[OPE-L:3575] Re: Evidence for the "single-system" interpretation

Allin Cottrell (cottrell@wfu.edu)
Thu, 31 Oct 1996 20:13:50 -0800 (PST)

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Andrew [3573] has re-opened the debate over whether, for
Marx, a change in input *prices* (independent of any change
in the labour-time socially necessary to produce those
inputs) produces a corresponding change in the *value* of
the output commodity.

I don't have time right now to challenge all of the
citations Andrew gives, but let me try a couple.

(1) Cotton prices and crop failures: Andrew quotes Marx as
follows --

"Suppose that the price of cotton is one day sixpence a
pound, and the next day, as a result of a failure of the
cotton crop, a shilling a pound. Each pound of the cotton
bought at sixpence, and worked up after the rise in value,
transfers to the product a value of one shilling."

He then comments: "This seems to indicate that the amount of
value transferred depends on the price, not the value, of
the means of production."

This seems quite inconclusive. A crop failure will raise
the *value* of cotton. A certain amount of social
labour-time has been devoted to the growing of cotton; if
the crop fails, this labour is embodied in a smaller
quantity of cotton than last season, so that each bushel
embodies more labour. If anything, this passage seems to
suggest valuation at current reproduction cost.

(2) The discussion of Bailey in TSV: Marx takes off from
Bailey's comments on how the Ricardian labour theory of
value must be modified in the case of monopoly, and how a
monopoly-priced input can "contaminate" (i.e. drive away
from value) the prices of the commodities that incorporate
that input. Marx is not especially interested in the
monopoly issue, but he is interested in the "contamination"
(my term).

"It is clear," Marx says, "that the conversion of value into
cost-price works in two ways."

1. "First, the profit which is added to the capital advanced
may be either above or below the surplus value which is
contained in the commodity itself..."

2. "[T]he cost-price of constant capital... may likewise be
above or below its value."

"Thus the commodity comprises a portion of the price which
differs from value... It is clear that what applies to the
difference between the cost-price and the value of the
_commodity_ as such -- as a result of the production process
-- likewise applies to the _commodity_ insofar as, in the
form of constant capital, it becomes an ingredient... of the
production process. ... [T]he difference between cost-price
and value, insofar as it enters into the price of the new
commodity independently of its own production process, is
incorporated into the VALUE of the new commodity as an
antecedent element." (capitals added)

I have flagged the word "value" in the last sentence to draw
attention to the fact that it supports Andrew's reading.
But I would argue that the use of the word "value" in this
context was a momentary lapse from precision on Marx's part
-- he meant, or should have said, "exchange-value". Special
pleading? I don't think so, for look at the very next

"The *difference between the cost-price and the value* of
the commodity is thus brought about in two ways: by the
difference between the cost-price and the values of
commodities which constitute the pre-conditions of the
process of production of the new commodity; by the
difference between the surplus-value which is really added
to the conditions of production and the profit..." (emphasis

Notice that this statement is consistent with the view
(variously expressed by Sweezy, Morishima and others) that
Marx was in some sense "groping towards" the modern dualist
value-price transformation. The incorporation of inputs
carrying a price-value deviation is said by Marx to
contribute to the *difference between cost-price and value*
of the output commodity, and not to contribute to the
*value* of the latter. Conclusion on this text: On my
reading, Marx misplaced one word; on Andrew's, he botched a
correct statement of his position by adding a summing-up
which reversed his sense.

Allin Cottrell
Department of Economics
Wake Forest University