[OPE-L:4544] Surplus value and capitalist consumption

Alan Freema (a.freeman@greenwich.ac.uk)
Wed, 26 Mar 1997 12:54:43 -0800 (PST)

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I thought Ajit [4513] stated a genuine objection and I'd
like to make an initial response to it, hoping that we can
have an amicable discussion around it. Although I repeat
ground covered before Ajit arrived, I think it is well worth
covering it again and I would be happy for Paul and Allin
or anyone else to chip in.

Ajit says:
"you will find that your rate of surplus value would change
with simple change in capitalists' consumption habits,
everything else remaining constant. So what happens to the
whole idea of exploitation is determined at the level of
This is a serious objection and I hope to give it a serious
answer that can be treated seriously.

It seems to me that in order to make this statement we have
to accept the following assumption: that by adjusting their
habits the capitalists can change the price of goods that
have already been sold and consumed.

Now capitalist consumption is, I think we agree, comprised
of two elements: the value of the goods that were consumed
as inputs (for example, the cloth that was used to make
their jackets), and the new living labour-time expended (for
example, in tailoring).

I hope we all agree that the living labour-time cannot be
modified by the capitalists' consumption.

Therefore, the only way the capitalists' habits can modify
the value of what they consume is to modify the value
transmitted to them by the goods that went into them before
they were sold, in this case the cloth.

I am happy with your statement that

"Every child knows that the amount of money you pay for a
commodity is its price"

I am sure any reasonable child would say, surely, once this
money is paid, then that is the price. But according to the
reckoning which I and Fred both hold to, the value transmitted
to the jacket by the cloth is given by this money paid for the

So Ajit's objection is sustainable only if (as Fred maintains)
at the moment they purchase the jackets, the capitalists
retrospectively alter the price of all the cloth which went into
them, even though this has already been paid and is a matter of
public record available to all children, and even though the
cloth has wholly vanished into the jacket.

Also, by the same token, the price of all the yarn that
went into the cloth, the cotton that went into the yarn, the
seeds and fertiliser that went into the land, and so on. So
at the moment when the capitalists' habits change, they must
rewrite all past transactions and acts of production for
all of time, sowing irredeemable confusion in the nation of

My response to Ajit's objection is this: once production is
over, it is over. If, subsequent to that production, people
buy more or less of what was produced, that may affect the
future course of history, but cannot affect the past. So the
price of these goods in the past is unaffected by the price
paid for them in the present. But since, according to our
proposal, this price paid in the past is what determines the
value transmitted to the jacket, the capitalists cannot by
their consumption habits modify this value, nor the value of
the money that was given the workers as their wage, nor the
time the workers worked. So they cannot change surplus-value.

I must say that personally I have always felt that a weakness
of all simultaneous presentations is that they seem to rule
out the quite simple answer I have just given, for very little
in return.

However Fred must answer for himself to your objection on
his return.

So I would say that I can dispel your objection, if you will
let me determine the value of constant capital in the
manner which all we single-system people agree on, the value
of variable capital in the manner which not only we
single-system people but also the New Interpretation people
agree on, and the passage of time in the manner that most
children agree on.

Thus I would consider that we can remove from Fred's
beleaguered back objections such as the one you have just
made, and it often puzzles me that he is so unwilling to
accept this relief.

Whilst I do not think that this shows anyone has no clothes,
I do think it is an argument that cannot be ruled out of
court. Why don't we discuss it?