[OPE-L] Queries about Karl Marx vs Adolph Wagner on value, exchange value and price formation

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Sep 19 2007 - 19:47:16 EDT

(An excerpt of Marx's 1881 marginal notes on Adolph Wagner's 1879 textbook on political economy - emphases and interpolations added):

[Wagner states] "That theory is unduly preoccupied with this single value-determining element" 

[Marx comments]  1.  Tautology. The theory is false because Wagner has a "general theory of value" which does not agree with it; his "value" is thus determined by "use-value," as is actually proved by the professorial salary; 2.  Mr. Wagner substitutes for value the "market price" at a given time, or the commodity-price diverging from it, which is something very different from value//, "[it considers] the costs, not the other, usefulness, utility, the demand element" //i.e. it does not lump together "value" and use-value, which is, after all, such a desirable thing for a born Confusius like Wagner//.  

[Wagner states] "Not only does it not correspond to the formation of exchange-value in present-day commerce" 

[Marx comments]  //he means price formation, which does not affect the determination of value in any way: moreover, the formation of exchange-value certainly does take place in presentday commerce, as any speculator, adulterater of goods, etc., knows, and this has nothing in common with value formation, but has a keen eye for formed values; what is more, in, e.g., the determination of the value of labour power I proceed from the assumption that it is really paid at its full value, which is in fact not the case.  Mr. Schäffle is of the opinion in Capitalismus, etc., that that is "magnanimous" or some such thing. He simply means a scientifically necessary procedure//, but neither, as Schäffle excellently and indeed conclusively" (!) "demonstrates in the Quintessenz and especially in the Socialer Körper, does it correspond to conditions as they are bound to take shape in the Marxian hypothetical social state." //I.e., the social state, which Mr. Schäffle was courteous enough to "shape" for me, is transformed into "the Marxian" (not the "social state" foisted on to Marx in Schäffle's hypothesis).// 

[Wagner states] "This may be strikingly demonstrated with the example of grain and such like, whose exchange-value would-owing to the influence of fluctuating harvests when demand is fairly constant-of necessity have to be regulated in some other way than simply according to costs even in a system of 'social taxes'" [p. 45]. 

[Marx comments] //So many words, so much nonsense. First, I have nowhere spoken of "social taxes," and in my investigation of value I have dealt with bourgeois relations, not with the application of this theory of value to a "social state" not even constructed by me but by Mr. Schäffle for me. Second, if the price of grain rises after a bad harvest, then its value rises, for one thing, because a given amount of labour is contained in a smaller product; for another thing, its selling price rises by much more still. What has this to do with my theory of value? The more the grain is sold over its value, the more other commodities, whether in their natural form or in money form, will be sold under their value by exactly the same amount, even if their own money price does not fall. The total value remains the same, even if the expression of this total value in its entirety were to increase in money, in other words, if the sum total of "exchange-value" according to Mr. Wagner were to rise. This is the case if we assume that the drop in price of the total of the other commodities does not cover the over-value price (excess price) of the grain. But in this case, the exchange-value of money has fallen pro tanto beneath its value; the total value of all commodities does not only remain the same, but even remains the same expressed in money, if money is included among the commodities. Further: the rise in price of grain beyond the increase in its value determined by the bad harvest will in any case be smaller in the "social state" than it is with present-day profiteering in grain. But then the "social state" will organise production from the outset in such a way that the annual supply of grain is only minimally dependent on changes in the weather.

Question 1: what does Marx operationally mean, when he claims "price formation does not affect the determination of value in any way"?
Possible answer: the determination of value consists exclusively of the expenditure of social labour-time in producing products, independently of price-setting.

Question 2: what does Marx operationally mean when he says "the formation of exchange-value has nothing in common with value formation"?
Possible answer: value formation refers exclusively to the expenditure of social labour-time resulting in products, the formation of exchange-value refers to the achievement of relatively stable trading ratios for products, expressible in money-units.

Question 3: what is the operational meaning of "the grain being sold over [in excess of] its value"?
Possible answer: if the grain is sold in excess of its value, it means that products of less labour-time effectively trade for products of more labour-time, where the money which the grain sells for represents a claim to a quantity of labour-time larger than that which the production of the grain in fact represents, or, that this money can alternatively buy other products with a labour-content larger than that of the grain.

Would this interpretation be correct?


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