Monday, 13 May 2019

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Chapter 20 - Part 143

[c) On the Influence a Change in the value of Constant Capital Exerts on surplus-value, Profit and Wages

This section demonstrates why it is important to take Marx's writings as a whole into consideration, rather than taking particular phrases and even paragraphs in isolation. Marx sets out, at the start of the section, an argument in relation to wages, which he then completely reverses in the latter part of the section. The point relates to a question raised earlier, in relation to the effect of a fall in the value of constant capital, used in the production of wage goods. Marx begins the section by arguing that such a fall cannot affect wages, or the rate of profit. But, in the latter part of the section, Marx says this is only true if the change is merely a short-term, temporary change in prices. 

So, for example, if there is a bumper cotton crop that reduces the price of cotton, this reduces the value of constant capital, used by the yarn producer, weaver, and clothes producer. That, in turn reduces the price of clothes, for example, cotton shirts, blouses, skirts and trousers. As workers buy these items, it reduces what they have to spend on them as wage goods, to reproduce their labour-power. In value terms, therefore, the value of labour-power has fallen, so that wages should also fall, and so surplus value, and the rate of surplus value rise. However, Marx makes the point that, in practice, with workers paid money wages, the effect is that they now have to spend less of their wages on these items, so either they can buy more of them, or else they can use the money saved to buy more of some other commodities, or even some totally new commodity. 

But, later in the section, Marx makes clear that whilst this is true for such short-term fluctuations – the opposite would apply where a bad harvest next year caused cotton prices, and so clothes prices to rise – which average out, it is not true for those permanent changes in the value of the commodities that comprise the constant capital, and which, thereby, influence the price of wage goods. In short, it is a distinction between market prices, and exchange values. As Marx himself makes clear, as against Mill, the worker requires a certain minimum of use values, for their reproduction, and this minimum is not changed by the value of those use values. 

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