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

From: Pen-L Fred Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Tue Apr 10 2007 - 09:34:10 EDT

> Now to where we disagree.
> In terms less than required for depressions in the average rate of
> profit to register,  we should assume that the change in pop was
> occasioned not by a change in the general rate of profit but by a
> change in the value of the commodity itself, and since the value of
> the commodity can change in consequence of technical changes within
> its own sphere as well as in consequence of a change in the value of
> those commodities which form the elements of its constant capital,
> unit values will likely tend to change before, say, the means of
> production have been amortized or scrapped. That is, for the prices
> of production to change, there need not be ceaseless productivity
> growth in its own branch but only in one of the branches producing
> its means of production. This makes it likely that reductions in unit
> value are quite frequent.
> Moreover, when, how often and as a result of what do you think prices
> of production change?

Hi Rakesh,

I agree that Marx says in Chapter 9 that changes in prices of
production are due to both changes in the values of finished
commodities and changes in the values of the means of production that
go into the production of finished commodities.  But this does not
imply that Marx assumed that such changes occur "ceaselessly".

Marx’s prices of production are long-run center-of-gravity prices, in
the classical tradition.  In order to function as long-run
center-of-gravity prices, around which market prices fluctuate from
period to period, prices of production must remain relatively stable
over multiple periods of time.

Furthermore, I don’t think it is true in reality that values (and hence
prices of production) are changing "ceaselessly".  Maybe tiny
incremental changes, which can be ignored as a first approximation.
But significant changes in values, due to a new type of technology,
either in the production of finished commodities or in the production
of means of production, happen only occasionally.  I think these
occasional events of significant technological change are what Marx had
in mind in his discussion of changes of prices of production at the end
of Chapter 9.

There is one passage from Chapter 50 of Volume 3, in which Marx
comments on the fluctuations of market prices around prices of
production as long-run center-of-gravity prices, and this passage seems
to suggest that Marx thought that changes in values certainly do not
happen continuously, and probably do not happen frequently.

"Market prices rise above these governing production prices or fall
below them, but these fluctuations balance each other out.  If one
compares price lists over a prolonged period, and ignores those cases
in which the actual value of a commodity alters as a result of a change
in labor productivity, as well as cases in which the production process
is disturbed by natural or social disasters, it is surprising both how
narrow the limits of these divergences are and how regularly they are
balanced out."   (pp. 999-1000).

Therefore, in order to conduct this kind of empirical analysis of the
fluctuations of market prices, there must be some industries in which
the actual value of a commodity DOES NOT ALTER "over a prolonged
period".  Futhermore, the implication seems to be that such alterations
of value would happen in only a few industries over this "prolonged


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