Vulgar economy--TSS (part 12)

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Thu Mar 1 20:13:06 MST 2001

Vulgar economy--TSS (part 12)

        Kliman and McGlone focus on a different set of passages in Marx's work,
but exhibit the same inclination to claim even the most open-ended
statements as evidence in favor of the Temporal Single System
interpretation.  For example, they cite the following passage from
Capital, Vol. I:  "The means of production on the one hand, labour-power
on the other, are merely the different modes of existence which the
value of the original capital assumed when from being money it was
transformed into the various factors of the labour-process" (Marx 1883:

        From this statement Kliman and McGlone (1999: 38) conclude that for
Marx "the value of capital … is not synonymous with the values of inputs
purchased with it," since "the capital value is the sum of value [that
is the sum of money, G.M.] advanced to acquire inputs, which can clearly
differ from the value [that is, the labor-value] of the inputs
themselves."  None of this however is implicit in Marx's statement,
which says only that capital changes form over the course of its
circuit.  In as much as the passage appears in Volume I, throughout
which Marx assumes that commodities exchange in proportion to their
labor-values, the meaning Kliman and McGlone wish to assign to it is a
considerable stretch.  When Marx observes a few lines later that should
the price of cotton double, it will transfer twice its value to goods
for which it is an input, Kliman and McGlone conclude that the value
transferred is a price magnitude.  Yet Marx attributes the cause of the
doubling of the price of cotton to an increase in the amount of labor
embodied in each pound of it, owing to a crop failure; and again, Kliman
and McGlone forget the presumption throughout Volume I that price and
value coincide.
        Kliman and McGlone also mention the well-known passage in which Marx
appears to have acknowledged the need to weight inputs by their prices
of production:

Since the price of production may differ from the value of a commodity,
it follows that the cost-price of a commodity containing this price of
production of another commodity may also stand above or below that
portion of its total value derived from the value of the means of
production consumed by it.  It is necessary to remember this modified
significance of the cost-price, and to bear in mind that there is always
the possibility of an error if the cost-price of a commodity … is
identified with the value of the means of production consumed by it
(1894: 164-165).

According to Kliman and McGlone (1999: 39), Marx is not here
acknowledging an error of his own, but is warning against the dualist
"error" of supposing that the capital-value advanced is equivalent to
the labor-time embodied in the material inputs and wage goods that enter
into the production process.
But the point of the passage is to elaborate one of the various reasons
that prices of production may deviate from values, and there is nothing
in it which supports the Temporal Single System claim that the money
cost of inputs passes into the value of outputs.  On the contrary,
immediately prior to the passage just reproduced Marx writes that "for
the buyer the price of production of a specific commodity it is its
cost-price, and this may pass as cost-price into the prices of other
commodities" (emphasis added).  I grant that the point Marx was trying
to make in the longer passage is not transparent.  But this last remark
about cost-price passing into prices suggests that if we are to assign
any significance to the longer passage, we should favor the traditional
reading (Marx realized that inputs need to be transformed) over the
Temporal Single System interpretation (Marx's c and v are price
magnitudes and therefore don't need to be transformed).  This last
quoted comment lends support to the dualist view that Marx regarded
values and prices as components of two distinct (but not unconnected)
To take a final example, McGlone and Kliman (1996: 35) refer to a letter
of June 27, 1867, in which "Marx explicitly equates 'cost-price' with
the 'price of the constant part of capital + wages' and notes that his
transformation 'presupposes' that various value magnitudes appear as
sums of money."  An examination of the letter reveals however that Marx
"presupposes" nothing of the sort.  The rather obvious fact that
constant and variable capital take the form of money magnitudes in a
market economy is not contested by any interpreter of Marx; nor is there
anything significant in his equating cost-price with the sum of material
input costs plus wages: his definition of cost-price is not a matter of
controversy.  What is in contention is whether, in his discussion of the
transformation, Marx conceived of c and v as price magnitudes or as
quantities of labor-time.  The letter offers no clear insight, one way
or the other, on this question.  Marx writes to Engels that explaining
the transformation of value into price of production "presupposes" that
the transformation of the value of labor-power into wages, of
surplus-value into profits, and of profits into average profit have been
explained  - and this is the only thing that he presupposes in the
letter.  The exact meaning of all this is open to discussion, but his
remarks do not give us any reason to think that he'd already transformed
the input side, as McGlone, Kliman and the rest of the Temporal Single
System school contend.
        A central tenet of the Temporal Single System approach is that the
interpretations associated with Bortkiewicz and Sraffa inappropriately
project Ricardo's analytical framework onto Marx.  Non-equilibrium
Marxist object, in other words, to what they regard as the misleading
"transformation of Marx into Ricardo", as Rodríguez-Herrera (1996) puts
it in the title of his contribution to the Freeman and Carchedi
collection.  The view that Marx and Ricardo were working in the same
theoretical tradition is not a uniquely Sraffian position, however.
Schumpeter thought it an 'obvious truth'

that, as far as pure theory is concerned, Marx must be considered a
'classic' economist and more specifically a member of the Ricardian
group.  Ricardo is the only economist whom Marx treated as a master.
...  Marx used the Ricardian apparatus: he adopted Ricardo's conceptual
layout and his problems presented themselves to him in the forms that
Ricardo had given to him.  No doubt, he transformed these forms and he
arrived in the end at widely different conclusions.  But he always did
so by way of starting from, and criticizing, Ricardo - criticism of
Ricardo was his method in his purely theoretical work (Schumpeter 1954:
But even if we leave aside Schumpeter, Sraffa and the rest of the
literature published after Marx's death, the difficulty with the
Temporal Single System position is that Marx himself acknowledged his
Ricardian roots.
        In his 1873 Afterword to the second German edition of Capital, Vol. I,
Marx refers approvingly to the assessment of a Russian professor,
Nikolai Sieber, "of my theory of value, money and capital, as in its
fundamentals a necessary sequel to the teaching of Smith and Ricardo."
He goes on to cite, also with approval, Sieber's judgement that "In so
far as it deals with actual theory, the method of Marx is the deductive
method of the whole English school whose failings and virtues are common
to the best theoretic economists" (Marx 1883: 16-17).
        One finds in Marx numerous statements that depict classical political
economy as a theory concerned with explaining how a capitalist economy
generates and allocates a surplus to consumption and accumulation, and
among social classes.  Theories of Surplus Values contains an intriguing
- and sympathetic - passage on the Physiocrats which is strikingly
evocative of the corn-ratio theory of profits that Sraffa attributes to
Ricardo (see fn 4 above):

The difference between the value of labour-power and the value created
by it - that is, the surplus-value which the purchase of labour-power
secures for the user of labour-power - appears most palpably, most
incontrovertibly, of all branches of production, in agriculture, the
primary branch of production.  The sum total of the means of subsistence
which the labourer consumes from one year to another, or the mass of
material substance which he consumes, is smaller than the sum total of
the means of subsistence which he produces.  In manufacture the workman
is not generally seen directly producing either his means of subsistence
or the surplus in excess of his means of subsistence.  The process is
mediated through purchase and sale, ... and the analysis of value is
necessary for it to be understood.  In agriculture it shows itself
directly in the surplus of use-values produced over use-values consumed
by the labourer, and can therefore be grasped without an analysis of
value in general… (Marx 1862-63, Vol. I: 46).

And in Volume III of Capital, Marx (1894: 114) comes close to
attributing this sort of argument to Ricardo (though not with specific
reference to Ricardo's pre-1816 writings): "It leaps to the eye,
particularly in the case of agriculture, that the causes which raise or
lower the price of a product, also raise or lower the value or capital,
since the latter consists to a large degree of this product, whether as
grain, cattle, etc. (Ricardo)."

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
Ph.D Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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