[OPE-L:7172] [OPE-L:683] Re: Value and equivalence

Gil Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 16 Mar 1999 11:45:34 -0500

Rakesh, here is the posting from David L. you requested. Gil

>Dear OPE,
>While I am in a composing mood. . . :-)
>A brief comment on the long thread between Gil-Steve-Brendan (on one side),
>and Alan (on the other), concerning the postulate of a third substance that
>is equalized in an act of exchange.
>R, S, T, linearity, composability, decomposability, etc. etc. are swimming
>around in my head like flies, and I feel a need to step back and reconsider
>this crucial issue in simpler terms.
>Marx (I:1) says x of A <==> y of B necessarily implies existence of a third
>thing, not itself among commodities in the chain (the expanded form of
>value), whose presence in equal amounts makes the exchange possible and
>establishes its quantitative proportions. He then finds, by a simple
>negative argument (argument by exclusion of alternatives) that this
>must be abstract labor.
>Gil et al question this; and it is imo right to question everything right
>down to foundations. Marx certainly does not prove it, and I agree with
>the interpretation that he did not intend to offer a proof, and most likely
>did not think that this was something that could or should be "proved."
>Perhaps only exchange values -- relative proportions -- exist. If you can
>determine a vector of money prices, or a (slightly shorter) vector of real
>relative prices, why do you *need* a value substance, a *tertium
>Instead of getting into the dense thickets of equivalence sets, etc., I
>rather try to *answer* this question, by showing (if I can) that the value
>postulate emerges inherently from a full political economy of capitalism
>(leaving other forms of commodity production aside for the moment). I have
>most recently approached this not by trying to show that we *need* value
>*first* in order to understand capitalism, but the other way around: when we
>grasp all aspects of the way in which capitalist exploitation is reproduced,
>including processes that are not part of conscious calculation by class
>actors, we will find that labor-values are fully and uniquely determined.
>The value postulate is therefore confirmed, and serves as a way to "lock in"
>the full, multi-layered understanding of capitalist social relations.
>The full argument, as it stands to date, is in my paper for Boston: "Value
>Theory and the Quest for the Core of Capitalism: A New Expedition." For
>anyone who won't be there, and will not receive the bound set of papers, I
>will be happy to send a copy on request (snailmail).
>One small point, just on the possibility of the value postulate. Gil's
>counterexample concerning land (which of course is also in Bohn-Bawerk)
>misses a methodological claim that Marx does make, and which imo makes
>sense. Marx programmatically restricts his attention to *reproducible*
>commodities (following Ricardo quite clearly in this), but for a deeper
>reason than Ricardo's: by carrying out (what I like to call) *pure
>reproduction analysis*, Marx focuses in on the most basic and general
>of class formation and exploitation, which in the world of experience (the
>"real world") is always overlain ("overdetermined"?) by other forms of
>exploitation based on ownership of non-freely-reproducible resources. It is
>another aspect of the "even if" argument that has been mentioned (by
>on OPE: *even if* there were no monopolies of land and other natural
>resources (Henry George: are you listening), the power of capital to extract
>surplus value would be massively present, on the basis of ownership over
>production of reproducible commodities. From this standpoint, Marx would
>seem to be justified in ignoring land and other violations of the
>pure-reproduction framework, until *after* the basic capitalist relation has
>been theorized. He thus incurs an obligation to show later, by successive
>concretization, that land, and indeed other forms of exchange mentioned by
>Gil, such as financial instruments, can be integrated into what becomes a
>fuller, more concrete picture. In general, most of the critiques of the
>value postulate -- and they are all in Bohn-Bawerk -- trace back to one or
>another violation of the pure reproduction assumption: land and natural
>resources; skill differentials that cannot be accounted for by training and
>education; and (most clearly) the momentary ("short-run") market in which
>quantities supplied are fixed (the famous horse fair example in
>Bohm-Bawerk's *Positive Theory of Capital*, for example, or the cases of
>non-reproducible goods like rare paintings).
>David Laibman