I can see this is the only passage from volume 3 that
> either you or Allin has quoted to demonstrate that Marx believed that
> unit values were even roughly constant over time.

I would say that you have not provided any textual evidence in which
Marx states that he assumes in his theory of prices of production that
the values of commodities change “ceaselessly”.  The textual evidence
that you have cited at the end of Chapter 9 of Volume 3 makes the
theoretical point that changes in prices of production are caused by
changes in the values of commodities, either in the final goods or in
the means of production that are inputs for the final goods.  Marx does
not state in these pages that he assumes that values are changing all
the time for all commodities.  He simply argues that, when prices of
production do change, they change because of a change of values.  This
argument implies nothing about the frequency of these changes.

You INFER from these pages that Marx assumes that the values of all
commodities are changing all the time.  But that is an inference that
you are making; it is not an inference that Marx made.  So I don’t
think these pages provide any support for your interpretation.

Rakesh, are you arguing that constant capital is valued at the actual
historical prices of production of the means of production (at the time
the means of production were purchased)?  If so, then I think this is
clearly a misinterpretation of Marx’s theory.  There is tons of textual
evidence, which I have presented on numerous occasions (but not
recently), that Marx assumed that constant capital is valued at the
CURRENT prices of production of the means of production (as inputs, as
already evidenced by the purchase of the means of production on the
market).  So that, if there is a change in the current prices of
production of the means of production on the market, then the value of
the constant capital invested in all similar means of production still
in process (i.e. before the output produced with these means of
production are sold) is revalued to equal the current prices of
production of these means of production.

Rakesh, do you agree or disagree with this?


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