price and value

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sat Feb 15 22:42:41 MST 2003

> Phil and I have a disagreement - I think price and exchange value are
> the same for labor power, he thinks the price of labor power fluctuates
> around the exchange value. A position I once held. It all depends on how
> you see the concept of 'socially necessary'. I would be interested in
> hearing from Phil about where he finds any basis of support in Marx,
> Engels, or other writers about how the price of labor power fluctuates
> around its exchange value.
> My view is that the concept of 'socially necessary labor' opens the door
> to class struggle and other non-market forces to the determination of
> price of all commodities - not just labor power.
> Whether or not Marx, Engels or anyone else held a differenbt view, I
> think this view is more consistent with history, and eliminates a lot of
> the problems Marxists have traditionally had with value theory - i.e the
> impossilibty of empirically proving the 'labor' theory of value.
> All the best, Anthony

Marx always argued that commodities sell at prices above and below their
value.  It is only across the whole of society that the sum of all
values equals the sum of all prices.

Labour-power is no different from any other commodity in this sense.
(The one thing that is different about the commodity labour-power is
that it creates new value, value greater than its own value.)

Socially necessary labour time isn't based on class struggle.  Quite the
contrary, in fact.  The socially necessary labour time can decrease as
capitalists introduce more efficient means of producing the goods.  If
the goods being produced are consumer goods, then this will cheapen the
socially necessary labour time that goes into producing the commodity
labour-power, regardless of levels of class struggle.  Socially
necessary labour-time is just the labour-time that a commodity can be
produced in given the standard levels of a given society.  It's
regulated by the market, not the class struggle.  That is, if worker A
takes five hours to make commodity A and worker B takes 4 hours to make
commodity A, it will be worker A whose commodity is bought on the market
and that will decide the socially necessary labour-time for commodity A.
 Worker B's commodity will be unsold or sell below its value.  If it is
unsold, the labour time that went into creating it will be lost/worthless.

The class struggle primarily affects the *price* of labour-power.  It
allows workers to cut into surplus-value *a little bit*.

Anthony, you're making a serious mistake in claiming that Marxists have
traditionally had a lot of problems with value theory.  They haven't.  A
bunch of academics who like to play with bits and pieces of Marx/ism
have, and they've always tried to gut Marx/ism of the labour theory of
value because it has revolutionary implications, whereas academics can
use bits and pieces of historical materialism to pontificate endlessly
on all kinds of arcana that they are much more comfortable with.  Some
left academics have built their entire careers out of such.

The difference between price and value actually goes to the core of the
different ways bourgeois economists and Marxists see capitalism as
operating.  The bourgeois economist sees the surface appearances - eg
price - while the Marxist is interested in penetrating beneath the
surface appearance to the essence.  What is it that allows there to be a
price in the first place?  Value!  Price is a reflection of value.


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