Monday, 5 November 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 19 - Part 1

Thomas Robert Malthus

Marx considers the following works by Malthus. 

1) The Measure of Value Stated and Illustrated etc., London, 1823. 

2) Definitions in Political Economy etc., London, 1827 (as well as the same work published by John Cazenove in London in 1853 with Cazenove’s “Notes and Supplementary Remarks”). 

3) Principles of Political Economy etc., second ed., London, 1836 (first [edition] 1820 or thereabout, to be looked up). 

4) Also to be taken into consideration the following work by a Malthusian (i.e., a Malthusian in contrast to the Ricardians)—Outlines of Political Economy etc., London, 1832. 

[1. Malthus’s Confusion of the Categories Commodity and Capital] 

In 1814, in his “Observations on the Effects of the Corn Laws etc.” Malthus says of Adam Smith, 

““Adam Smith was evidently led into this train of argument from his habit of considering labour” (that is, the value of labour) “as the standard measure of value and corn as the measure of labour… And that neither labour nor any other commodity can be an accurate measure of real value in exchange, is now considered as one of the most incontrovertible doctrines of political economy; and indeed follows, […] from the very definition of value in exchange” [pp. 11-12].” (p 13) 

But, in 1820, in his “Principles of Political Economy etc” Malthus borrows this same “standard measure of value” from Smith to use against Ricardo. As Marx has described, in previous chapters, Smith begins with a labour theory of value, whereby the value of commodities is determined by the quantity of labour-time required for their production, but he equates this with the amount of labour that a commodity can command. This is important for understanding Malthus' own confusion of the categories commodity and capital. Smith, by equating the labour-time required for the production of a commodity with the labour-time commanded by a commodity, opens up this potential for confusion, and it also leads him away from his initial labour theory of value into a cost of production theory of value. However, as Marx points out, 

“... Smith himself never used it when he was really analysing his subject matter.” (p 14) 

Ricardo consistently applied Smith's original labour theory of value to determine the value of commodities, abandoning the concept of the labour commanded by a commodity. Malthus, in his 1814 book on the Corn Laws, himself adopted Smith's original labour theory of value, in which the value of a commodity is determined by the accumulated labour (capital) and living labour required for its production. 

Marx thought very little of Malthus, seeing him as a plagiarist, and apologist for the old landed aristocracy. 

“One cannot fail to recognise that both Malthus’s Principles and the two other works mentioned, which were intended to amplify certain aspects of the Principles, were largely inspired by envy at the success of Ricardo’s book and were an attempt by Malthus to regain the leading position which he had attained by skilful plagiarism before Ricardo’s book appeared. In addition, Ricardo’s definition of value, though somewhat abstract in its presentation, was directed against the interests of the landlords and their retainers, which Malthus represented even more directly than those of the industrial bourgeoisie. At the same time, it cannot be denied that Malthus presented a certain theoretical, speculative interest. Nevertheless his opposition to Ricardo—and the form this opposition assumed—was possible only because Ricardo had got entangled in all kinds of inconsistencies.” (p 14) 

Those inconsistencies have been discussed in previous chapters, and flowed from the fact that Ricardo did apply Smith's labour theory of value consistently, whilst failing to analyse, as Smith had done, the source of surplus value, and by failing to distinguish between constant and variable capital, as opposed to fixed and circulating capital, he was unable to reconcile an average rate of profit with the determination of prices on the basis of exchange-value. 

Malthus does not resolve these contradictions and inconsistencies in Ricardo's theory, but uses them as the means to attack Ricardo's entire theory based on the Ricardian law of value. In so doing, Malthus is able to arrive at a set of conclusions that favour the landed aristocracy, clergy and other unproductive layers, in whose service he put himself, as against the industrial bourgeoisie whose interests were represented by Smith and Ricardo. 

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