Thursday, 13 February 2020

Theories of Surplus Value, Part III, Addenda - Part 65

If we assume that commodities exchange at their values, and that money takes the form of a money commodity, say gold, then we might have a metre of linen with a value of 10 hours labour, and a gram of gold with a value of 10 hours labour. The exchange value of the linen is a gram of gold, which we might give the name £1, so that the price of linen is £1 per metre. If the owner of the linen sells it, and obtains this £1 for it, they have simply exchanged 10 hours of value in one form (linen) for 10 hours of value in another form (money). Nothing in this can make either the linen or the money have additional value to that it had prior to the exchange. 

Nor would it change matters if, instead of linen, we used a machine, for example. If a capitalist buys a machine, which, thereby, forms part of their constant capital, for £1,000 it has a value of £1,000. If they then sell the machine, they will obtain only the same £1,000 less any deductions for wear and tear and for depreciation. Indeed, as anyone who has bought a new car knows, even if they have not used the machine, so that it has lost no value due to wear and tear, they will not get £1,000 for it, because an amount for depreciation will be deducted by any potential buyer. 

It is impossible for commodities to have two different values simultaneously. A machine with an exchange-value of £1,000 has an exchange value of £1,000. It cannot simultaneously have an exchange-value of £1,200. The machine with an exchange-value of £1,000 today might have an exchange-value of £1,200 tomorrow, but only because either a) there has been a change in productivity in machine making, or b) the value of money has fallen. If there is a fall in productivity in machine making, so that machines of this type require 12 rather than 10 hours to produce, then the value of this machine will rise to £1,200 too, because it is only a representative of commodities in its class. It is merely a vessel whose content is filled with abstract social labour. Its value is determined not by the actual labour expended on its production, but by the average social labour required to produce commodities of its type. 

If the value of money falls – meaning a rise in productivity in gold production – this represents a change in the value of money, not a change in the value of the machine, which remains 10 hours of labour. The machine with an exchange value of £1,000, or alternatively £1,000 in money, which could be used to buy the machine, can only have a value of £1,200 as capital, as self-expanding value, not as commodity or money. It can only have a value of £1,200 because, as capital, rather than as commodity, it is able to obtain the average rate of profit of 20%. But, it is only able to obtain this average 20% rate of profit because it exists under specific, historically determined social conditions, in which capital is able to employ wage labour, and, thereby, to extract a surplus value from labour. It is that specific social relation that constitutes capital, and which, thereby, enables a capital of £1,000 to have a value of £1,200. 

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