[OPE-L] questions on the interpretation of labour values

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Mar 02 2007 - 22:34:07 EST

Well as I've argued before, I don't think that money-prices are the
"necessary expression of value" in Marx's theory. If anything, prices are an
expression of exchange-value as Marx says. After all, a price exists to
facilitate exchange.

Marx develops the relevant concepts in detail, already in the draft "Chapter
on Money" of the Grundrisse manuscripts. This has been largely ignored by
scholars, and thus there are no scholarly articles written on "Marx on
prices" despite his elementary form-analysis of price. Indeed some Marxists
deny that Marx had any theory of price-formation at all. There do exist
books on "Marx on money" but peculiarly they mostly hardly refer to the
price-form at all. These books also typically ignore what Marx says in Cap.1
ch 3 section 1: "I assume, FOR THE SAKE OF SIMPLICITY, gold as the

Marx argues in the Grundrisse that "the concept of price has to be developed
before that of circulation. Circulation is the positing of prices, it is the
process in which commodities are transformed into prices: their realisation
as prices. (...) not every form of commodity exchange, e.g. barter, payment
in kind, feudal services, etc. constitutes circulation" (Nicolaus edition,
p. 187, see also p. 193).

And: "Exchange value expressed as money, i.e. equated with money, is price"
(ibid., p. 188). "in price, exchange-value is compared with money" (ibid. p.

Marx was well aware of the distinction between "real money" and "accounting
money" (Nicolaus ed.,p. 190). On p. 198 (Nicolaus ed.) Marx begins to
analyse the "price-form" proper: "The price appears at first as an ideal
aspect of the commodity; but the sum of money exchanged for the commodity is
its realised price, its real price. The price appears therefore as external
to and independent of the commodity, as well as existing in it ideally. If
the commodity cannot be realised in money, it ceases to be capable of
circulating, and its price becomes merely imaginary...".

You see here how Marx himself draws a distinction between real and ideal
prices to which I referred. Consistent with his plan in the Grundrisse, he
discusses the price-form briefly on the heading "money as measure of value"
in Cap. 1, ch. 3.

Marx himself argues that money-prices are the "necessary expression of
value" only in the sense that "exchange value necessarily drives towards
towards price formation. Hence the nonsensicality of those who want to make
labour time as such into money" (Grundrisse, Nicolaus ed.,  p. 207).

Point is that:

(i) product-values exist and persist according to Marx regardless of whether
they are traded or not, simply because they take a quantity of society's
labour-time to make, and as I have pointed out a few times already, at any
time, the majority of product-values and assets owned in society do not have
any actual prices, because they are not being traded. And

(ii) non-reproducible goods such as a piece of unimproved land or a sea-bed
can have a price without having a value in labour terms. That is, an object
of trade may have a price, although it does not have a socially established
value, as Marx explicitly acknowledges in Cap. 1 ch. 3.

(iii) In countertrade (C-C') objects which are otherwise normally
commodities may be traded (such as food for oil) without any prices being
necessarily charged; the objects have an exchange-value expressed in a
quantity of other objects, but not necessarily in a money-price.

I recall how in New Zealand the government decided to privatise half a
million of hectares of mainly exotic forest. Everybody knew that forest had
an objective value, and a large one at that, but nobody knew what those
forests were worth exactly, or what their exchange-value or price was, they
had themselves never been traded at all, they had been government property
since state-employed workers originally planted them (mainly during the
Great Depression of the 1930s) and only the logged timber had been traded.
Overseas consultants were brought in at great expense to "value the forests"
according to principles of comparable sales value, earnings expectations or
a cost-based approach, and then sold. Thus the forests were transformed into
commodities, which had an effect on the valuation of standing timber in the
national accounts. Point is that the forests had a value and a use-value,
but not necessarily an exchange-value or a price, it was necessary to
valuate and price them, for the purpose of trading in them.

In official economics, the existence of prices is taken for granted and more
or less "drops out of the air" - what is forgotten is that each day,
millions of workers (accountants, assessors, valuers, sales staff, financial
advisors, buyers, stock takers, warehouse workers, stock brokers etc.) are
engaged in pricing goods and services. In other words, ensuring that goods
and services do have prices to start off with, takes a large amount of
society's labour in itself, and thus, maintaining the price system itself
carries a large cost in labour-time.

BTW the idea that market prices are "ultimately REGULATED by labour-values"
is not a post-fectum interpretation - Marx literally and explicitly says so
himself in his pamphlet Value, Price and Profit.


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