Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Capital III, Engels Supplement - Part 2

Engels deals first with Loria's incorrect statement that value is nothing more than the ratio at which commodities exchange with each other, i.e. their exchange value. In fact, Loria is not alone in that. Lenin, in some of his writings, conflates value and exchange value, which as Engels describes here, are two related, but independent things.

Lenin writes, for example,

“A commodity is, in the first place, a thing that satisfies a human want; in the second place, it is a thing that can be exchanged for another thing. The utility of a thing makes it a use-value. Exchange-value (or, simply, value), is first of all the ratio, the proportion, in which a certain number of use-values of one kind can be exchanged for a certain number of use-values of another kind.”

But, as Engels points out, (Marx makes the same point in Theories of Surplus Value – Part 1) if value is nothing but the rate at which commodities exchange against each other, that makes value purely subjective, “accidental, stuck on to the commodities from the outside, which can be one thing today and something else tomorrow.” (p 892)

If value is the same as exchange value, the ratio at which commodities exchange, then value becomes the same as price, because price is only exchange value expressed in money terms, it is the rate at which different commodities exchange against the money commodity. This is also the basis of theories of subjective value, as developed by the neoclassical school, because on this basis there is no grounds for determining value objectively. For every commodity, there is no calculable value, but only a multiplicity of prices that rely on individual subjective preferences, and the consequent movement of demand and supply.

“Hence, value is identical with price, and every commodity has as many values as the prices it can get. And price is determined by supply and demand; and any one asking any more questions is a fool to expect an answer.” (p 892)

But, as Engels points out, Loria shoots himself in the foot here, in respect of his argument that there could be no total of values. If value is nothing more than the price at which commodities exchange this implies that we can put all these together so that half of them sit on one side of this exchange, which we might call the supply side, and the other half on the other side, which we can call the demand side. If these two sides balance, so that the £1 million of commodities on the supply side is in balance with the £1 million of commodities on the demand side, this means that the total of these prices is then £2 million.

Yet, Loria wants to claim that its impossible to total values, that although there is here a total of prices of £2 million, when it comes to value this balance results instead in £1 million plus £1 million = 0!

Of course, there can be no prices without there first being exchange value, just as there can be no exchange value without there first being value, and as Marx and Engels demonstrate, this is the case not just logically but historically.

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