A reader asked to what extent gold jewelry can be considered money. A second reader wants to know the implications of the crisis theory developed in my posts for the so-called transformation problem—the transformation of values into prices of production as a result of the equalization of the rate of profit.
Both are excellent questions, and they point to the method behind these posts.
When I first conceived the “Project” back in the 1970s, I imagined that I would write up a section on the nature of the law of value, surplus value, money and prices, and competition, and then finish it with a section on crises. Hadn’t that been Marx’s plan?
Well it proved too much for even Marx!
In fact, the basic work on value, surplus value and its division into profit (interest plus profit of enterprise) and rent, money and prices had, after all, been done by Marx. Marx based himself on his predecessors, the bourgeois classical political economists, especially David Ricardo. Therefore, the basic work of criticizing bourgeois political economy was already accomplished.
In order to cut the “Project” down to size, I assumed that readers would already have mastered Marx’s critique of political economy. Not only do we have the work of Marx, but we have many popularizations of that work, though in the nature of things some of these popularizations are better than others.
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Charley in a comment on this post pointed out an article, “Gibson’s Paradox and the Gold Standard,” by U.S. marginalist economists Robert B. Barsky and Lawrence H. Summers, that appeared in the June 1988 edition of the Journal of Political Economy.
To tell the truth I played with the idea of working Gibson’s paradox into the main series of posts but ultimately couldn’t quite find an appropriate way to do it. I therefore am delighted that Charley raised the subject.
Gibson’s paradox—a term coined by Keynes in his 1930 book “A Treatise on Monetary Reform”—is named for British economist Alfred Herbert Gibson, who noted in a 1923 article for Banker’s Magazine that the rate of interest and the general level of prices appeared to be correlated.
The “paradox” involves a major contradiction between marginalist economic theory on one hand and the actual history of prices and interest rates under the gold standard on the other.
The question of “interest” involves the holiest of holies of economics, the nature and origin of surplus value. The marginalists confuse the rate of interest, which is only a fraction of the total profit, with the rate of profit. They falsely claim that if the economy is in equilibrium, there will be only interest and no profit. They therefore make their task of explaining away surplus value much easier by first reducing the total surplus value, or profit—which is divided into interest and profit of enterprise—plus rent, into interest alone.
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Nikolas wants a clearer explanation of exactly what causes commodity prices to rise above their labor values during the upswing in the industrial cycle. In order to fully grasp the nature of the capitalist industrial cycle, it is important to understand why this is so.
In my answer to Nikolas, I want to emphasize that I am discussing changes in prices in terms of money material, or gold. I am not interested here in price changes that represent changes in the value of paper money in terms of real money—gold. I am also assuming for purposes of simplification a single ideal industrial cycle and ignore the question of long waves or long cycles in prices, since these do not affect the basic argument I am making.
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