[OPE-L:933] Re: Gil's OPE-L:861

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Fri, 2 Feb 1996 16:11:57 -0800

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Hi, Alan. You write:

> I will take time to look at this post. But one thing stopped
> me cold: you write

> "2) In anticipation, I note that the passage does not suggest--nor
> could it validly suggest in general--that the sum of values is equal
> to the sum of commodity prices."
> I think in order for you to write this, we must be talking about
> two completely different things. This seems to me *exactly*
> what this passage not only suggests, but exceedingly validly
> so.

The passage in fact does *not* suggest this, unless one assumes
what must be proved, i.e. that total values, conceived as distinct
from prices, are equal to total prices. Thus, either the result is
true by definition--which begs the real issue, and I don't believe is
what Marx intends--or it's in general wrong.

In the indicated passage, which I'll requote, Marx is referring to
"values" as distinct from "prices" (whether the former should be
understood as the "money expression of values" is important but a
secondary issue for current purposes). So the claim about
conservation refers *only* to values, not simultaneously to values
and prices. He writes (I'll use a dollar sign since my keyboard
doesn't have a British pound sign):

"...Before the exchange we had $40 of wine in the hands of A, and $50
worth of corn in those of B, a total value of $90. After the exchange
we still have the same total value of $90. The value in circulation
has not increased by one iota; all that has changed is its
distribution between A and B."

[Note: for this to make any sense, value must be conceived as
distinct from price; as Alan points out, since the wine exchanges for
corn, their money price must be the same, so in terms of price
nothing is redistributed. Note further, and this is crucial, nothing
whatsoever has yet been said about the money prices.]

Marx continues:

"What appears on one side as a loss of value appears on the other
side as surplus-value; what appears on one side as a minus appears on
the other side as a plus...The sum of the values in circulation can
clearly not be augmented by any change in their distribution..."

Marx is still only talking about values, not money prices. Nothing
whatsoever has been said about the connection between sum of values
(however defined) and the aggregate of prices, *even if* one holds
inflationary effects constant by normalizing the price of the money
commodity to one. For example, nothing in the above passage rules out
that the common (normalized) money price in the above passage is $50.
But $50 + $50 =$100 does not equal $90, and Marx does not suggest
otherwise. He is talking about conservation of value under exchange
within a *given* expression of value, not conservation *across*
expressions of value.

Alan continues:

> The wine and the corn must have the same price, in order
> to exchange. So the wine costs L45 and the corn L45. The wine
> has a price of L45 and a value of L40, the corn has a price
> of L45 and a value of L50.
> Total value = L40 + L50 = L90
> Total price = L45 + L45 = L90

> What's the problem?

The problem is that this begs exactly the question I referred to above.
Nothing in the logic of the problem requires the common price to be $45; it
could be $40, $50, indeed, any positive number. Thus Alan *assumes*
exactly what must be *proven*. Notice the aggregate equality across
metrics *falls to the ground* for any other common expression of the

> Is it that you don't think values can be measured in money? In that
> case we can do it in hours. Just write 40 hours instead of L40.
> Or that the wine is directly bartered for the corn, instead of
> being paid for in money?

As you can see, these are not at issue, though there is a lingering
question about exactly what Marx means by "value"--but more on that

> I think if we can sort this out we may get to the core of the
> matter

Yes--perhaps we have. But I'll give a more general expression of the
problem I see here in response to a subsequent post of Alan's.

In solidarity, Gil