Mandel’s strange argument on value, exchange value and prices

As I showed in the first part of this series, Marx’s argument is that the rate of profit falls because, over time, generally less labor is employed in the production of commodities. The falling rate of profit triggers a crisis during which capital attempts to restore the normal operation of the mode of production.

Among Marx’s findings: Even if an increased quantity of labor is generally employed throughout the ‘economy’, this increase in the total sum of labor is accompanied by a decrease in the labor embodied in each of the individual commodities produced. The result is that, over time, even if more value is created, it is embodied in even more use values, each of which requires less labor to be produced.

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Ernest Mandel on currency crises and the end of money

For people who care about how the dollar works to slow capitalist collapse, Ernest Mandel wrote an interesting piece in 1968, The Crisis of the International Monetary System. I found the essay both interesting and puzzling.

Why I find the essay interesting is probably obvious to anyone who reads this blog regularly. I think Marx’s view of money and associated issues is far too blithely dismissed by even those who consider themselves orthodox followers of his theory. My argument is simple: you cannot claim labor theory is legitimate and valid while arguing one of the most fundamental and critical labor theory premises of commodity production and exchange — that money itself must also be a commodity — is invalid.

(Which is to say, of course, you can hold this position, and may even be right about it, but the results of your analysis won’t be consistent with labor theory. Something has to give here.)

Before I explain why I found Mandel’s essay not only interesting but, more importantly, puzzling, I want to provide some context.

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UBI: Why print money to buy groceries, when you can buy the farm?

In the National Review, another call from the fascists for the latest Leftist-failure-in-the-making known as Universal Basic Income. I have been holding it back, intending to do a piece on it at some point, but I never got around to it. This morning, however, @socialismical asked an interesting question about how to stop capital flight:

Socialismical: “Should the state subsidise a business to prevent it from moving elsewhere?”

Here is the problem: the loss of jobs owing to capital flight has a horrendous impact on communities like Detroit. In principle, communists should be standing for free trade and no barriers to the movement of workers and capital between countries; on the other hand, communities are devastated when a plant shuts down and moves to Mexico, China or wherever.

Moreover, as we have seen, fascists like Trump and social-fascist reformers like Sanders take advantage of this to fuel their own rise to political power.

Can communists offer a viable alternative that is consistent with free trade?

Yes and, unfortunately, No.

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Whoops! Did Michael Roberts and Fred Moseley just revise Marx?

In this morning’s compare and contrast, we look at two different formulations of the category, socially necessary labor time, in Roberts’ essay, Consistent, realistic, verifiable; his review of a new book on labor theory by Fred Moseley:

Formulation 1: “Marxist value theory is based on the view that commodities are priced in the market according to the labour time expended on them.”

Formulation 2: “The market decides whether certain amounts of labour time expended on producing particular commodities are ‘socially necessary’.”

In labor theory of value, socially necessary labor time, of course, is the labor time required for production of a commodity, its value. However, in Roberts’ summary of the argument made by Fred Moseley SNLT is first described as a quantity of labor existing before exchange. Then it is later described by Roberts as a quantity of labor determined by exchange — by “the market”.

So which is it, Mr. Roberts? Is socially necessary labor time determined by production or exchange? There is no rush on this, Mr. Roberts. I am sure the proletarian revolution can wait patiently while you theoreticians figure this out.

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