Value and REproduction

Chris Burford cburford at
Tue Nov 14 00:37:17 MST 1995

Thanks Michael, for the specific reference (THREAD appended below).

One of the strengths of this list is that it is interdisciplinary.

While I am not in a position to read the associated literature, I
welcome the references and the knowledge that such work is taking place.
I approach this issue from the professional standpoint of a psychiatrist
who tries to help people in the psycho-social context of their community.

I am eager therefore to locate exchange value with the wider psycho-
social context of all socially-valued relations. I think the emphasis
on REproduction that Rakesh first made at the start of this thread, is
helpful for that purpose.

In Michael's quote (in my edition of Capital 1, Lawrence and Wishart,
London, pb 1970 page 404,) the translation is a little different but I
take the point. This is the passage about "moral depreciation" is it
not? The words Michael quotes relate to a machine, but I accept his
widening of the significance of this passage by saying it refers to
a "unit of capital".

What is being described here is the tendency of humans to try to
anticipate consequences.

Stock exchanges mediate all the anticipations of future business.
They take account of, or "discount" every latebreaking clue as to future

The value of the reproduction of a machine is affected by all the
anticipations and assumptions that make up the fabric of psychosocial life.

On this list, a sense of what is valued or not, without any commodity
being exchanged, is built up by post after post, in which the writer
among other things attempts to anticipate whether their contribution is
likely to be valued, appear ridiculous, or what. This has created
an extraordinarily robust and flexible culture within a short space of
time. Only the blundering newcomer is completely ignorant of what
is socially valued on this list.

This is an immediate illustration of why I see connections that are not
whimsical but are deeply profound, between the economic concept of value,
and the processes of social validation. Am emphasis on Reproduction rather
than production, brings out this psychosocial context.

In terms of political issues, it helps us to draw connections about what
is really going on, with for example the greens, who argue that business
"externalises its costs onto the environment". Jim J added that as marxists
we could say that it not only externalises its costs onto the natural envir-
onment but externalises its costs onto the social environment (that is how
I read his point).

IMO it helps a great deal therefore, to understand the marxist usage of
exchange value as a subset of the total social value, including all
socially valued human interactions that are NOT mediated by commodity
exchange and the cash nexus.

It helps us to see the remorseless way commodity exchange eats into
breaks up and destroys, the social fabric of our lives on an individual
and global level.

There is a specific point about our debate on this list. I cannot track
it down at present, however my recollection is that the crucial passages
in I think Chapters 6 and 7 of Capital Vol 1, in which Steve persistently
believes that Marx is guilty of sleight of mind if not of sleight of hand,
relate to this. Marx as so often does exercises to illustrate the point,
in terms of arithmetical numbers of hours worked during the day
by actual workers. This appears self-evidently to be quantifiable. But this
is just a symbol of what is really going on in terms of exhange value,
which is about abstract not concrete human labour. And that is not
quantifiable. Any concrete human labour, working for 6 hours, is related
in a many different ways to the dynamic of abstract labour. EG what is the
skill of the labourer, relative to the prevailing social pattern of skills?
What is his or her strength relative to the nourishment of the population?
What is his or her ability to work collectively with other workers,
compared to the rest of the population? What is their cultural context,
relative to the rest - for example have they grown up with computers in
their living room, or are they economic refugees from a third world
country whose culture does not include this but includes other, and perhaps
richer things.

As I recall, Steve shows Marx doing a calculation about how the use
value of machinery may increase the production of a line of commodities
in a quantifiable way, he quotes passages from Marx about hours in the day,
that I regard as purely illustrative, but which look quantitative,
and then says Marx logically agrees that *both* machines and labour make
a contribution to value. To use value, yes; to exchange value, no, by
definition, because exchange value in Marx, properly understood is
about abstract, not concrete labour.

I am not confident that I have sorted out this particular tangle,
but I do suspect that one of the reasons that it has continued for
so long on this list, is that Steve and the Marxists, are talking past
each other, and it is somehow connected with this point.

Chris, London


Rakesh 6th Nov
As I suggested before--inspired by Grossmann and Blake--it is important to
emphasize that Marx understands value as the socially necessary time
required to REproduce a commodity.  So as Guglielmo Carchedi has argued,
"even if this method [Sraffa's reduction equation] did find...greater and
greater labor contents, of the means of production, this quantity would not
be the social value of the means of production as inputs: this is given by
their cost of reproduction at the time the output is sold." (p.97,
Frontiers of Political Economy. Verso, 1991).

Chris 7th Nov

I would appreciate if you could say more about this point. It seems
right, but under what conditions? Did Marx himself actually say this,
or is it reasonable to read him that this is implied?

In the quote I posted about machinery producing *relative* surplus
value, it seems to me we have to be acutely aware with ever new
technology emerging, of the sense in which a portion of value is
seized by the entrepreurial capitalist, which is *not* reproducible on
a continuing basis.

We also would strengthen the application of marxist ideas if we could
link up on this with the powerful critique by green economists, that
business (capitalist business) externalises costs, eg pollutes.

Any idea how your point is worked out in more concrete detail?

Michael 10th Nov

Marx certainly did say that value depends on the cost of reproduction.

He said it many times over.

John 11th Nov

Chris, Michael,

What is this about?


Chris 11th Nov

Could you please give references, preferably by chapter and para,
so that it is possible to reexamine the associated implications?

Michael Perelman <michael at>
Date: Sun, 12 Nov 1995 09:23:03 -0800 (PST)
Subject: reproduction again

I was asked to supply specifics about Marx's theory of reproduction by Chris.
A number of you have already published on this subject, so I will only
give one reference of many:

Marx, C1, Vintage
 528: "[The] value [of a unit of capital] is no longer determined by the
necessary labour-time actually objectified in it, but by the labour-time
necessary either to reproduce it or the better machine ....  When the
machinery is first introduced into a particular branch of production,
new methods of reproducing it more cheaply follow blow upon blow."

I discussed this subject in more detail in my book, Karl Marx's Crisis
Theory: Labor, Scarcity and Fictitious Capital (New York: Praeger, 1987)
and a 1993 article, "The Qualitative Side of Marx's Value Theory."
Rethinking Marxism, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Spring): pp. 82-95.

- --
Michael Perelman
Economics Department
California State University
Chico, CA 95929

Tel. 916-898-5321
E-Mail michael at

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