Value Project: Bohm-Bawerk re-post (6k)

P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU P8475423 at vmsuser.acsu.unsw.EDU.AU
Fri Aug 4 21:04:24 MDT 1995

Bohm-Bawerk's critique of Marx=0D
B=F5hm-Bawerk wrote two substantial critiques of Marx, one prior=0D
to the publication of Volume III of Capital, and one shortly=0D
after. The latter is the best known one, and many scholars of=0D
Marx have argued that--though Bohm-Bawerk did not undertake a=0D
mathematical critique--that most subsequent critiques have=0D
simply repeated Bohm-Bawerk's original.=0D
In his initial commentary on Marx in Capital and Interest=0D
(B=F5hm-Bawerk 1890) Bohm-Bawerk stated the problem of surplus=0D

value as Marx perceived it, he and observes that "The solution=0D
Marx finds is this, that there is one commodity whose use-value=0D
possesses the peculiar property of being the source of=0D
exchange-value". He noted that the value of labor power is for=0D
Marx "the labor time necessary for its reproduction", and that=0D
"If the capitalist has completed this purchase [bought labor=0D
power for a day], the use-value of the labor power belongs to=0D
him." (ibid., pp. 372-73). He accepted that on Marx's premises,=0D
this "p
eculiar property" is indeed restricted to labor power,=0D
and turned to attacking the allegation that labor is the only=0D
source of value.=0D
By the time he composed the far more widely read Karl Marx and=0D
the Close of his System (B=F5hm-Bawerk 1896), B=F5hm-Bawerk had=0D
apparently forgotten that Marx's proof of the source of surplus=0D
value had initially employed the concept of use-value:=0D
"The fundamental proposition which Marx puts before his readers=0D
is that the exchange value of commodities-for his analysis
directed only to this, not to value in use-finds its origin and=0D
its measure in the quantity of labor incorporated in the=0D
commodities." (B=F5hm-Bawerk 1896, p. 66)=0D
Instead he conformed to the precedent set by Wagner, of arguing=0D
that use-value played no role in Marx's economics. He therefore,=0D
as a representative of the emerging Marginalist school--which=0D
gave pride of place to utility in the determination of=0D
value--regarded Marx's statement in Capital I that "the exchange=0D
of commodities is evide
ntly an act characterized by a total=0D
abstraction from use-value" (Marx 1867, p. 45) as an unsupported=0D
and unwarranted assertion, and as a direct challenge to the=0D
marginalist theory of value. B=F5hm-Bawerk set about directly=0D
attacking that assertion, in the manner of an advocate for the=0D
Marginalist School (Interestingly, Schumpeter commented on=0D
B=F5hm-Bawerk that his was "an advocate's mind. He was unable to=0D
see anything but the letter of the opponent's argument and never=0D
seems to have asked himself wh
ether the offending letter did not=0D
cover some element of the truth." Schumpeter 1954, p. 847, note=0D
B=F5hm-Bawerk began by disputing the two bases of the classical=0D
treatment of the commodity,  that value reflects effort, and=0D
that exchange involves the transfer of equivalents. To the first=0D
he argued that "Value and effort . are not ideas so intimately=0D
connected that one is forced immediately to adopt the view that=0D
effort is the basis of value" (B=F5hm-Bawerk 1896, p. 65), while=0D
the second he cou
ntered with the proposition that, for exchange=0D
to happen, some gain must occur to each party-therefore=0D
"exchange . points rather to the existence of some inequality .=0D
which produces the alteration." (ibid., p. 68)=0D
In his view, Marx arrived at the opinion that use-value plays no=0D
role in the determination of value, and the conclusion that=0D
labor power is the only source of value, via a method of=0D
exclusion. B=F5hm-Bawerk observes that this procedure is "somewhat=
singular.. It strikes one as strange th
at instead of submitting=0D
the supposed characteristic property to a positive test . Marx=0D
tries to convince us that he has found the sought-for property,=0D
by a purely negative proof, by showing that it is not any of the=0D
other properties." (ibid., p. 69)=0D
The first step in this negative methodology was to exclude from=0D
the field of analysis the products of Nature, giving the term=0D
"commodity" a much narrower meaning than the term "value in=0D
use". B=F5hm-Bawerk argues that the "apparently harmless" opening
sentence of Capital is in fact "quite wrong . if we take the=0D
term `commodity' to mean products of labor, which is the sense=0D
Marx subsequently gives to it. For the gifts of nature,=0D
inclusive of the soil, constitute . a very important element of=0D
national wealth" (ibid., pp. 71-72). With these included in his=0D
analysis, B=F5hm-Bawerk asserts, Marx could not have concluded=0D
that work is the common factor, because there are objects with=0D
exchange-value which incorporate no work. B=F5hm-Bawerk argues=0D
that th
ese natural objects have no "labor-value" but do have the=0D
general concept of utility in common, and thus utility must be a=0D
factor in price determination.=0D
His proposition is that "The special forms under which the=0D
values in use of the commodities may appear . is of course=0D
disregarded, but the value in use of the commodity as such is=0D
never disregarded" (ibid., p. 74). In other words, B=F5hm-Bawerk=0D
differed from Marx here because the marginalist school had=0D
developed the concept of `abstract' and comm
ensurable use-value=0D
as a common attribute of goods, whereas to Marx use-value was=0D
concrete, specific to each commodity, and incommensurable. He=0D
continued that, having already improperly excluded use-value as=0D
a potential "common substance", Marx next ignores such=0D
properties as being "scarce in proportion to demand", "subjects=0D
of demand and supply", "appropriated", "natural products", "that=0D
they cause expense to their producers" (meaning that they have a=0D
price, as distinct from a value). He conclude
Why then, I ask again today, may not the principle of value=0D
reside in any one of these common properties as well as in the=0D
property of being products of labor? For in support of this=0D
latter proposition Marx has not adduced a shred of positive=0D
evidence. His sole argument is the negative one, that the value=0D
in use, from which we have happily abstracted, is not the=0D
principle of exchange-value. If Marx had chanced to reverse the=0D
order of the examination, the same reasoning which led to the=0D
sion of the value in use would have excluded labor; and=0D
then the reasoning which resulted in the crowning of labor might=0D
have led him to declare the value in use to be the only property=0D
left, and therefore to be the sought-for common property, and=0D
value to be `the cellular tissue of value in use.' (ibid., pp.=0D
Bohm-Bawerk's judgment on Marx's "solution" to the=0D
transformation problem in Volume III itself was fairly=0D
immediate, and preceded the analysis outlined above:=0D
"I cannot help mysel
f: I see here no explanation and the=0D
econciliation of a contradiction, but the bare contradiction=0D
tself. Marx's third Volume contradicts the first." (p. 30.)=0D
He quotes Werner Sombart as saying that "'when suddenly out of=0D
the depths emerges a `quite ordinary' theory of cost of=0D
production, it means that the celebrated doctrine of value has=0D
come to grief. For, if I have in the end to explain the profits=0D
by the cost of production, wherefore the whole cumbrous=0D
apparatus of the theories of value and s
urplus value?'" ( p. 31.)=0D
Bohm-Bawerk, E. von , 1896, "Karl Marx and the Close of His=0D
System", in Sweezy, P. (ed.) _Karl Marx and the Close of His=0D
System_, Orion, New York, 1949.=0D

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