Re: [OPE-L] Question (invariable measure of value)

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sun Apr 15 2007 - 07:18:43 EDT

>>>Hi Rakesh,
>>>is the citation below taken from TSV or from a 
>>>letter written by Engels? I have not read that 
>>>text before. Seems more like Marx´s language!
>>Pretty sure it is from Marx. It's included in 
>>Kuruma's famous Marx lexicon, and I was reading 
>>Michael Schauerte's translation of those three 
>>volumes. But I shall check.
>>Yours, Rakesh
>Yes Theories of Surplus Value Chapter XX, 3. 
>Polemical Writings (d) Samuel Bailey

Also in this discussion the following passage is 
important as it reveals that the theoretician 
Marx needed  an invariable measure of value to do 
very different calculations than Sraffa intended 
. Marx wanted to be able to make intertemporal 
comparisons in the value of say a basket of use 
values, not hold the size of the pie invariant 
with changes in distribution in an impossibly 
stationary technical system. The creation of an 
invariable standard of value to solve the latter 
problem would not solve Marx's problem.  One can 
distinguish Marx's problematic from misguided 
readings of Ricardo's problematic.

Moreover, one can point to  the difference 
between setting the barter terms of exchange for 
commodities in terms of a numeraire and 
explaining why all commodities had to and could 
indeed represent their value as a physical 
quantity of a single use value (that gold mining 
labor was fetishized, that is immediately 
transformed in the only immediately social, 
general and abstract labor, appears all the more 
sur-real the more one acquaints oneself with the 
actual grueling and crude nature of this labor, 
including diving into and below the mud bottoms 
of rivers--see here Michael Taussig's My Cocaine 
Museum) .

Here's the crucial and generally ignored passage:

The problem of finding an "invariable measure of 
value" is thereby eliminated.  But this problem 
itself (the interest in comparing the value of 
commodities in different historical periods, is, 
indeed, not an economic interest as such, [but] 
an academic interest) arose out of a 
misunderstanding and conceals a much more 
profound and important question.  "Invariable 
measure of value" signifies primarily a measure 
of value which is itself of invariable value, and 
consequently, since value itself is a predicate 
of the commodity, a commodity of invariable 
value.  For example, if gold and silver or corn, 
or labour, were such commodities, then it would 
be possible to establish, by comparison with 
them, the rate at which other commodities are 
exchanged for them, that is, to measure exactly 
the variations in the values of these other 
commodities by their prices in gold, silver, or 
corn, or their relation to wages.  Stated in this 
way, the problem therefore presupposes from the 
outset that in the "measure of value" we are 
dealing simply with the commodity in which the 
values of all other commodities are expressed, 
whether it be the commodity by which they are 
really represented-i.e., money, the commodity 
which functions as money-or a commodity which, 
because its value remains invariable, would 
function as the money in terms of which the 
theoretician makes his calculations.  It thus 
becomes evident that in this context it is in any 
case a question only of a kind of money which as 
the measure of value-either theoretically or 
practically-would itself not be subject to 
changes in value...
Let us assume that gold has an invariable value.

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