Saturday, 4 February 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 3 - Part 24

[6. Smith’s Erroneous View of Profit, Rent of Land and Wages as Sources of Value]

On the one hand, Smith has identified that the essence of value is labour, and that surplus value is an appropriation of a portion of this value, by the owner of land or capital. On the other, he puts forward also the idea that rent, profit and wages are sources of value, slipping, therefore, from a labour theory of value to a cost of production theory.

Marx cites Lauderdale, Recherches sur la nature et l’origine de la richesse publique (traduit par Lagentie de Lavaïsse, Paris, 1808)”, who argues that Smith's position on surplus value was the same as that which had been expounded by Locke, that capital was only a derivative source of wealth.

““‘Above a century ago, Mr. Locke stated pretty nearly the same opinion” (as Adam Smith)… 

“‘Money’, he said, ‘is a barren thing and produces nothing; but by compact transfers that profit that was the reward of one man’s labour into another man’s pocket’” (Lauderdale, p. 116). 

“If this, however, was a just and accurate idea of the profit of capital, it would follow that the profit of stock must be a derivative, and not an original source of revenue; and capital could not therefore be considered as a source of wealth, its profit being only a transfer from the pocket of the labourer into that of the proprietor of stock” (pp. 157–58). (l.c., p. 116–17) [Lauderdale, James Maitland, An Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Public Wealth…, Edinburgh and London, 1804, pp. 157–58].” (p 93)

If we take the value of the commodities that comprise the constant capital, they transfer their value to the end product, and nothing more. They have not then been a source of value. All they have done is to participate in a process whereby value has been transformed from one existing set of use values into the same amount of value existing in a different set of use values. In fact, if we take the commodities that comprise the variable capital, in its strictest definition, that is all those commodities required for the reproduction of labour-power – wage goods – these cannot create new value. Unlike the constant capital, they do not even enter directly into the production process at all. They only enter indirectly, having been consumed by the worker, and thereby reproducing their labour-power. But, just like the value of constant capital, the value of the variable capital is just as much a fixed amount. Neither the value of the commodities that comprise the variable capital, nor the value of the labour-power, which the variable capital metamorphoses into changes in value as a consequence of the production process.

Unlike the constant capital, neither the value of the variable capital, nor the value of labour-power is transferred to the value of the end product.

The additional value created in the end product is rather the result of the expenditure of new living labour. It is only the creation of this new value which thereby enables the value of the variable capital to be reproduced, as well as the creation of a surplus.

Smith is not just wrong to say that capital and rent are sources of value. He is also wrong to say that wages are a source of value. Wages are merely the money equivalent of the variable capital, the money equivalent of the commodities required to reproduce labour-power, and consequently the money form of the value of labour-power.

The new value created is not created by wages or variable capital, or labour-power, all of which are themselves only the expressions of past congealed labour, as much as the commodities that comprise the constant capital. It is not the commodity labour-power that creates new value, but the act of labour undertaken by that labour-power.

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