Gibson’s Paradox, the Gold Standard and the Nature and Origin of Surplus Value

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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