Friday, 15 June 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 16 - Part 22

In the previous analysis, only the effect of a change in the market value of commodities forming components of the variable-capital, i.e. wage goods, was considered. Now, Marx turns to the similar situation in regard to those commodities that have to be reproduced, on a like for like basis, as part of the constant capital. In other words, social reproduction requires that the minimum quantity of use values required to reproduce labour-power have to be physically reproduced in order to reproduce labour-power. On that basis, changes in the value of these use values causes wages to rise or fall, with a consequent effect on profits. But, for social reproduction on the same scale, the physical use values that constitute the constant capital also have to be reproduced. If a farmer uses 1,000 kg. of grain as seed, and 1,000 kg. as wages, there is no point reproducing the latter without the former. Marx now turns to the effect of changes in the value of these commodities that comprise the constant capital, and which must be physically reproduced on a like for like basis

“But supposing that the coal or the corn or whatever other product of the earth, the product produced by agricultural capital, itself enters in kind into the formation of the constant capital. Let us assume for instance that it makes up half of the constant capital. In this case it is clear that whatever the price of the coal or the corn a constant capital of definite size, in other words, one which is set in motion by a definite number of workers, always requires a definite portion of the total product in kind for its replacement—since the composition of agricultural capital has, according to the assumption, remained unchanged in its proportionate amounts of accumulated and living labour.” (p 454) 

If we take a coal mine, and, in line with the examples given so far, we assume that it employs the equivalent of 16.66 workers, these workers, because of the technical composition of capital, require £50 of constant capital, which is made up of definite physical quantities of the use values, the commodities that comprise the means of production used by those workers. There is nothing fixed or magical about the value £50; it is simply the value of that specific physical mass of use values that the workers require, determined by the technical composition, which is itself a function of technological development. 

In other words, the 16.66 workers require a given number of picks, shovels and so on, and to the extent they require steam engines, to wind the pit wheel, to pump water from the mine, and so on, they require a certain quantity of coal to power the steam engines. 

Suppose, Marx says, that they require £25 of other components of constant capital, plus £25 of coal, which currently amounts to 15.625 tons. 

“And however the market-value of a ton or a quarter may change, 16⅔ men require a constant capital of £25 plus 15 5/8 quarters or tons, for the nature of the constant capital remains the same, and so does the proportionate number of workers required to set it in motion.” (p 454) 

Suppose then that the market value of coal rises, to £3 per ton. The 16.66 workers wages come to £50. But, the constant capital required would be £25 + 15.625 tons x £3 = £25 + £46.875 = £71.875. The total capital outlay rises to £121.875. 

“The correlation of values within the agricultural capital would have changed while organic composition remained the same.” (p 455) 

This might appear wrong, because obviously, if previously variable-capital was £50, and constant capital was £50, the organic composition 1:1, whereas now it is 50:71.875. However, in Capital I, Marx remarks that when he is talking about the organic composition of capital, he means the composition as determined by the technical composition. What he means, here, therefore, is that there has been a change only in the value composition of the capital, not in its organic composition as determined by the technical composition, which has stayed the same. 

If production is to continue on the same scale, just as previously the same number of workers had to be employed, and the value of variable capital rose, now the same amount of coal must be used, and the higher value of coal means the value of constant capital rises. It doesn't matter what the historic cost of that coal was, because it must be physically replaced, on a like for like basis, out of current production, at its current value

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