Adam Smith and the Theory of Value Work

Although it is in fact something that is acknowledged, it is easy to forget that the theory of value labor was not invented by Marx, but rather something you picked up from the tradition of classical economics, and English. At the same time when looking at the original texts on the subject, and in particular The Wealth of Nations, Smith does not stop being interesting to the original function of the idea-which, obviously, is not the same that it does in the approach of Marx.

One of the central objectives of Smith in the book mentioned is to attack the idea that the wealth has to do with the money. From the very first sentence of the book:

The Annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annualy consumes, and which consist lalways eitherin the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations (First paragraph of the Introduction).

Until the whole discussion with the commercialism that fills the whole book IV (Of systems of political economy), where there is a refrain constantly: ‘It would be too ridiculous to go about seriously to prove that wealth does not consist in money‘ (Book IV, Chapter I, p 550), or when he criticizes the theory of the balance of trade, in criticizing the idea that the gain of trade is the balance of money remaining after the exchange; ‘By advantage or gain, I understand, not the increase of the quantity of gold and silver, both that of the exchangeable value of the annual produce of the land and labour of the country’ (Book IV, Chapter III, Part II, p 615). It would not be difficult to get more words on the subject.

What you should remember the above? Simply that it is around that theme, and to make clear that wealth consists in what is produced is that it introduces the issue of the value of work. The chapter in question is the V of the First Book and already the title is clear enough: ‘Of the real and nominal price of commodities, or of their price in labour and their price in money’.

Here it is interesting to compare with our contemporary conception of real value and nominal. In our case it is only a matter of taking into account the inflation and therefore the purchase of an amount of money is worth the same. The concern for the change in the value of money over time (or between countries) is also in Smith. What is relevant is the way to do it. Because Smith does not use the way our, that consists in transforming all those values to a dollar value common. But you insist, after showing the variations, which ‘Labour, therefore, it appears evidently, is the only universal as well as the only accurate measure of value’ (Book I, Chap V, p 52). And the reason is that our solution does not to Smith because it would still be very close to the idea that wealth is money.

In the end, the problem is that the idea that wealth is not in money but in the annual produce (what money can buy, it is so expressed in several occasions), then how can we measure that wealth? The money, which has as one of its roles is to put all the goods in equivalence, is presented as the immediate way. But that is what nominal -and that is the central message of Smith. Then, even though it is very difficult to measure, the basic thing is that ‘the real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it’ (Book I, Chapter 5, p 43). And so we tell you that when all it requires less work to be able to buy everything that is cheaper -beyond how it is expressed in terms of price in money.

In other words, in Smith’s the theory of the value work is a theory of the measurement and comparison of the value, chosen in part because it avoids fall -of particular relevance at the time that Smith writes the text – in the money illusion. And in fact, thought of it that way does not cease to be used today. In texts of historical analysis it is not unusual to find translations of the value of a currency in terms of work (so many denarii or drachmas were what I could gain a qualified worker in a day, and a talent is equivalent to that many days of work the worker could buy etc) And precisely it is done because it complies with the role that Smith assigned: that of making comparisons: Transform sestercios in dollars or pesos are always out of date (dollars in that year you are talking about the author?) but the standard of work allows for a comparison -or at least, give a sense of what it meant to these figures.

At the same time it allows to differentiate clearly one of the changes that develop in the thought of karl Marx: it is Not part of Smith’s idea that only human labour creates and produces value. That nature produces value, is something that Smith mentioned on several occasions. Comparing peasants and farmers with artisans in urban areas in relation to the armies-not to be limited by the differences in disciplinary modern Smith goes through on a variety of subjects in the text – presents us to pass that ‘Without the intervention of his [farmer’s] labour, nature does herself the greater part of the work which remains to be done’ (Book V, Chapter I, Part I, p 884) .

To emphasize the measurement function of the conception of the value of work is not only a topic of intellectual history, I think it is helpful to understand certain contemporary situations. What credibility, many times of common sense, of the ideas mercantilist today, we think of the issue of the balance of trade, you will not have to do with the way in which we measure the economy, the GDP, is ultimately, a way of measuring using the standard of money? Do and thus falls into the trap of thinking that wealth is money and that was precisely the idea against which he directed Smith to his work?

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top