[OPE-L:952] Re: Pure and Normal

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Mon, 5 Feb 1996 10:57:31 -0800

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Paul writes:

> Gil
> ---
> Since it remains the case that capitalist exploitation may exist without
> the capitalist mode of production, both
> on the authority of Roemer's formal argument and Marx's oft-repeated
> historical argument, and that such exploitation *necessarily* involves
> the non-equivalence of prices and values,
> Paul
> ----
> Usury does not involve non-equivalence of prices and
> values since it is a purely monetary transaction.

But money is a commodity, as Marx says, and in order for usurers to
reap surplus value from small producers they had to, and did, charge
an interest rate which exceeded the value of money. Marx calls the
interest rate an irrational price, but it's still a price.

[I realize this comment intersects an earlier and unfinished debate
with Paul about the nature of the interest rate. That issue, while
important, is secondary here, where the concern is to show a coherent
alternative to Marx's value-theoretic account of capitalist

> Mercantile profit depends on the existence of different
> relative prices in different countries, something which
> is outside of the scope of analysis in Vol I.

Not the particular form of mercantile profit I'm referring to, which
is that based on proto-industrial production (e.g. the putting-out
system). There the profit depended on paying putters-out less than
the value they created. I've argued that this can be interpreted as
a price-value disparity in the exchange of labor *services*
(specific, contractible transformations of inputs into finished
commodities), or else a price-value disparity in the goods eventually
sold by the merchant capitalist. But I think the former is the more
apt interpretation.

This is worth emphasizing: Marx did not recognize *all* forms of
usury and merchant's capital as being forms of capitalist
exploitation; only those forms which supported the production of
new value. Cf. Marx's distinction between usury to "extravagant
magnates" and that to small producers.

[As an aside, I also disagree with Paul's interpretation of the
non-protoindustrial form of merchant's capital. It didn't *require*
different relative prices in different countries; it could be based
on price disparities in different parts of the same country, e.g.
town vs. country, which Marx certainly doesn't rule out in the argument
of Ch. 5, Volume I.]

> Where is your necessity?

Indicated above. However, I wouldn't lose much sleep even if it
somehow turned out usury and merchant's capital extended to small
producers didn't involve price-value disparities; because what
remains is still the conclusion that capitalist exploitation does not
require the capitalist mode of production, contrary to Patrick's
suggestion. This further gives rise to what I've called Marx's
historical-strategic account of capitalist exploitation, which is
essentially independent of Marx's value-theoretic account.

In solidarity, Gil