Sunday, 14 April 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 20 - Part 114

McCulloch believed that, in his formulation he had reconciled the Ricardian definition of value by the quantity of labour required for production, and the Malthusian definition of value, on the basis of the quantity of labour commanded by a commodity

“But what does it mean when he says that commodities which contain the same amount of labour-time command the same amount of surplus labour in addition to the labour contained in them? It means nothing more than that a commodity in which a definite amount of labour-time is embodied commands a definite quantity of surplus labour [that is, more labour] than it itself contains. That this applies not only to commodity A, in which x hours of labour-time are embodied, but also to commodity B, in which x hours of labour-time are likewise embodied, follows by definition from the Malthusian formula itself.” (p 176) 

The problems with this are fairly obvious. Firstly, it provides no objective basis for determining how much surplus labour is commanded. If instead of saying that the value of a commodity is equal to the amount of labour it commands, it is restated as the value of the capital is equal to the quantity of surplus labour it commands, it would be correct. In other words, the use value of capital is that it commands the average rate of profit, and the average rate of profit is, thereby, the value of capital. But, that leaves the problem of objectively determining what determines that rate of profit

Secondly, it is not the case that the value of a commodity is equal to the same quantity of labour it commands, as a commodity, as opposed to that which it commands as capital. If I have a quantity of commodities, or their money equivalent, with a value of 10 hours of labour, and I exchange these commodities, or money, for the labour of a cleaner, who cleans my house each day of the week, I would obtain 10 hours of cleaning. On the other hand, if I own a cleaning company, and employ a cleaner, as a wage worker, I will then pay them the equivalent of 10 hours of value in wages, but I will expect to obtain, say, 12 hours of labour from them. In other words, this is the distinction described in Chapter 4 between money/commodities acting as revenue rather than as capital. In the first instance, where money acts as revenue, £10 (10 hours of labour-time) buy the product of 10 hours of labour from the cleaner, i.e. it buys a commodity or labour-service of equal value. The cleaner themselves, here, might only require £9 to reproduce the labour-power they use up, in this 10 hours of cleaning, i.e. that is the value of their labour-power. They perform 1 hour of surplus labour, but, as an independent seller of their specific commodity/labour-service, they appropriate this 1 hour of surplus value to themselves. It is only surplus value in this sense, it is not surplus value in the sense of an amount of value that has come to them without the exchange of an equivalent

In the second case, the £10 acts as capital, not as revenue. It does not buy the product of the cleaner's labour from the cleaner, but buys the cleaner's labour-power itself, and pays for that commodity, labour-power, at its value. The capitalist then consumes the commodity they have bought, and sets the cleaner to work for 12 hours, obtaining £12 back from their customers, thereby realising £2 of profit. 

Looked at another way, the capitalist might have paid wages of £9 to the cleaner, equal to the value of means of subsistence required to reproduce the labour-power consumed in 10 hours. The worker would then work for 10 hours, producing 10 hours/£10 of value for the capitalist, who thereby appropriates the £1 of surplus value that the independent cleaner would have formerly retained themselves. 

“The contradiction is therefore solved by Mac in this way: If the Ricardian theory of value were really a valid one, then profit, and consequently capital and capitalist production, would be impossible. This is exactly what Ricardo’s opponents assert. And this is what Mac answers them, how he refutes them. And in so doing, he does not notice the beauty of an explanation of exchangeable value in [exchange with] labour which amounts to saying that value is exchange for something which has no value.” (p 176) 

The key to understanding the conflict is that the surplus value does not arise as a consequence of exchange, but of productive activity itself. 

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