Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Vol. III. The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole
By Karl Marx
One of Econlib’s aims is to put online the most significant works in the history of economic thought, and there can be no doubting the significance of Marx’s influence on both economic theory in the late 19th century and on the creation of Marxist states in the 20th century. From the time of the emergence of modern socialism in the 1840s (especially in France and Germany), free market economists have criticised socialist theory and it is thus useful to place that criticism in its intellectual context, namely beside the main work of one of its leading theorists,
Karl Marx.In 1848, when Europe was wracked by a series of revolutions in which both liberals and socialists participated and which both lost out to the forces of conservative monarchism or Bonapartism,
John Stuart Mill published his
Principles of Political Economy. The chapter on Property shows how important Mill thought it was to confront the socialist challenge to classical liberal economic theory. In hindsight it might appear that Mill was too accommodating to socialist criticism, but I would argue that in fact he offered a reasonable framework for comparing the two systems of thought, which the events of the late 20th century have finally brought to a conclusion which was not possible in his lifetime. Mill states in
Book II Chapter I “Of Property” that a fair comparison of the free market and socialism would compare both the ideal of liberalism with that of socialism, as well as the practice of liberalism versus the practice of socialism. In 1848 the ideals of both were becoming better known (and there were some aspects of the ideal of socialism which Mill found intriguing) but the practice of each was still not conclusive. Mill correctly observed that in 1848 no European society had yet created a society fully based upon private property and free exchange and any future socialist experiment on a state-wide basis was many decades in the future. After the experiments in Marxist central planning with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, the Chinese Communists in 1949, and numerous other Marxist states in the post-1945 period, there can be no doubt that the reservations Mill had about the practicality of fully-functioning socialism were completely borne out by historical events. What Mill could never have imagined, the slaughter of tens of millions of people in an effort to make socialism work, has ended for good any argument concerning the Marxist form of socialism.Econlib now offers online two important defences of the socialist ideal, Karl Marx’s three volume work on
Capital and the
collection of essays on Fabian socialism edited by George Bernard Shaw. These can be read in the light of the criticism they provoked among defenders of individual liberty and the free market: Eugen Richter’s anti-Marxist
Pictures of the Socialistic Future, Thomas Mackay’s
2 volume collection of essays rebutting Fabian socialism,
Ludwig von Mises post-1917 critique of
Socialism. One should not forget that
Frederic Bastiat was active during the rise of socialism in France during the 1840s and that many of his essays are aimed at rebutting the socialists of his day. The same is true for Gustave de Molinari and the other authors of the
Dictionnaire d’economie politique (1852). Several key articles on communism and socialism from the
Dictionnaire are translated and reprinted in Lalor’s
Cyclopedia.For further reading on Marx’s
Capital see David L. Prychitko’s essay
“The Nature and Significance of Marx’s
Capital: A Critique of Political Economy“.For further readings on socialism see the following entries in the
Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:
Poor Law Commissioners’ Report of 1834,
edited by Nassau W. Senior, et al.
March 1, 2004
Frederick Engels, ed. Ernest Untermann, trans.
First Pub. Date
Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and Co.
First published in German. Das Kapital, based on the 1st edition.
The text of this edition is in the public domain. Picture of Marx courtesy of The Warren J. Samuels Portrait Collection at Duke University.
