The Ideas of John Maynard Keynes (pt 4)

Keynes’s theory of surplus value

Over the last couple of weeks, we saw that Keynes denied that surplus value was produced by the unpaid labor of the working class. So how does surplus value—profit, interest and rent—arise, according to Keynes, if it is not produced by the working class?

“It is much preferable,” Keynes wrote in chapter 16 of the “General Theory,” “to speak of capital as having a yield over the course of its life in excess of its original cost, than as being productive. For the only reason why an asset offers a prospect of yielding during its life services having an aggregate value greater than its initial supply price is because it is scarce; and it is kept scarce because of the competition of the rate of interest on money. If capital becomes less scarce, the excess yield will diminish, without its having become less productive—at least in the physical sense.”

The difference between the “aggregate value,” to use Keynes’s terminology, and the “supply price”—the cost to the capitalist of that asset—is the surplus value that “asset” yields—not produces, according to Keynes—to its owner. But where does this surplus value that is “yielded” come from if it is not produced—that is, if it does not arise in the sphere of production? As we saw over the last several weeks, Keynes accepted the “classical” marginalist postulate, or unproved assumption, that the worker does not produce any surplus value but simply reproduces the value of the worker’s wage.

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