[OPE-L:5284] RE: Wild Corn, guano, gold, lost treasure, meteors

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Tue, 17 Jun 1997 15:04:10 -0700 (PDT)

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A reply to Jerry's ope-l 5281.

Jerry: "'Wild corn' is not produced as a commodity under conditions of
capitalist production. Given the subject being discussed (I won't say 'level
of abstraction' here since I know you don't like that expression), what is the
purpose of introducing a 'non-produced' input as means of production?"

To have a free means of production, which, however, is *capable* of being
produced. According to Marx (_Capital_ I, Ch. 8, p. 314 of Vintage ed.), a
means of production cannot "transfer any value to the product unless it
possessed value BEFORE its entry into the [labour] process" (caps added).
Simultaneism contradicts this. If a means of production is free when it
enters production, but replicas of it are produced (and thus have value)
during the period in which it is used as a means of production, then,
according to the simultaneist interpretations of Marx's value theory, it
"transfers" to the product a positive value, a value that it didn't have to
begin with!

Jerry: "In [5212], you say 'corn is corn is corn.'

"Legitimate as a simplifying assumption (perhaps), but you must not eat corn
to have come to that belief. There are, in fact, many different varieties and
qualities of corn (both 'wild' and 'cultivated')."

I'll be happy to clarify what I mean by things I write if you don't understand
them. I'd rather you just ask what I mean instead of latching onto one
possible meaning and using it to ridicule me. In this case, "corn is corn is
corn" was a statement about the conditions of the problem, not about reality.
In reality, no two things are identical, so no input is physically identical
to any output. Once you get rid of the assumption that inputs are physically
identical to outputs, Jerry, you immediately and necessarily get rid of
simultaneous valuation of inputs and outputs, so that doesn't help your side
at all, to say the least. Alan Freeman has done some very interesting work on
this problem.

Jerry: "birds have deposited guano which ... required human labor to mine and
ship. Could *nature* and the
*birds* be said, however, to contribute to the creation of value in this


Jerry: "Ships carrying gold or other commodities with value sometimes sink in
passage. What becomes of the value that was lost in transit?"

It is destroyed, just like when you eat an apple, or some corn. We've
discussed this.

Jerry: "What becomes of the value if it is again discovered (let's say washed
up on a deserted island requiring little labor to collect)?"

Good question. The value of a commodity is determined by the labor required
to *re-produce* it, so the collected gold has its value determined by present
conditions, not past ones (and not, as in simultaneism, future ones). The
determination of value by socially necessary labor-time means that all
commodities of the same type have the same social value: "The individual
commodity counts here only as an average sample of its kind" (Capital I, Ch.
1, pp. 129-30 of Vintage ed.). Thus, the collected gold has the same value as
mined gold, but the existence of the collected gold that is produced at a
lower individual value lowers the social value of all the gold, because
socially necessary labor-time is an *average* formed over all the newly
produced gold.

Jerry: "suppose a meteor rich with uranium and other valuable minerals, quite
literally, drops from the sky. Does value drop from the sky, created by
nature, in the process?"

No. This is no different from coal in the mines, fish in the sea, etc.

Jerry: "at least some percentage of the world's supply of gold was produced
in pre-capitalist social formations (and, then, frequently stolen during the
process of the "original accumulation of capital"). Would the value of that
gold be measured at reproduction costs or replacement costs?"

According to me, the former. According to simultaneism, the latter.

Jerry: "In the 19th Century and before, and continuing to a lesser degree
today, gold was mined not by wage-labourers but by petty commodity producers
(e.g. frequently during the "gold rush" in California and Alaska). How is the
labour input measured in these circumstances?"

In the usual way. The distinction between "petty commodity producers" and
"wage-laborers" is, in any case, almost wholly a mere formal distinction

Jerry: "Shouldn't we consider *rent* here in terms of the differential
productivity of land holdings?"

Consider rent in what sense?

Jerry: "Suppose nuggets of gold are discovered on the surface of Antarctica
(which, btw, is not private property) and that the only labor required is that
someone bend their back and pick the nuggets up and then transport the nuggets
to the market. Wouldn't that de-value to some degree the gold currently being
produced in capitalist-directed gold mines?"

Yes. See above. This is basically identical to the gold collection question
above. The "capitalist-directed" is a non-issue here. It may well be
capitalists who exploit other people to collect the Antartica gold.

Jerry: "I'll be leaving Thursday for 2 - 2 1/2 weeks by the shore in

Bye. Have fun. Look for gold that has washed ashore.

Andrew Kliman