Sunday, August 9, 2009

Excerpts from James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy

I have a couple of points to make that are minor in the context of what the crucial issues are in Marx’s early writings, hence, maybe don’t even deserve a separate discussion when we meet. But that can hopefully be of some general interest for some of you.

1. Marx has a very interesting discussion of the concept of an economic law. He stresses that abstract laws come into being through fluctuations, continual suspension [p. 260]. That is, these fluctuations are not just violations of the law – the laws operate not despite fluctuations, but thanks to them. There is an even stronger point: “Laws in economics are determined by their opposite, lawlessness” [260]. Law is “an abstract, contingent and one-sided moment” in the real movement [260]. I think these are extremely important considerations on the nature of laws that shed light on a lot of later ideas of Marx. Such a conceptualization can contribute, from my perspective, to understanding the famous tendency of the profit rate to fall and many other laws derived by Marx that are often a subject of hot debates.

2. There is an interesting evolution of Marx’s thought visible especially in this piece. I noticed that what he denotes as private property in his early writings, he discusses as a commodity in his later works. One of the most obvious examples is on p. 267-8. The most striking examples are mutual alienation of private property (=exchange), private property as a surrogate, equivalent (see equivalent and relative forms of value in Volume 1).

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