Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Theories Of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 15 - Part 28

Ricardo on the Problem of Surplus-Value 

1. Quantity of Labour and Value of Labour. [As Presented by Ricardo the Problem of the Exchange of Labour for Capital Cannot Be Solved] 

As seen earlier, in Part I of Theories of Surplus Value, Adam Smith, at one time, advocates a labour theory of value, whereby the value of commodities is determined by the labour-time required for their production, and at other times has a cost of production theory of value. The former determines the value of commodities in terms of the quantity of labour used in their production, the other in terms of the value of the labour (actually labour-power) used in their production. On the basis of this latter determination, Smith also uses corn (as a proxy for food prices, and so wages) as a measure of value. But, from the start, and throughout his work, Ricardo rejects this second approach of Smith, and determines the value of commodities only on the basis of quantity of labour rather than the value of labour (labour-power). And this, he argues, is not at all incompatible with wages as the price of labour. 

Ricardo says, opening Chapter I of “The Principles”

““The value of a commodity, or the quantity of any other commodity for which it will exchange, depends on the relative quantity of labour which is necessary for its production, and not on the greater or less compensation which is paid for that labour” (l.c., p. 1).” (p 395) 

Marx affirms this approach and writes, 

“It is clear that the proportional quantity of labour contained in two commodities A and B, is absolutely unaffected by whether the workers who produce A and B receive much or little of the product of their labour. The value of A and B is determined by the quantity of labour which their production costs, and not by the costs of labour to the owners of A and B. Quantity of labour and value of labour are two different things. The quantity of labour which is contained in A and B respectively, has nothing to do with how much of the labour contained in A and B the owners of A and B, have paid or even performed themselves. A and B are exchanged not in proportion to the paid labour contained in them, but in proportion to the total quantity of labour they contain, paid and unpaid.” (p 395-6) 

Ricardo highlights the fact that Smith has these two theories of value, and that things become more or less valuable “in proportion as they will exchange for more or less of this standard measure”. This standard measure here being corn, acting as a proxy for wages. Ricardo criticises Smith for arguing as if “these were two equivalent expressions”. But, Marx says, 

“Adam Smith nowhere asserts that “these were two equivalent expressions”. On the contrary, he says: Because in capitalist production, the wage of the worker is no longer equal to his product, therefore, the quantity of labour which a commodity costs and the quantity of commodities that the worker can purchase with this labour are two different things—for this very reason the relative quantity of labour contained in commodities ceases to determine their value, which is now determined rather by the value of labour, by the quantity of labour that I can purchase, or command with a given amount of commodities. Thus the value of labour, instead of the relative quantity of labour becomes the measure of value.” (p 396)

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