[OPE-L:734] Re: Land Prices, Labor, and Commodities

John R. Ernst (ernst@pipeline.com)
Wed, 13 Dec 1995 21:16:56 -0800

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In the post below, Gil Skillman responds to my
note. Skillman agrees that Marx, quoting his
own prior work, begins CAPITAL with the phrase
"immense accumulation of commodities." He
then goes on to claim that the "immense
accumulation" is to be viewed as an immense
collection or as an immense mass of commodities.
For Skillman, there is accumulation in the static
sense and then there is accumulation in the
dynamic sense. I have never seen things
accumulate in the static sense as static means
nothing is changing -- things are static. If Marx
meant to describe this accumulation of commodities
as a static mass, he should have said so. Indeed,
I would think that that would be a mistake in the
the very first sentence.

As Skillman sees his static mass of commodities, he
also recognizes "unimproved land" as part of that
mass. We might add stock certificates to that mass
as well. And why not labor-power? Anything with
a price?

My purpose in noting that Marx was aware that
unimproved land had a price was to make clear
that in the very first sentence of CAPITAL this
type of land is not under investigation, not because
it is not a product of labor but because it is not
part of an "immense accumulation of commodities."

If Skillman sees the common element of the immense
accumulation of commodities (in the dynamic sense)
as labor, he seems to have reached the same conclusion
as Marx. To avoid this state affairs, he speaks
of accumulation in the "static" sense. Having so
redefined the meaning of accumulation, Skillman's
refutation follows.

John Ernst

On Wed, 13 Dec 1995 Gilbert Skillman (OPE-725)
<gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu said:

John Ernst said:

Gil Skillman (OPE-710) notes that there are prices of
unimproved land and then remarks that we seem
to have a case of exchange value with no
labor inputs and hence no value. Yet, we
have a price.

I had always assumed that the first chapter dealt with
an " ' immense accumulation of commodities' " and,
thus, Marx limited his investigation in the chapter to
those commodities which could be accumulated. Unless
the amount of unimproved land is growing within capitalism,
I'm not sure that it is part of presentation at this point.

Gil Skillman said:

I do not believe that these two comments address the issue.

First, the phrase in quotes is Marx quoting himself in the opening
paragraph of Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, and
there he does not use the term "accumulation" in the dynamic sense of
growth over time, but in the static sense of "collection" or "mass".

Second, it remains the case that nothing in the *structure* of Marx's
argument from exchange rules out the possibility that one of the
elements being exchanged is not a product of labor. Thus, unless
Marx is read as assuming his conclusion by limiting attention a priori to
only those goods that are products of labor (in which case his conclusion

is simply true by fiat, not analysis), then the fact remains that
he's committed a fallacy: relationships of equivalence do not
establish relationships of equality, expecially in that the former do
not support the inference that items in the equivalence set must have
some other "common element."