Forwarded from Phil Ferguson (on land rent)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Aug 25 18:41:32 MDT 2000

[posted from non-subbed address]

>Hi Lou.
>Thank you and all of the others who contributed
>answers to my questions re Capital Vol 3., ground
>rent, and the law of value. However, the answers
>brought me back to my starting point.
>Can anyone please refer me to something by Marx on the
>price of land, and other things which are bought and
>sold but are not "commodities" (in the sense of
>products of social labor)?

In capitalist society land is a commodity.  Marx points out in vol 1
(somewhere around p70-80; can't recall exactly as it's about four years since
I read that vol), that with the development of capitalism, land is
into a commodity.  I think he specifically mentions France in a paragraph.

Land prices and rent are connected, as one is the capitalised value of
another.  He goes into this in vol 3 - see the early part of the very long
complicated (and rather turgid) section on ground rent.

The things you refer to which are bought and sold on the market but not
commodities:  well, there are use-values which actually don't reach the
market, but are exchanged in the private sphere.  There are also, even under
capitalism, a lot of goods and services which are not produced for the market
but are vital to the maintenance of capitalism.  These are the products of,
er, 'unproductive labour', ie the product of work which does not produce
surplus-value, although it might be very socially useful or socially
productive - eg public services such as health care, education, transport,
firefighters' work, etc.  Especially in countries like NZ, a lot of
and services have historically been carried out by the state, as the economy
of scale here meant that capital could not make money out of many of these
things.  (Also the rate of profit is affected by turnover time, and the
turnover time of huge projects, eg infratsructrual projects, is very long
indeed, so the NZ bourgeoisie preferred the state to undertake these.)

By the 1980s, however, the ruling class found - in the context of its crisis
of profitability - that it needed to lay its hands on more and more
surplus-value and this meant not only stepping up the rzte of exploitation of
workers, and also letting inefficient capital go to the wall, but also trying
to cut the amount of surplus-value that ended up in government hands for
public services, especially ones which did not necessary facilitate capitaist
profits further down the line.

So, there has been a move to commodify what were previously largely free
public services.  To give you an example.  It costs about $15,000 to educate
each university student each year in NZ.  Back in the 1970s, when I was an
undergraduate doing a BA, my fees were never higher than $40 a year.  The
of what it cost to educate me each year was paid by the state - ie it came
from surplus-value produced by my father and other productive (surplus-value
producing wage-labourers).

I am now back at university, finishing off a PhD, and my fees are now $3400.
This is still only about a quarter of what it costs to educate me, but it
means that about 25 percent of the cost of education has been moved from the
state to the individual student.  They are slowly commodifying education here.

I gather that in the USA it is different, because there are a load of
universities there which already run as profit-making businesses, whose
business just happens to be education.  NZ, as far as I know, has never had
universities like that.

In fact, what is happening now, is that globally all kinds of things are
turned into commodities.  Another example in NZ would be that, unlike in the
USA with baseball, basketball and grid iron, our major sports (most notably
rugby union) have never been businesses and no-one ever made any money out of
rugby.  In the past ten years this has changed dramatically.  Rugby union,
'national game', has now been substantially commodified.  Rugby league, which
is actually traditionally more working class, was actually commodified first,
and rugby league clubs can themselves be bought and sold on the market, which
hasn't yet happened with rugby union, although rugby union sides are now
heavily attached to sponsors.

These days when I watch rugby league or union matches I'm quite inclined not
to mention the actual club sides playing, but call them after the company
names emblazoned on their shirts.  eg, "What's the score?"  "Oh, Samsung 10,
Philips 5!"


Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list