Theories of Surplus Value

Theories of Surplus Value

Theories of Surplus Value

Theories of Surplus Value


The founder of modern political economy is Sir William Petty, one of the most gifted and original economic investigators. In his Treatise of Taxes and Contributions , London, 1662 (the edition here quoted is that of 1679), there are numerous passages dealing with the origin and determination of surplus value. They are somewhat confused and disconnected, but it is possible to sort out the leading ideas which run through all these scattered observations.

Petty distinguished between natural price and political price, "the true price Currant" (p. 66-7). By natural price he means in fact value , and it is only this that concerns us here, since it is on the determination of value that the determination of surplus value depends.

In this treatise he in fact determines the value of commodities by the comparative quantity of labour they contain.

"But before we talk too much of Rents, we should endeavour to explain the mysterious nature of them, with reference as well to Money the rent of which we call Usury; as to that of Lands and Houses aforementioned"(p. 23).

What is at issue here is what causes the phenomena, not the phenomena themselves.

"This, I say to be the foundation of equallising and ballancing of values; yet in the superstructures and practices hereupon, I confess there is much variety and intricacy" (p. 25).

The first question is: what is the value of a commodity?

"If a man can bring to London an ounce of Silver out of the Earth in Peru, in the same time that he can produce a bushel of Corn, then one is the natural price of the other; now if by reason of new and more easie Mines a man can get two ounces of Silver as easily as formerly he did one, then Corn will be as cheap at ten shillings the bushel, as it was before at five shillings, cæteris paribus " (p. 31).

"And let the production of a Bushel of this Corn be . . .

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