[OPE-L:2127] Re: Chapter 5 and before

Bruce Robert (broberts@usm.maine.edu)
Thu, 9 May 1996 17:27:07 -0700

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This is provoked by a small part of Alan's long argument in #2088. He
refers to "Marx's assumption from chapter 6 onwards that the prices of
individual commodities are equal to their values ..." I have the feeling
that this may have been (over)discussed before I came onto the
list--forgive me if that's the case and this rehashes old ground--but I
can't reconcile that statement with a lot of what Marx does prior to
chapter 6.

Here's Marx in Sec. 3 of chap. 1 (p. 53 of the Int'l ed.):

"The equation, 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, or 20 yards of linen are worth
one coat, implies that the same quantity of the value-substance (congealed
labor) is embodied in both; that the two commodities have each cost the
same amount of labor of [sic] the same quantity of labor-time."

The "of" apparently should be "or," which is the way the Penguin ed. (pp.
144-45) has it:

"The equation 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, or 20 yards of linen are worth 1
coat, presupposes the presence in 1 coat of exactly as much of the
substance of value as there is in 20 yards of linen, implies therefore that
the quantities in which the two commodities are present have cost the same
amount of labor or the same quantity of labor-time."

I don't see how one can read the sentence (in either form) without
concluding that Marx is, even here early in chapter 1, presuming that
equivalence in exchange *means* equal values changing hands. The first
part of the sentence, by referring to the equation as an equality of
"worth," seems clearly to establish that the linen and the coat are, when
taken in these quantities, *exchange* equivalents. Marx then says that
this "implies" (or else "presupposes") that the linen and the coat have
equal *values*.

Since Marx is obviously willing (later on in vol. 3) to contemplate
exchange ratios different from value ratios, I read this not as a strict
deduction but rather as the (covert) introduction of his provisional
assumption: equality in exchange is *presumed* to reflect equality of
value. I could put it less charitably and say that the sentence is either
the introduction of that assumption or else it is an invalid deduction (by
Marx's own vol. 3 logic, the fact that two commodities exchange for each
other and therefore have equal worth does not imply that they must have
equal values).

There seems to be broad agreement that this is not a necessary assumption
for Marx to make; certainly Alan believes that and I agree with him. But,
in light of the above quotation and others like it, I don't see how one can
argue that the assumption appears only "from chapter 6 onwards."

Bruce B. Roberts
Department of Economics
University of Southern Maine
Portland ME 04104-9300
(O) 207-780-5503
(H) 207-772-7047
fax 207-780-5507-------------------------------------------------