- Preface, by Frederick Engels
- Part I, Chapter 1
- Part I, Chapter 2
- Part I, Chapter 3
- Part I, Chapter 4
- Part I, Chapter 5
- Part I, Chapter 6
- Part I, Chapter 7
- Part II, Chapter 8
- Part II, Chapter 9
- Part II, Chapter 10
- Part II, Chapter 11
- Part II, Chapter 12
- Part III, Chapter 13
- Part III, Chapter 14
- Part III, Chapter 15
- Part IV, Chapter 16
- Part IV, Chapter 17
- Part IV, Chapter 18
- Part IV, Chapter 19
- Part IV, Chapter 20
- Part V, Chapter 21
- Part V, Chapter 22
- Part V, Chapter 23
- Part V, Chapter 24
- Part V, Chapter 25
- Part V, Chapter 26
- Part V, Chapter 27
- Part V, Chapter 28
- Part V, Chapter 29
- Part V, Chapter 30
- Part V, Chapter 31
- Part V, Chapter 32
- Part V, Chapter 33
- Part V, Chapter 34
- Part V, Chapter 35
- Part V, Chapter 36
- Part VI, Chapter 37
- Part VI, Chapter 38
- Part VI, Chapter 39
- Part VI, Chapter 40
- Part VI, Chapter 41
- Part VI, Chapter 42
- Part VI, Chapter 43
- Part VI, Chapter 44
- Part VI, Chapter 45
- Part VI, Chapter 46
- Part VI, Chapter 47
- Part VII, Chapter 48
- Part VII, Chapter 49
- Part VII, Chapter 50
- Part VII, Chapter 51
- Part VII, Chapter 52
LET the average composition of social capital be 80 c + 20 v, with a profit of 20%. The rate of surplus-value is then 100%. A general increase of wages, all other things remaining the same, is a reduction of the rate of surplus-value. In
the case of the average capital, profit and surplus-value are identical. Let wages rise by 25%. Then the same quantity of labor, which was formerly set in motion with 20, costs 25. Instead of 80 c + 20 v + 20 p, we have then for the value of one turn-over 80 c + 25 v + 15 p. The labor set in motion by the variable capital still produces a value of 40, the same as before. If v rises from 20 to 25, then the surplus p, or s, amounts only to 15. The profit of 15 on a capital of 105 is 14 2/7%, and this would be the new average rate of profit. Since the price of production of commodities produced by the average capital coincides with their value, the price of production of these commodities would remain unchanged. The raising of wages would have brought about a reduction of profits, but no change in the value and price of the commodities.
Formerly, so long as the average profit was 20%, the price of production of the commodities produced in one period of turn-over was equal to their cost-price plus a profit of 20% on this cost-price, in other words k + kp’ = k + 20 k/100. In this formula k is a variable magnitude, changing according to the value of the means of production which are incorporated in the commodities, and according to the amount of wear transferred from the fixed capital to the product. Now the price of production would amount to k + (14 2/7 k)/100.
Now let us first select a capital, whose composition is lower than the original composition of the average social capital of 80 c + 20 v (which has now been transformed into 76 4/21 c+ 23 17/21 v), for instance a capital of 50 c + 50 v. In this case, the price of production of the annual product, assuming for the sake of simplicity that the entire fixed capital passes through wear into the product and that the time of turn-over is the same as that in the first case, would have been 50 c + 50 v + 20 p, or 120, before the raising of wages. A raising of wages by 25% means for the same quantity of labor a rising of the variable capital from 50 to 62½. If the annual product were sold at the former price of production of 120, then we should have the formula 50 c + 62½ v + 7½ p, or a rate of profit of 6 2/3%. But the new average rate of
profit is 14 2/7%, and since we assume all other circumstances to remain the same, this capital of 50 c + 62½ v will also have to make this profit. Now, a capital of 112½ makes a round profit of 16 1/12 at a rate of profit of 14 2/7%. Therefore the price of production of the commodities produced by this capital is now 50 c + 62½ v + 16 1/12 p = 128 7/12. In consequence of a raise in wages of 25%, the price of production of the same quantity of the same commodities has risen from 120 to 128 7/12, or more than 7%.
Vice versa, let us select a sphere of production of a higher composition than the average capital, for instance a capital of 92 c + 8 v. The original average profit in this case would still be 20, and if we assume once more that the entire fixed capital passes into the annual product, and that the time of turn-over is the same as in the first and second case, the price of production of the commodities is also 120.
In consequence of the rise of wages by 25% the variable capital for the same quantity of labor rises from 8 to 10, the cost-price of the commodities from 100 to 102, while the average rate of profit has fallen from 20% to 14 2/7%. Now 100 : 14 2/7 = 102 : 14 4/7 (approximately). The profit now falling to the share of 102 is 14 4/7. Therefore the total product sells at k + kp’, or 102 + 14 4/7, or 116 4/7. The price of production has fallen from 120 to 116 4/7, or more than 3%.
Consequently, if wages are raised by 25%,
1) the price of production of the commodities of a capital of average composition is not changed;
2) the price of production of the commodities of a capital of lower composition rises, but not in the same proportion in which the profit falls;
3) the price of production of the commodities of a capital of higher composition falls, but not as much as the profit.
Since the price of production of the commodities of the average capital remains the same and equal to the value of the product, it follows that the sum of the prices of production of the products of all capitals remain the same and equal to the sum of the values produced by the total social capital. The increase on one side is balanced by the decrease on the
other and the level of the average social capital maintained for the total social capital.
