Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Capital I Chapter 5 - Part 2

Marx also shows what is wrong with trying to find a solution by reducing matters to a subjective level of the individuals involved in the exchange.

A may be clever enough to get the advantage of B or C without their being able to retaliate. A sells wine worth £40 to B, and obtains from him in exchange corn to the value of £50. A has converted his £40 into £50, has made more money out of less, and has converted his commodities into capital. Let us examine this a little more closely. Before the exchange we had £40 worth of wine in the hands of A, and £50 worth of corn in those of B, a total value of £90. After the exchange we have still the same total value of £90. The value in circulation has not increased by one iota, it is only distributed differently between A and B. What is a loss of value to B is surplus-value to A; what is “minus” to one is “plus” to the other. The same change would have taken place, if A, without the formality of an exchange, had directly stolen the £10 from B. The sum of the values in circulation can clearly not be augmented by any change in their distribution, any more than the quantity of the precious metals in a country by a Jew selling a Queen Anne’s farthing for a guinea. The capitalist class, as a whole, in any country, cannot over-reach themselves.” (p 160)

In fact, Marx here elaborates one of the problems with the so called Temporal Single System Interpretation (TSSI), which does reduce matters down to the level of the individual capitalists and their respective fortunes arising from Capital Gains and Losses. As Marx puts it,

Turn and twist then as we may, the fact remains unaltered. If equivalents are exchanged, no surplus-value results, and if non-equivalents are exchanged, still no surplus-value. Circulation, or the exchange of commodities, begets no value.” (p 160-1)

In other words, Marx has set out the contradiction referred to in the previous chapter, and is in the process of resolving it in his normal manner of an historical and logical explication.

The reason is now therefore plain why, in analysing the standard form of capital, the form under which it determines the economic organisation of modern society, we entirely left out of consideration its most popular, and, so to say, antediluvian forms, merchants’ capital and money-lenders’ capital.” (p 160)

If the transformation of merchants’ money into capital is to be explained otherwise than by the producers being simply cheated, a long series of intermediate steps would be necessary, which, at present, when the simple circulation of commodities forms our only assumption, are entirely wanting.” (p 160)

Marx then explains that what is true of Merchants' Capital is even more true of Usurers' Capital, which appears to derive a profit even without any exchange taking place.

In the course of our investigation, we shall find that both merchants’ capital and interest-bearing capital are derivative forms, and at the same time it will become clear, why these two forms appear in the course of history before the modern standard form of capital.” (p 162)

Marx sets out one of the reasons why it is not possible to create Surplus Value so long as the producers own the means of production. That is that the Value of their output is equivalent to the Labour-time expended on its production, and this is also its price. But, the cost to the producer is also the labour-time required for its production, and so if the cost is equal to the price there can be no Surplus Value!

Apart from circulation, the commodity-owner is in relation only with his own commodity. So far as regards value, that relation is limited to this, that the commodity contains a quantity of his own labour, that quantity being measured by a definite social standard. This quantity is expressed by the value of the commodity, and since the value is reckoned in money of account, this quantity is also expressed by the price, which we will suppose to be £10. But his labour is not represented both by the value of the commodity, and by a surplus over that value, not by a price of 10 that is also a price of 11, not by a value that is greater than itself. The commodity owner can, by his labour, create value, but not self-expanding value. He can increase the value of his commodity, by adding fresh labour, and therefore more value to the value in hand, by making, for instance, leather into boots. The same material has now more value, because it contains a greater quantity of labour. The boots have therefore more value than the leather, but the value of the leather remains what it was; it has not expanded itself, has not, during the making of the boots, annexed surplus-value.” (p 162-3)

The conversion of money into capital has to be explained on the basis of the laws that regulate the exchange of commodities, in such a way that the starting-point is the exchange of equivalents. Our friend, Moneybags, who as yet is only an embryo capitalist, must buy his commodities at their value, must sell them at their value, and yet at the end of the process must withdraw more value from circulation than he threw into it at starting. His development into a full-grown capitalist must take place, both within the sphere of circulation and without it. These are the conditions of the problem.” (p 163)

Marx is under no misapprehension that prices and values do not deviate on several grounds. He knows that Smith and Ricardo were wrong in believing that market prices oscillated around Exchange Value, for instance. He is also aware that prices can diverge due to fluctuations in demand and supply, cheating by individual capitalists and so on. But, these are a distraction from the analysis of the real basis of the formation of capital, which must proceed on the basis of ignoring these variations, and explain it on the basis of Value and the exchange of equivalents.

From the foregoing investigation, the reader will see that this statement only means that the formation of capital must be possible even though the price and value of a commodity be the same; for its formation cannot be attributed to any deviation of the one from the other. If prices actually differ from values, we must, first of all, reduce the former to the latter, in other words, treat the difference as accidental in order that the phenomena may be observed in their purity, and our observations not interfered with by disturbing circumstances that have nothing to do with the process in question. We know, moreover, that this reduction is no mere scientific process. The continual oscillations in prices, their rising and falling, compensate each other, and reduce themselves to an average price, which is their hidden regulator. It forms the guiding star of the merchant or the manufacturer in every undertaking that requires time. He knows that when a long period of time is taken, commodities are sold neither over nor under, but at their average price. If therefore he thought about the matter at all, he would formulate the problem of the formation of capital as follows: How can we account for the origin of capital on the supposition that prices are regulated by the average price, i. e., ultimately by the value of the commodities? I say “ultimately,” because average prices do not directly coincide with the values of commodities, as Adam Smith, Ricardo, and others believe.” (Note 1, p 163)

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