Puslapio vaizdai

The first obstacle arises from the necessary indefiniteness of the idea of general exchange value-value in relation not to some one commodity, but to commodities at large. Even if we knew exactly how much a quarter of wheat would have purchased at the earlier period, of every marketable article considered separately, and that it will now purchase more of some things and less of others, we should often find it impossible to say whether it had risen or fallen in relation to things in general. How much more impossible when we only know how it has varied in relation to the measure. To enable the money price of a thing at two different periods to measure the quantity of things in general which it will exchange for, the same sum of money must correspond at both periods to the same quantity of things in general, that is, money must always have the same exchange value, the same general purchasing power. Now, not only is this not true of money, or of any other commodity, but we cannot, even in mere hypothesis, suppose any state of circumstances in which it would be true.

2. A measure of exchange value, therefore, being impossible, writers have formed a notion of something, under the name of a measure of value, which would be more properly termed a measure of cost of production. They have imagined a commodity invariably produced by the same quantity of labor; to which supposition it is necessary to add, that the fixed capital employed in the production must bear always the same proportion to the wages of the immediate labor, and must be always of the same durability; in short, the same capital must be advanced for the same length of time, so that the element of value which consists of profits, as well as that which consists of wages, may be unchangeable. We should then have a commodity always produced under one and the

same combination of all the circumstances which affect permanent value. Such a commodity would be by no means constant in its exchange value; for (even without reckoning the fluctuations arising from supply and demand) its exchange value would be altered by every change in the circumstances of production of the things against which it was exchanged. But if there existed such a commodity, we should derive this advantage from it, that whenever any other thing varied in relation to it, we should know that the cause of variation was not in it, but in the other thing. It would thus be fitted to serve as a measure, not indeed of the value of other things, but of their cost of production. If a commodity acquired a greater permanent purchasing power in relation to the invariable commodity, its cost of production must have become greater; and in the contrary case, less. This measure of costs is what political economists have generally meant by a measure of value.

But a measure of cost, though perfectly conceivable, can no more exist in fact than a measure of exchange value. There is no commodity which is invariable in its cost of production. Gold comes nearest to the idea; but gold is liable to vary in cost of production, from the exhaustion of old mines, the discovery of new, and improvements in the mode of working. If we attempt to ascertain the changes in the cost of production of any commodity from the changes in its money prices, the conclusion will require to be corrected by the best allowance we can make for the intermediate changes in the cost of production of money itself.

Adam Smith fancied that there were two commodities peculiarly fitted to serve as a measure of value-corn, and labor. Of corn, he said that although its value fluctuates much from year to year, it does not vary greatly from century to century. This we now know to be an error; corn

tends to rise in cost of production with every increase of population, and to fall with every improvement in agriculture, either in the country itself or in any foreign country from which it draws a portion of its supplies. The supposed constancy of the cost of production of corn depends on the maintenance of a complete equipoise between these antagonizing forces, an equipoise which, if ever realized, can only be accidental. With respect to labor as a measure of value, the language of Adam Smith is not uniform. He sometimes speaks of it as a good measure only for short periods, saying that the value of labor (or wages) does not vary much from year to year, though it does from generation to generation. On other occasions he speaks as if labor were intrinsically the most proper measure of value, on the ground that one day's ordinary muscular exertion of one man, may be looked upon as always, to him, the same amount of effort or sacrifice. But this proposition, whether in itself admissible or not, discards the idea of exchange value altogether, substituting a totally different idea, more analogous to value in use. If a day's labor will purchase in America twice as much of ordinary consumable articles as in England, it seems a vain subtlety to insist on saying that labor is of the same value in both countries, and that it is the value of the other things which is different. Labor, in this case, may be correctly said to be twice as valuable, both in the market and to the laborer himself, in America as in England.

If the object were to obtain an approximate measure by which to estimate value in use, perhaps nothing better could be chosen than one day's subsistence of an average man, reckoned in the ordinary food consumed by the class of unskilled laborers. If in America a pound of maize flour will support a laboring man for a day, a thing might be deemed more or less valuable in proportion to the number of pounds of maize flour it exchanged for. If one thing,

either by itself or by what it would purchase, could maintain a laboring man for a day, and another could maintain him for a week, there would be some reason in saying that the one was worth, for ordinary human uses, seven times as much as the other. But this would not measure the worth of the thing to its possessor for his own purposes, which might be greater to any amount, though it could not be less, than the worth of the food which the thing would purchase.

The idea of a Measure of Value must not be confounded with the idea of the regulator, or determining principle, of value. When it is said by Ricardo and others, that the value of a thing is regulated by quantity of labor, they do not mean the quantity of labor for which the thing will exchange, but the quantity required for producing it. This, they mean to affirm, determines its value; causes it to be of the value it is, and of no other. But when Adam Smith and Malthus say that labor is a measure of value, they do not mean the labor by which the thing was or can be . made, but the quantity of labor which it will exchange for, or purchase; in other words, the value of the thing, estimated in labor. And they do not mean that this regulates the general exchange value of the thing, or has any effect in determining what that value shall be, but only ascertains what it is, and whether and how much it varies from time to time and from place to place. To confound these two ideas would be much the same thing as to overlook the distinction between the thermometer and the fire.




1. THE general laws of value, in all the more important cases of the interchange of commodities in the same country, have now been investigated. We examined, first, the case of monopoly, in which the value is determined by either a natural or an artificial limitation of quantity, that is, by demand and supply; secondly, the case of free competition, when the article can be produced in indefinite quantity at the same cost; in which case the permanent value is determined by the cost of production, and only the fluctuations by supply and demand; thirdly, a mixed case, that of the articles which can be produced in indefinite quantity, but not at the same cost; in which case the permanent value is determined by the greatest cost which it is necessary to incur in order to obtain the required supply. And lastly, we have found that money itself is a commodity of the third class; that its value, in a state of freedom, is governed by the same laws as the values of other commodities of its class; and that prices, therefore, follow the same laws as values.

From this it appears that demand and supply govern the fluctuations of values and prices in all cases, and the permanent values and prices of all things of which the supply is determined by any agency other than that of free competition; but that, under the regime of competition, things are, on the average, exchanged for each other at such values, and sold at such prices, as afford equal expectation of advantage to all classes of producers; which can only be when things exchange for one another in the ratio of their cost of production.

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