Seeing that the price of production in the second illustration rises, while it falls in the third, it is evident from these opposite effects brought about by a fall in the rate of surplus-value or by a general rise of wages that there is no prospect of any compensation in the price for the rise in wages, since the fall of the price of production in No. III cannot very well compensate the capitalist for the fall in the profit, and since the rise of the price in No. II does not prevent a fall in profit. On the contrary, in either case, whether the price rises or falls, the profit remains the same as that of the average capital whose price remains unchanged. It is the same average profit, which has fallen by 5 5/7, or about 25%, in the case of II as well as III. It follows from this, that if the price did not rise in II and fall in III, II would have to sell below and III above the new, recently reduced, average profit. It is quite evident that a rise of wages must affect a capitalist who has invested one-tenth of his capital in wages differently from one who has invested one-fourth or one-half, according to whether 50, 25, or 10 per hundred of capital are advanced for wages. An increase in the price of production on one side, and a fall on the other, according to whether a capital is below or above the average social composition, is effected only by leveling to the new reduced average profit.
Now, how would a general fall of wages, and a corresponding general rise of the rate of profit, and thus of the average profit, affect the prices of production of commodities produced by capitals diverging in opposite directions from the average social composition? We have but to reverse the foregoing statements, in order to find the answer (which Ricardo did not analyse).
I. Average capital 80 c + 20 v = 100; rate of surplus-value 100%; price of production = value of commodities = 80 c + 20 v + 20 p = 120; rate of profit 20%. Let wages fall by one-fourth. Then the same constant capital is set in motion by 15 v, instead of 20 v. We have then as the value of commodities 80 c + 15 v + 25 p = 120. The quantity
of labor employed by v remains the same, only the newly created value is differently distributed between the capitalist and the laborers. The surplus-value increases from 20 to 25, and the rate of surplus-value from 20/20 to 25/15, in other words, from 100% to 166 2/3%. The profit on 95 is now 25, so that the rate of profit per 100 is 26 6/19. The composition of the capital in percentages is now 84 4/19 + 15 15/19 = 100.
II. Lower composition. Original composition, as above, 50 c + 50 v. By the fall of wages by one-fourth v is reduced to 37½, and consequently the advanced total capital to 50 c + 37½ v = 87½. Applying to this the new rate of profit of 26 6/19%, we get 100 : 26 6/19 = 87½ : 23 1/38. The same mass of commodities which formerly cost 120, now costs 87½ + 23 1/38 = 100 10/19. A fall in prices of almost 10%.
III. Higher composition. Original composition 92 c + 8 v = 100. The fall in wages by one-fourth reduces 8 v to 6 v, and the total capital to 98. Consequently 100 : 26 6/19 = 98 : 25 15/19. The price of production of the commodities, formerly 100 + 20 = 120, is now, after the fall in wages, 98 + 25 15/19 = 123 15/19. A rise by almost 4%.
We see, then, that we have but to follow the preceding development in the opposite direction with the necessary, modifications; that a general fall of wages carries with it a general rise of surplus-value, of the rate of surplus-value, and, other circumstances remaining the same, also of the rate of profit, although expressed by different proportions; a fall in the prices of production for the commodities produced by capitals of lower composition, a rise in the prices of production for commodities produced by capitals of higher composition. The result is just the reverse of that following a general rise of wages.
*34 In both cases, whether of a rise or a fall, the assumption is that the working day remains the same, also the prices of the means of subsistence. Under these circumstances,
a fall in wages is possible only, if wages stood higher than the normal price of labor, or if they are depressed below this price. The way in which this condition is modified, if the rise or fall of wages is due to a change in value, and consequently in the price of production of commodities usually consumed by the laborer, will be to a certain extent analysed in the part dealing with ground-rent. At this place we make for once and all the following statements:
If a rise or fall in wages is due to a change in the value of the necessities of life, then a modification of the above findings can take place only to the extent that the commodities, whose variation of price raises or lowers the variable capital, pass also as constituent elements into the constant capital and consequently do not affect wages alone. But to the extent that they affect only wages, the above analysis contains all that needs to be said.
In this entire chapter, it is assumed as a fact that there are in existence a general rate of profit, an average profit, and a conversion of values into prices of production. The question was merely in what manner a general rise or fall in wages affected the prices of production of commodities, which were assumed to exist. This is but a very secondary question compared with the important points analysed in this part. But it is the only relevant question treated by Ricardo, and we shall see that he treated even this but onesidedly and imperfectly.
Part III, Chapter XIII.