[OPE-L:4315] Brazilian diamonds and value

Hans Ehrba (ehrbar@marx.econ.utah.edu)
Fri, 7 Mar 1997 20:40:15 -0800 (PST)

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In 4302 Alejandro asked: How do listmenbers understand this passage:

> According to Eschwege, the total produce of the Brazilian
> diamond mines for the eighty years ending in 1823 still did
> not amount to the price of 1 1/2 years' average produce of
> the sugar and coffee plantations of the same country,
> although the diamonds represented much more labor, therefore
> more value.
> Vol I, Ch. 1, Penguin, p. 130

> Does this mean that diamonds were systematically sold below their
> value and/or coffee+sugar above their value? This would be a
> price/value difference just in Ch. 1.

I have riddled over this passage too. From the wording it seems
clear that Marx thinks that gold and diamonds are sold *below* their
values, not that coffee of sugar are sold above their values. Here is
what I have in the very latest version of my Annotations to Marx's
Capital, which I am using as study guide for an email class about
Capital, and which I am planning to publish eventually:

Marx does not explain why there is a discrepancy between labor
content and market price. Like all laws, the law that the magnitude
of value is set by the quantity of labor is only a tendencial law,
whose effect may be modified or blocked by other effects. This
itself is nothing remarkable. Still, why would Marx give here an
example which seems to contradict his own theory? Perhaps Marx found
it relevant that prices are *below* instead of above labor content.
If scarcity were to affect prices directly, i.e., through deficient
supply, rather than through labor content, then one should expect
prices of scarce materials to be above their values. This
discrepancy between prices and values can therefore be considered a
confirmation of Marx's theory, since it disconfirms Marx's theory
less than the competing theory.

I am not terribly happy with this, but this is the best
I came up with.

Hans Ehrbar.