[OPE-L] [MIKE W] Re: Why Marx does not Need a Commodity Theory of Money

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sat, 3 Jan 1998 17:18:03 -0500 (EST)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 3 Jan 1998 20:06:52 +0000
From: Michael Williams <Michael@mwilliam.u-net.com>


Thanks for your response. You ask:

> regardless of whether he needs or doesn't
> need such a theory (and even regardless of whether Marx was correct
> or mistaken in this regard), why _does_ Marx advance a money commodity
> theory? Was this merely a reflection of the historical realities of
> his own time (an interpretation I find doubtful), or did Marx have
> other logical reasons for wanting to make this connection between
> money, value, and commodities? If so, what were they?

First I should say I consider myself lacking in the specific -
history of thought - expertise to to answer this question properly.
All I can do is to speculate, on the basis of my knowledge of Marx's
writings. There seem to be a number of hypotheses that might guide a
history of thought investigation:

1. It is clear (as Claus has noted) that Marx was familiar with what
have come to be known as the bullionist and banking debates about the
possibility of having the money supply institutionally controlled
through an integrated banking system with Central Banks.
Nevertheless, he sometimes makes sceptical remarks about whether
(Central) bankers let alone politicians could be trusted to
adequately protect the internal and external value of a currency.
Thus he may have thought bullion-backing was a necessary discipline
upon such potential profligacy. Despite his knowledge of paper money
systems, and of bouts of inconvertibility, I remain of the view that
we with the benefit of hindsight have much more reason than Marx to
question any necessary role for commodity-backing for the monetary

2. I expect that what I now say may lead to a certain amount of
huffing and puffing, and it is only (hopefully informed) speculation.
Marx immersed himself in what is no called Classical Political
Economy. Marx hope to emancipate himself further from his early
Hegelian roots, in the light of the advances of natural science that
he saw all around him. He may thus have hankered after an embodied
labour theory of value and price. In such a system, a Money commodity
could provide a tempting closure, in just the way that Marx describes
in various places: one once of gold = x hours of labour. Maybe this
was so neat that, despite his frequently expressed misgivings, he
sticks with a necessary commodity basis for money. Maybe the
'hindsight' that we enjoy (above) is conceptual as well as

3. By the time his presentation had incorporated credit, credit money,
capital and many capitals, it could be argued that Marx himself to
the conceptual development to the point where it had transcended any
necessary commodity basis. I believe something like this is the
position taken by Steven Keen (formerly) on this list (?). Thus maybe
Marx had (or perhaps would have) transcended any necessary commodity
basis for money?

As I say - just speculation, that I will not be following up. My next
step is to examine the implications for contemporary
conceptualisations of money.

Comradely greetings for a good 1998
"Books are Weapons"

Dr Michael Williams
Department of Economics Home:
School of Social Sciences 26 Glenwood Avenue
De Montfort University Southampton
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Milton Keynes
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