[OPE-L:7178] [OPE-L:696] Re: Value and equivalence

Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Tue, 16 Mar 1999 21:10:20 -0500 (EST)

David L made the following methodological argument:

>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 process
>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 someone)
>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.

This is my reading of Marx's method as well (or William J Blake's).

The reason for Marxian selection may be less to do with pure reproduction
analysis than with with principle of historical specificity. That is, for
Marx the question of value is "historical not categorical"; the Austrians
on the other hand try to retain a deductive method and seek to define value
as a dictionary does: "they seek the least common denomoniator for every
object and when they have got that they call that the defintion of the mass
of objects to which it applies.:

Blake continues:

"For the Marxians the question cannot be put that way. If a social
situation shows that 99% of goods in any given time can be understood in
only one way, and that from this way of understanding there follows the
most fruitful consequences, then this is the correct method to follow.
"For them commodities, products of social labor, are over 99% of all
economic units today. Millions of acts of exchange, conducted on a social
basis, are affected with them. If 1% of good are not commodities, that is,
cannot be defined by the 99% and the 1% must be referred to some common
constituent to understand them.
"The 1% represents a different social result; it may be a survival of
individual or familial economy; it may be a mode of valuation unique or
monpolistic goods, that can itself be understood only by understanding the
class origin of those value the 1 % and that class origin must be found in
their relations to the 99%.
"The Marxians reject the absolute, the Austrians embrace it. The Marxians
say that 'capitalism' is not a pure concept, but an overwhelmingly
important picutre of nearly all phenomena at a given point. It is no more
perfect than 'feudalism' ever was absolutely a reproduction of its
theoretic model, without any vestigal or superceding factors, in any given
decade. Hence there are contradictions in the working out of any concepts,
such 'as value'. These contradictions do no annul, but confirm the theory,
when it is seen that the theory explains the general working, and by way of
this identification accounts for the deviation.
"The Austrians maintain that no concept must have an exception. For an
exception points to a need for revision of the concept in favor of the more
comprehensive concept that will embrace both. To the Marxians, the
Austrians are mere scholastics, to the Austrians the Marxians evade the
logical issue by a historic fire escape. This is the background then,
subjective vs. objective, social vs. individual, consumption vs.
production, historic evolution of mass vs. logical rigor."

And a later section is also relevant:

"The Purpose of Marxian Selection":

"it is asserted that Marx selected only those objects for valuation that
suit his purpose. But Marx does not exclude any 'goods' from his study. He
includes them all, but he analyzes them as having separate social
properties. Land, for example, has no value though it has a price. How is
this proved?
"Marx does not say that labor is the only source of wealth. Nature is an
equal source. So that natural and labor objects are all provided for in
Marx's ideas. Why then their separation for value?
"Because Marx asks, Which objects attain an exchange value by reason of the
captialist system of production? They cannot be natural objects antecedent
to that system. They must be objects socially produced in that system.
"The others existed before man was on the earth. Nor, until you had a
commodity society, did any object have any exchange value, even under a
fairly high productivity. Now its ithe objects fasioned by social labor for
a profit that are the specific goods of the capitalist system. Their laws
are the basis of all exchanges, since it is obvious that all objects, apart
from the natural substances in the, are products of labor, and their
differential in vlaue is that of the social labor time required to produce
"Only land is outside of this, and its price is known only by its annual
command of objects fasioned by labor. But the whole system begins and ends
with objects that require necessary social labor time to reproduce."