Sunday, 8 January 2017

Theories of Surplus Value Part I, Chapter 2 - Part 14

The Physiocrats recognised that surplus value could not arise from exchange, as the Mercantilists believed. As Mercier de la Riviere recognised,

““In order to acquire money,” says Mercier de la Riviére, “one must buy it, and, after this purchase, one is no richer than one was before; one has simply received in money the same value that one has given in commodities” (Mercier de la Riviére, L’Ordre naturel et essentiel des sociétés politiques, t. II, p. 338).” (p 62)

The Physiocrats recognised that surplus value existed, and that it was the essence of capitalist production, because it was the surplus value that enabled the accumulation of capital. Their problem was that, because, at the time they were writing, the clearest manifestation of this capitalist production was in agriculture, and the form of surplus value seemed to manifest itself in rent, and the basis of this rent was the creation of a surplus product, they were necessarily led into viewing this surplus value as merely a surplus of use values.

“Their error was that they confused the increase of material substance, which because of the natural processes of vegetation and generation distinguishes agriculture and stock-raising from manufacture, with the increase of exchange-value. Use-value was their starting-point. And the use-value of all commodities, reduced, as the scholastics say, to a universal, was the material substance of nature as such, whose increase in the same form occurs only in agriculture.” (p 62-3)

Marx quotes the Physiocrat, Germain Garnier, who translated Adam Smith, on their view about the nature of industrial profit and accumulation. If only agriculture creates new wealth, the industrial capitalist can only accumulate capital by one of two ways. Either they obtain value over and above what is required as profit, to reproduce their labour-power, as a result of unequal exchange, i.e. the industrial producers rob the landowners, or else the capitalists reduce their consumption beneath its minimum, in order to save.

““The labour of artisans and manufacturers, opening no new source of wealth, can only be profitable through advantageous exchanges, and has only a purely relative value, a value which will not he repeated if there is no longer the opportunity to gain on the exchanges” (his translation Recherches sur la nature et les causes de la richesse des nations, t. V, Paris, 1802, p. 266). Or the savings which they make, the values which they secure over and above those which they expend, must be stinted from their own consumption. “The labour of artisans and manufacturers, though only able to add to the general amount of the wealth of society the savings made by the wage-labourers and the capitalists, may well tend by these means to enrich society” (l.c., p. 266).” (p 63)

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