Monday, 19 November 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 19 - Part 15

In order to make his argument, Malthus first has to lay the groundwork, which he does by seizing on one aspect of Smith's theory whereby the value of a commodity is measured by the labour it commands. Smith senses the difficulty with this, in so far as it conflicts with his definition of the value of a commodity by the labour required for its production. Malthus ignores these reservations. 

“Malthus has first of all to obliterate Ricardo’s differentiation between “value of labour” and “quantity of labour” and to reduce Smith’s juxtaposition of the two to the one false aspect. 

“… any given quantity of labour must be of the same value as the wages which command it, or for which it actually exchanges” (The Measure of Value Stated and Illustrated, London, 1823, p. 5). 

The purpose of this phrase is to equate the expressions “quantity of labour” and “value of labour”.” (p 25) 

Malthus' statement is a tautology. The only point to make, however, is that to talk of the value of labour is itself absurd. Labour is value, and value is labour. To talk of the value of labour is, therefore, tantamount to talking about the value of value, which is as meaningless as talking about the length of length, or weight of weight. What Malthus really means is not the value of labour, but the value of labour-power. But, in that case, to say that the value of labour-power for, say, a day, is equal to wages that must be paid for it is a tautology. If to command a day's labour-power, for say a day of 12 hours, I have to pay wages of £10, then the value of this labour-power is £10. But £10 does not have to be equal to 12 hours labour. £10 may be only equivalent to 6 hours labour. In other words, the value of 12 hours labour-power is only equal to 6 hours labour. 

“If a labourer works for 12 hours and receives the product of 6 hours labour as wages, then the product of the 6 hours constitutes the value of 12 hours labour (because the wages [represent] the exchangeable commodity for [12 hours labour]). It does not follow from this that 6 hours of labour are equal to 12 hours, or that the commodities in which 6 hours of labour are embodied [are] equal to the commodities in which 12 hours of labour are embodied. It does not follow that the value of wages is equal to the value of the product in which the labour is embodied. It follows only that the value of labour (because it is measured by the value of the labour-power, not by the labour carried out), the value of a given quantity of labour contains less labour than it buys; that, consequently, the value of the commodities in which this purchased labour is embodied, is very different from the value of the commodities with which this given quantity of labour was purchased, or by which it was commanded.” (p 25-6) 

Malthus draws the opposite conclusion. He argues that if a commodity contains 12 hours of living labour, this component of its value is equal to the value of wages paid for that labour. 

“It follows further from this that the immediate labour (that is, disregarding the means of production) which is absorbed by and contained in a commodity, creates no greater value than that which is paid for it; [that it] only reproduces the value of the wages. The necessary consequence ensuing from this is that profit cannot be explained if the value of commodities is determined by the amount of labour embodied in them, but must rather be explained in some other way; provided the profit a commodity realises is to be included in the value of that commodity.” (p 26) 

That must be the case, because if the value of a commodity is only equal to the capital consumed in its production, the same amount of the commodity, at its value, would only ever reproduce the consumed capital. 

“Hence it follows that if the value of a commodity were determined by the amount of labour embodied in it, it would yield no profit. If it does yield a profit, then this profit is a surplus in the price over and above the labour embodied in the commodity. Therefore, in order to be sold at its value (which includes the profit), a commodity must command a quantity of labour equal to the quantity of labour worked up in itself plus a surplus of labour representing the profit realised in the sale of the commodity.” (p 26)

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