Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 19 - Part 16

5. Smith’s Thesis of the Invariable Value of Labour as Interpreted by Malthus 

Although Malthus, therefore, talks about labour as the measure of value, what he actually does is to make the commodity labour-power, and thereby wages, the measure of value, because he equates the value of the living labour contained in a commodity with the wages paid for it. 

Malthus proposes the same argument as Smith, of the constant value of labour. Smith sets out this proposition in The Wealth of Nations

““Equal quantities of labour, at all times and places, may be said to be of equal value to the labourer. In his ordinary state of health, strength, and spirits; in the ordinary degree of his skill and dexterity, he must always lay down the same portion of his ease, his liberty, and his happiness. The price which he pays must always be the same, whatever may be the quantity of goods which he receives in return for it. Of these, indeed, it may sometimes purchase a greater and sometimes a smaller quantity; but it is their value which varies, not that of the labour which purchases them. At all times and places, that is dear which it is difficult to come at, or which it costs much labour to acquire; and that cheap which is to be had easily, or with very little labour. Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared.” [Wealth of Nations, Vol. I, p. 36.]” (p 27) 

As seen earlier, Malthus claims to have been the originator of the proposition that the value of commodities is equal to the labour embodied in them – by which he means the value of the accumulated labour plus wages – plus the profit. However, Marx says, this idea seems to be merely a combination of two sentences from Smith. 

“Malthus never escapes plagiarism.” (p 27) 

The relevant sentences from Smith are, 

““The real value of all the different component parts of price, it must be observed, is measured by the quantity of labour which they can, each of them, purchase or command. Labour measures the value, not only of that part of the price which resolves itself into labour, but of that which resolves itself into rent, and of that which resolves itself into profit” ( [Wealth of Nations, O.U.P., p. 55; Garnier,] t. I, l. I, ch. VI, p. 100)” (p 27) 

Malthus' version of this concept is, 

““In the former case of the demand for labour, it appeared that the greater earnings of the labourer were occasioned, not by a rise in the value of labour but by a fall in the value of the produce for which the labour was exchanged. And in the […] case of an abundance of labour […] the small earnings of the labourer were occasioned by a rise in the value of the produce, and not by a fall in the value of […] labour” (The Measure of Value, [London, 1823,] p. 35) (cf. pp. 33-35).” (p 27) 

This idea, of a constant value of labour, is of course nonsense. Engels derides Duhring for attributing to Marx the concept of equal values of labour, because, as Engels says, one of the main advances made by Marx was to distinguish between labour as the essence and measure of value, and labour-power, the commodity. To talk about the value of labour, whether in the context of labour of equal value, or labour in the context of labour of a constant value is then meaningless. Labour does not have value, it creates value. But, if instead, what is meant is not labour, but labour-power, its value is far from being constant! 

Marx quotes Samuel Bailey, who, he says, excellently ridicules Malthus' proof of this supposed constant value of labour. 

““In the same way any article might be proved to be of invariable value; for instance, 10 yards of cloth. For whether we gave £5 or £10 for the 10 yards, the sum given would always be equal in value to the cloth for which it was paid, or, in other words, of invariable value in relation to cloth. But that which is given for a thing of invariable value, must itself be invariable, whence the 10 yards of cloth must be of invariable value … it is just the same kind of futility to call wages invariable in value, because though variable in quantity they command the same portion of labour, as to call the sum given for a hat, of invariable value, because, although sometimes more and sometimes less, it always purchases the hat” ([Samuel Bailey,] A Critical Dissertation on the Nature, Measures, and Causes of Value… , London, 1825, pp. 145-47).” (p 28) 

Bailey also derides the tables provided by Malthus, in his work, that were intended to illustrate this invariable nature of the value of labour. Marx calls Malthus' illustrations insipid. But, of course, Malthus, whose purpose had been to restore himself to the “front rank” of political economy, could not let Bailey's biting criticism go without response. 

“In his Definitions in Political Economy (London, 1827), in which Malthus gives full vent to his annoyance over Bailey’s sarcasm, he seeks, amongst other things, to prove the invariable value of labour, as follows: 

“… there is one large class of commodities, such as raw products, which in the progress of society tends to rise as compared with labour […] such as manufactured articles, […] fall; it may not be far from […] truth to say, that […] the average mass of commodities which a given quantity of labour will command in the same country, during the course of some centuries, may not very essentially vary” (Definitions in Political Economy… London, 1827, p. 206).” (p 28) 

Malthus' argument that defines the value of labour as wages has the necessary corollary that if money wages rise, the money price of commodities must also rise. His argument for this is, 

““… if the money wages of labour universally rise, the value of money proportionally falls; and when the value of money falls … the prices of goods always rise” (op. cit., p. 34).” (p 28) 

But, this is not a proof of this argument. It is merely presupposing what has to be proved. If labour is taken as labour-power, then this supposition does not at all follow. If the value of labour-power rises, because the price of wage goods rise, or because workers obtain higher wages, then a constant value of money means that it falls relative to the value of labour-power/wages. But, that does not mean that the value of money falls relative to all other commodities, because the value of money itself remained constant, and the value of these other commodities also has not changed. 

Malthus assumes the value of all commodities rises, because he confuses labour with labour-power, and thereby confuses the labour contained in them with wages. On this basis, if wages rise, and wages are the measure of the value of labour, then the value of the commodities measured by that labour also rises. But, this is not true. That wages rise does not at all change the actual quantity of labour contained in those commodities. It only changes the proportion of that labour which represents necessary labour, increasing it, whilst the proportion of surplus labour correspondingly falls. 

No comments: