[OPE-L:1029] Re: Allin's second question

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Fri, 9 Feb 1996 15:22:17 -0800

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It is a common but I think utterly pernicious idea that for
Marx, money was a veil. The standard interpretation requires
that by some means that has never been explained and indeed is
supposed to be part of the Great Mystery which only highly
trained performing Hegelians can understand, the producers of
linen can act as if the cotton really did cost them $10 instead
of the $15 they paid.

Not so.

They *cannot* act as if the cotton really did cost them $10
without abolishing capitalism, or to be precise without
abolishing money. $15 - that is, 15 hours - *is* its social
cost to them. For them, as long as society fixes the price of
cotton at 15 hours, then 15 hours *is* the labour time socially
necessary for them to acquire their inputs. If, for example,
they were free peasant labourers purchasing this cotton on
the market but producing directly with their own labour, they
would have to labour for 15 hours, not for 10.

It is of course true that in a commodity producing society relative
money prices which differ from relative values affect the distribution
of peoples incomes. But that is not relevant to deciding how much
labour goes into producing a thing. If car firms have to purchase
tyres above their value due to a cartel operated by the tyre
manufacturers, this does not in consequence raise the value of cars.
It might to some extent raise the price of cars, and it may reduce
the profits of the car producers. But all this relates to the
re-distribution of value through competition.

In your example above, the 15 hours worth of money handed over for the
cotton represented not the social cost of cotton - the cost to society
of producing it - but the private cost experienced by the spinning
firms. The social cost was the fraction of the societies working day
that was spent to obtain the cotton.

My worry is that this identification of social cost with private cost
threatens to eliminate the independence of value from price. It leads
to a confusion between value production and distribution.