Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 7 - Part 4

[2.] Historical: Petty

In Petty, we can find some of the clearest indications of the beginning of the Labour Theory of Value. Petty, like Smith, represents the revolutionary bourgeoisie, in opposition to the feudal aristocracy. So, the same hostility towards unproductive labour can be seen in his writing.

“Our friend Petty has quite a different “population theory” from Malthus. According to him a check ought to be put upon the “breeding” faculties of parsons, and the “Celibacy” again put upon them.” (p 354)

Marx then quotes from Petty's objections to the unproductive labour of these different groups, a) Parsons, b) Merchants and Retailers, c) Lawyers, Physicians, Officials, d) Paupers.

There were more males than females in England, so it would be better off that parsons did not marry, and should then not require so much support. Similarly, the merchants only moved goods around rather than creating any new value, so it would be better to reduce their number, and need for revenue. The same applied to the lawyers and officials.

“... all which do receive great Wages for little work done to the Publick...” (p 354)

By contrast, Petty wanted to ensure that paupers were maintained out of the revenue of others who had more than enough. But, Petty also wanted to keep the paupers employed in some form, so that they were ready to take up more useful employment. There is also an element of Mercantilism in Petty's writing, here, because he says,

“The labour imposed on them (the supernumeraries) may be of any kind; only it must be “without expense of Foreign Commodities”; the important thing is to “keep their minds to discipline and obedience, and their bodies to a patience of more profitable labours when need shall require it” (p. 13).” (p 355)

Petty sees the wealth of a nation as synonymous with its population. In this, his approach is similar to Smith's concern with the gross output, rather than Ricardo and Marx’s recognition that it is the net product that is more important.

Petty's ideas in relation to surplus value are confused, Marx says, but, in his discussion, a number of “striking passages” can be found. Petty uses a number of different concepts of price – natural price, political price, true price current.

“By natural price he means in fact value, and it is only this that concerns us here, since the determination of surplus-value depends on the determination of value.” (p 355)

Petty determines this value on the basis of the “comparative quantity of labour they contain.” (p 355) 

Petty uses a similar example to that used by Benjamin Franklin. He writes,

““If a man can bring to London an ounce of Silver out of the Earth in Peru, in the same time that he can produce a Bushel of Corn, then one is the natural price of the other; now if by reason of new and more easie Mines a man can get two ounces of Silver as easily as formerly he did one, then Corn will be as cheap as ten shillings the Bushel, as it was before at five shillings caeteris paribus” (p. 31). “Let the production of a Bushel of […] Corn he supposed of equel labour to that of producing an ounce of Silver” (p. 66). This is, in the first place, the “real and not an imaginary way of computing the prices of Commodities” (p. 66).” (p 356)

As Marx points out, in relation to the example given by Franklin, the error here is to confuse the concrete labour used in these instances with the abstract labour, which is the essence of value. Petty, like Smith, goes astray by trying to obtain a value of this labour.

“The second point, which has now to be examined, is the value of labour

“The Law… should allow the Labourer but just wherewithal to live; for if you allow double, then he works but half so much as he could have done, and otherwise would; which is a loss to the Publick of the fruit of so much labour” (p. 64).” (p 356)

So, Petty identifies the basis of the value of labour-power, but confuses this with a value of labour. Nevertheless, Petty identifies that the labourer engages in the creation of a surplus product or surplus value.

“The labourer is impelled to surplus production and surplus-labour only by being forced to use the whole of the labour-power within his capacity in order to get even as much as he just needs to live. However, the cheapness or dearness of his labour is determined by two factors: natural fertility and the standard of expenditure (needs) conditioned by the climate.” (p 356)

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