[OPE-L:740] Re: Land Prices, Labor, and Commodities

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Thu, 14 Dec 1995 13:36:06 -0800

[ show plain text ]

John Ernst writes:

> 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.

My Webster's dictionary gives two distinct definitions of
"accumulation"--a "mass that has been collected", and "growth by
by continuous increases." The former is static in that it does not
refer to a process of increase but a particular quantity identified
at a particular point of time. "Nothing is changing" in a static
definition only because it involves a snapshot of conditions at a
particular point in time, not because the possibility of change is
somehow ignored. It isn't, as the term "comparative statics"

This is entirely consistent with how I, and Marx, use "accumulation"
in this context: a particular aggregate quantity.

> 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?

Marx, of course, would have had to include labor-power, since he
defines it as a commodity. And here John misses my original point
completely. It's *not* that I recognize "unimproved land" as part of
the mass of commodities. I said that nothing in the *logical
structure* of Marx's argument from conditions of exchange rules out a
parallel argument including unimproved land as one of the items
exchanged, so that if a system of exchange "expresses something
equal", that equality would logically also extend to quantities of
unimproved land, yielding a contradiction.

Thus, if Marx's conclusion holds, it does so only by fiat:
commodities have only labor in common because Marx is restricting his
analysis *by assumption* to entities that have only labor in common,
not because exchange expresses something equal. That's called assuming
your conclusion.

> 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."

See above.

> 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.

Again, this utterly misses the point, which is that Marx's conclusion
is valid only if he assumed it to begin with.

> To avoid this state affairs, he speaks
> of accumulation in the "static" sense. Having so
> redefined the meaning of accumulation, Skillman's
> refutation follows.

Not true. The refutation stems from identifying the fallacy in
Marx's claim that exchange expresses relationships of equality rather than
equivalence. They do not. Unimproved land was just one
counter-example to show the flaw in the argument. This criticism in
no way depends on Marx's use of the word "accumulation."

Gil Skillman