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

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sun Mar 04 2007 - 11:18:30 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.

Hi Jurriaan:

What I suggested was a bit more nuanced.  I suggested that exchange-value
is a necessary form of appearance of  commodity value _and_ that price is a
necessary form of appearance of a commodity's exchange-value.

>  "I assume, FOR THE SAKE OF SIMPLICITY, gold as the
> money-commodity".

Yes, but I think that it is somewhat misleading to believe that a money-
commodity was being assumed for _only_ reasons of simplicity.

> 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).

In a system of generalized commodity production and exchange, those
non-money payments could I think be thought of as a kind of disguised
monetary exchanges.

> (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.

It might bear consideration to see this process in part as the release and
tying-up of commodity values and also consider the process of commodity
hoarding.  These were both processes that Marx was aware of, of course,
but didn't really completely explain his thoughts on.

> 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.

Yes, that's a point I've frequently made as well: we have to distinguish
between wealth and value.

> (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.

This raises the issue, in part, of accounting for the role of intermediate
goods in price formation.  This is related, I think, to the release and
tying-up of constant capital.

> 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,

Yes, everybody knew it -- even children.  But, what everybody knows,
children included, may not be correct.

> 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.

Just because goods are valued and traded does not mean that they
constitute value.  The forest could constitute wealth rather than value,
regardless of  whether buyers or sellers or the state or the public come
to view it as value.  Yet, the valuation process itself, irrespective of
whether we consider the  an unimproved forest to constitute value or
wealth, is interesting -- but I think somewhat arbitrary.

In solidarity, Jerry

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