[OPE-L:7404] [OPE-L:935] analyzing the potato chip effect

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sun, 2 May 1999 19:39:44 -0400 (EDT)

Consider the potato chip bag effect. I.e. the price for the commodity
remains constant and the size of the potato chip bag remains the same, but
over time there are less and less chips (and more air) in the bag. This
experience ["pay the same, get less"] is not an isolated phenomena but is
commonplace for consumption goods sold to working-class families.

Now let's divide means of consumption into two distinct groups: C1 and C2
where C2 are commodities that exhibit over time the potato chip effect.
Let's assume that the prices for C1 and C2 remain constant. Doesn't the
presence of C2 mean that even under the condition where prices remain the
same, workers' purchasing power diminishes? I.e. with the same nominal
wage, workers are able to purchase less C1 and C2 measured in terms of the
physical quantities of commodities purchased.

This is a similar experience to inflation for most working-class families.
The major difference, of course, is that with inflation -- by definition
-- the average price of commodities increases. Viewed in historical
perspective, the potato chip effect might be viewed as a disguised price
increase and an alternative -- consciously chosen by corporations -- to
avoid a direct mark-up of price. There is clearly a degree of (mostly
visual) deception (by firms towards consumers) in the potato chip

When viewed from an overall perspective, can we view the presence of C2 as
*theft* that occurs in the marketplace? Doesn't the presence of C2 alter
the distribution of income between capitalists, landowners, and workers?

Has this phenomena been analyzed by other Marxists? If so, how and where?
If not, why not?

In solidarity, Jerry