[OPE-L:1105] Constant or Changing Social Values

John R. Ernst (ernst@pipeline.com)
Sun, 18 Feb 1996 13:29:09 -0800

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When Fred and I started a discussion on "moral
depreciation", one of the matters we left for
further discussion were the concepts of individual
value and social value. Both of us were aware
that as a capitalist innovates the social value
of the commodity produced is initially greater
than its individual value. In Vol. I, all Marx
tells us is that competitive forces eventually
bring about a fall in the social value such that
the social value and individual value of a commodity
again become equal. In the usual treatment of
setting up equilibrium states to better understand
Marx's idea of accumulation over time, the manner in
the fall from a social value higher than the
individual value vanishes. All one hears is
the magic word -- "competition."

Yet, in Vol. III, Part III, Marx tells us that it is
the accumulation of capital itself that brings
about the competitive struggle. Thus, those
seeking to investigate the validity of Marx's FRP
are faced with a dilemma --

Does competition bring about the price changes
that lead to an FRP?


Does the accumulation of capital bring about a
appearance of the "band of hostile brothers" who
by lowering prices usher in an FRP?

I am not proposing that anyone give a quick answer to
these questions but merely pointing out that by
simply viewing the economy as a sequence of
various equilibrium points, one loses of sight
of what Lowe called "the traverse." I, personally,
think of the two questions posed as the dilemma --
the latter is the correct way of approaching Marx.
But I see this as, at best, a hunch on my part.
Thus, for me, "How can we see the economy moving
through real time from one period to the next with
technical change?" is the question. This is what
makes me think there is something to what we have
called the TSS approach to Marx.

Sadly, here we are a century after the publication of
CAPITAL and have no such picture. My suggestion is that
we begin by assuming constant social values as we start to
develop the picture. The task then would be to search
out the problematic nature of capitalist accumulation.
In so doing, we would still have to incorporate "moral
depreciation" since fixed capital's social life would
remain shorter than its physical life even though there
are no price changes. We would also be forced to clarify
the nature of technical change. But, note that this would
temporally allow us to put aside the question of
simultaneous versus non-simultaneous valuation.

On the other hand, those unwilling to make the assumption
of constant social values could also take up the task of
showing how capital accumulates from period to period with
price decreases due to technical change. Here, I would
only insist that one show the competitive processes
that lower prices as capital accumulates from period to

No matter which approach is used, in Alan Freeman's
terminology it would really be "cards on the table."