[OPE-L:733] Re: Land Prices, Labor and Commodities

rakesh bhandari (djones@uclink.berkeley.edu)
Wed, 13 Dec 1995 19:53:50 -0800

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>> Following up John Ernst's comments on the LTV and unimproved land:
>> Marx deals with the latter in Volume III, under the heading of absolute
>> rent. And, he places (theoretical) limits on the range of possible market
>> prices associated with absolute rent.
>And to follow up my comments on LTV and unimproved land, it's
>irrelevant to the present discussion where or whether Marx deals with
>absolute rent. The point is that nothing in the logical structure of
>his argument from the fact of exchange requires that all
>exchangeables must be products of labor. Thus, if items such as
>unimproved land are ruled out, they are ruled out by fiat. In other
>words, Marx's argument about the basis of value assumes its conclusion.
>Gil Skillman

Marx did not arbitrarily choose commodities for his beginning point --or
because as products of labor, he could more easily derive his LTV from the
set of objects he simply *chose* to subject to analysis. And he did not
exempt land by fiat because then he would have had to begin with "objects
with exchange value" from which the derivation of the LTV would have been

Marx begins with the commodity because it is inherent in his conception of
science to theorize the economic law of motion determinate to a
socio-historic mode of production. This makes the commodity a superior
starting point to land for reasons stated by Wm J Blake:

"The reason Marx uses a single specimen, or limited set of specimens, is
that no one can begin by counting a totality: he must check a totality by
its constituents, and yet he must be sure that the constituents he counts
are really those of a significant total. Marx takes the present capitalist
system, a limited field of enquiry, and points out that it is an immense
accumulation of commodities. True, land is bought and sold, but
commodities, formerly scant, are now by the hundreds of millions, and this
is what distinguishes the system from any previous system, whereas no more
land exists now than in a previous system: land is constant, commodities
the variable." (13-14)

In other words, "the wealth of societies in which *the capitalist mode of
production* prevails appears appears" not as an immense collection of
objects with exchange value but "as an 'immense collection of

But this requirement of historical specificity does not in itself justify
Marx's decision to begin with the commodity. Why not the business
enterprise or the stock market?

Not only must the beginning point be historically specific, it must prove
itself of a dialectical development of categories, the adequacy of which
can only be justified by their power to explain the real developmental
tendencies of the capitalist mode of production. That is, the choice of
the beginning point is historically delimited but ultimately only
retroactively validated (as Postone has put it, Blake makes a similar point
on p. 13). Indeed the commodity suggests itself to have been the correct
beginning point if by unfolding the analysis from there, Marx is able to
develop ultimately an accurate theory of rent under capitalist conditions
of production.


Wm J Blake, 1939. Marxian Economic Theory and Its Criticism. Cordon: New
York, 1939.