Inicio > Economía marxista > «Some reflections on the dependence of prices on Labour-Values»: Diego Guerrero

«Some reflections on the dependence of prices on Labour-Values»: Diego Guerrero


Con frecuencia se cree, de una manera bastante esquizofrénica, que una teoría del valor solo debe resolver la cuestión de los “precios relativos” (un problema microeconómico), siendo principalmente la teoría del dinero de la pieza necesaria para la determinación monetaria o del nivel absoluto de los precios (un problema macroeconómico). Por una parte, la determinación del nivel de precios se encuentra teóricamente antes de cualquier consideración del mercado de dinero, mientras que por otro lado ninguna teoría del valor puede aspirar a ser completa sin la determinación del nivel absoluto de los valores. Se verá en este trabajo que sólo la teoría del valor trabajo (TVL) puede realizar ambas tareas, produciendo así la integridad y la unidad de la teoría económica.

Palabras clave: teoría del valor trabajo, precios relativos, valores absolutos.

Introduction: the crucial role of absolute values
Almost all critics of the labour theory of value (LTV), particularly Neoclassicists and Sraffians, share a rejection of the concept of “absolute value” (that at least comes back to Bailey, 1825)1 and probably a misunderstanding of its role in the Marxian theory of value. Historically, the rejection of the concept of absolute value has not always been a rejection per se. For instance, the founder of the theory of General Equilibrium (GE), Léon Walras, although thinking that “value is something essentially relative”, was convinced that “undoubtedly, under relative value there is something absolute” (Walras,1926: 322; retranslated). Indeed, Walras was opposed to the idea that labour is the foundation or cause of value, proposing instead the rareté as an alternative, subjective principle, an “absolute and subjective phenomenon” (ibíd: 309). However, his rejection manifests itself in that he declares to prefer to avoid using what we may call the “absolute” point of view; this is why, after having written that “in the state of general equilibrium every commodity has a single exchange value in relation to all others in the market”, he adds that “this way of expression would perhaps incline us too much towards the absolute value; and it is preferable to express this phenomenon in terms of the theorem of general equilibrium (§ 111) or of the analytical definition of exchange (§ 131).” (ibíd: 309-310; retranslated).

Joseph A. Schumpeter clearly realized that the concept of absolute value was the “central concept” in Marx’s theory (1954: 664; retrad.). Although, according to him, Marx’s absolute value was “but Ricardo’s real value, fully elaborated and used”, he added that Marx not only “fulfilled the idea of an absolute value of things”, but he was in fact “the only author in doing so” (ibíd: 663; retrad.). Therefore, the features observed by Schumpeter in Ricardo’s absolute values must a fortiori be predicated of Marx’s, being also the latter “susceptible of comparison, addition, increase and decrease simultaneously”, whereas all of this would be “impossible as long as exchange value was simply defined as an exchange rate” (ibíd: 657; retranslated).

Of course, Karl Marx was well aware that “an intrinsic value, i.e. an exchange-value that is inseparably connected with the commodity, inherent in it, seems a contradiction in terms”; this is so because it “appears first of all” as a “quantitative relation” or proportion “in which use-values of one kind exchange for use-values of another kind”, and also because this relation “changes constantly with time and place”, and “hence exchange-value appears to be something accidental and purely relative” (Marx, 1867: 126; our emphasis). However, in coherence with Marx’s ideas about the relation between essence and appearance, it is no surprise that he thought that relative values were just an appearance, a “semblance”, whereas “the determination of the magnitude of value by labour-time is therefore a secret hidden under the apparent movements in the relative values of the commodities” (ibíd: 168).

In contrast with these ideas, it is well known that in neoclassical theory “no conception of ‘absolute’ value (…) is either relevant or necessary”; on the contrary, authors belonging to this tradition in economics are “accustomed to thinking of the basic problem of price theory as being the determination of sets of relative prices, with any consideration of ‘absolute’ value being confined to problems in monetary theory and the determination of the overall price level” (Eatwell, 1987: 3). Certainly, this approach is not without problems, and its supporters have to acknowledge, beginning with Walras’s troubles about counting equations, what Arrow and Hahn call “complications”, for “the system of equations has only n – 1 variables, which was expressed by Walras by choosing a good as numéraire, whereas the prices of all other prices were measured relative to this numéraire” (Arrow and Hahn, 1971: 17; retranslated).

Some reflections on the dependence of prices on Labour-Values

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