[OPE-L:3902] Re: negative surplus-value

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 30 Dec 1996 21:51:42 -0800 (PST)

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[Andrew K -- delete without reading].

John wrote in [OPE-L:3900]:

> A loss of capital. Note that in Marx's formulation, M-C-M', here M > M'
> and hence delta M is negative. For positive surplus value to exist delta M
> must be positive. For negative surplus value to exist, delta M must be
> negative. This seems to make sense. What is the difficulty in saying that
> surplus value can be negative?

This is getting frustrating. In the formula above, assume that M = 0. If M
= 0, then there is *no money* with which to purchase C and we can,
thereby, never get to M'. Negative M would not simply mean less M than
previously -- it would mean *less than zero M*.

Assume I can't receive credit. If I have $10 in my wallet and then lose
$10, I now have $0. I might incur a debt but I can't have negative money.
Indeed, negative money like negative c, v, or s would defy the laws of

> OK. Let's see if I can be clearer. If I advance $100 and receive
> $110, I've made $10. What you seem to be saying is that if inflation
> is taking place, my
> costs might have been $120 if I were to price inputs using the prices outputs.
> Hence, I have a nominal profit of $10; but with the simultaneous pricing of
> inputs and outputs, I would suffer a loss of $10. To track this process out
> we would need to keep going and agree to some definitions of terms like
> profitablity and the rate of inflation.

The prices of "your" inputs can increase with inflation. If during the
course of production, your costs increase (e.g. the costs of constant
circulating capital), that would decrease the firm's rate of profit,
ceteris paribus. Perhaps we can agree that the costs of inputs can change
during the course, i.e. time, of production and this then can affect the
firm's profitability (to the extent that it causes a change in the
denominator of the rate of profit).

> Ok. What you seem to be saying is that with negative profits, surplus
> value can equal 0.

Yes, that's what I am saying.

> Can it be positive as well, given negative profits? Let's discuss.

I believe so. Give me some time, though, to think that question through.

> I don't get it. Why is s=0 in your example?

It was an assumption. Since we all agree that s can in theory equal 0,
that shouldn't be a problem.

> Why is it not negative?

There can be a negative *rate of change* of s. This is what I take your
meaning of "negative surplus value" to be. Yet, s must take the form of
*money*. See my comments above on "negative money."

> Well, I do agree we seem to have some sort of depreciation in your example.
> You seem to say that surplus value is produced even in cases where
> delta M is negative or where M > M'. Hence, I am not at all clear that
> you would agree that surplus value can be negative. Perhaps we're back
> to your ratio thing (See above.).

In the case of the typhoon, the money capital invested in the constant
fixed capital has been lost -- at sea. Profitability would surely decline
because of the unanticipated and premature loss of capital values. S would
decline, almost certainly, but how could it be *less than* zero?


For those interested in "0" questions in Marx relating to c, v, and s,

-- regarding the possibility of s = 0, p. 37 of the International edition
of V3: "The formula C = k + s reduces itself to C = k, or commodity value
= commodity cost-price only if s = 0, a case which never occurs on the
basis of capitalist production, although peculiar market conditions may
reduce the selling price of commodities to the level of, or even below,
their cost-price."

-- the possibility of s = 0 is also discussed in V1, Penguin edition, p.
322. Note that the "lowest" that Marx will go with s is 0.

-- regarding the possibility of c = 0, see Volume 1, Penguin edition, p.
321-324. Note that the "lowest" that Marx will go with c is 0.

[*Andrew K* -- If you haven't done so already, ***DELETE NOW***]

-- regarding the possibility of v = 0 and workers "living on air", note
the following from V1, Penguin ed., p. 423:

"The *MINIMUM OF VARIABLE CAPITAL* is the cost price of a
single-labor power employed the whole year through, day in, day
out, for the production of surplus-value" (emphasis added, JL).

As a consequence, I believe that the textual evidence in Marx supports the
following conclusions:

(1) Although logically the reproduction of capital requires that both c
and s are positive, Marx used the c = 0 and s = 0 occasionally as
simplifying assumptions.

(2) Marx never discussed [that I know of] the possibility of c or s being
negative, i.e. less than 0.

(2) Marx, though, *explicitly* rejects the possibility of v = 0 in the
passage above. In no case, did Marx ever *say* that he assumed v to be
equal to 0.

In solidarity, Jerry