[OPE-L:3893] Givens in Marx's Theory

John Ernst (ernst@pipeline.com)
Mon, 30 Dec 1996 10:45:28 -0800 (PST)

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Commenting on Alejandro's 3841, in 3891 Duncan remarks:

The problem is that the monetary expression of value in
terms of gold money can also change, because of differential
rates of increase in cost reductions between gold and
other commodities.

I think this problem underlines the practical importance
of measuring the monetary expression of value and its changes
in real economies.

John adds:
I do not think anyone could disagree with Duncan's remarks.
The value of gold can and does change. However, I think we
also need to acknowledge the theoretical importance "of
measuring the monetary expression of value and its changes"
in models that attempt to capture the dynamics of capitalism.
Here, I charge Duncan with no oversight but simply want to
be clear that we have little shared theoretical clarity on the
"monetary expression of value." (MEV)

That is, even if, like Marx, we assume for the sake of the
analysis that gold's value does not change, we are still
faced with the issues like the following:

1. Can abstract labor be isolated from its representation in
gold prices?

2. Can one actually "see" abstract labor in

3. Can one measure it independently of prices?

Knowing that MEV can change, it seems to me that most Marxists,
in using what we have called simultaneous valuation, attempt
to develop a concept of money in which money itself becomes
little more than an instantaneous numeraire. Money thus ceases
to be a "store of value" and only serves as a "measure of value"
at a given point in time. In an analysis that attempts to
track the economy from period to period, money is thus
meaningless. Neither the theoretician nor the actors in his
or her model have any awareness of how the previous period
connects to the present in monetary terms. Indeed, this
occurs even if MEV is constant as quantities of abstract
labor are "adjusted" in each and every period. Hence, it
would seem that this type of analysis can only be carried out
in material terms since adjusting quantities of materials as
time passes is clearly absurd. But then, without money or
abstract labor, it is not at all obvious we are dealing with