Friday, June 12, 2015

Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 3: A Critical Summary

Chapter 3 of volume 1 of Capital is called “Money, or the Circulation of Commodities,” and develops Marx’s theory of money in a capitalist economy, as related to exchange of commodities, the functions of money and the value of money.

Chapter 3 is divided into three sections:
(1) The Measure of Value;
(2) The Means of Circulation;
(3) Money.
I discuss these sections below.

First, we should, however, note four important distinctions Marx makes in the functions of money:
(1) money as a “measure of value” (this measures labour value and can be either (1) ideal/abstract or (2) real when actual gold is paid);

(2) money as “standard of price” (which is usually a gold unit fixed by governments as national units of currency);

(3) money as a “medium of circulation” (where it facilitates the exchange of commodities as sales and purchases), and

(4) money as a “means of payment” (the function in which a money commodity is used to pay for things but could be represented by coins, paper money or credit money).
Money, for Marx, is ultimately a produced commodity with a labour value: money is therefore abstract alienated labour with an embodied labour value (Nelson 2001: 45; Germer 2005). Money must be a commodity, and this is consistent with how Marx understood money in the Grundrisse:
“Money – the common form, into which all commodities as exchange values are transformed, i.e. the universal commodity – must itself exist as a particular commodity alongside the others, since what is required is not only that they can be measured against it in the head, but that they can be changed and exchanged for it in the actual exchange process. The contradiction which thereby enters, to be developed elsewhere. Money does not arise by convention, any more than the state does. It arises out of exchange, and arises naturally out of exchange; it is a product of the same.”
Marx, The Grundrisse, Notebook 1, October 1857, The Chapter on Money (Part II)
Marx never says anywhere in his writings – not even in volume 3 of Capital – that money does not need to be a commodity or that it can become totally severed from an underlying commodity (Germer 2005: 22–23). On the contrary, in volume 3 of Capital Marx repeatedly stated that money can never become detached from an underlying commodity, as shown in this post. This was one of the worst and most severe errors in Marx’s economic system, and badly undermines the labour theory of value as well.

However, let us now turn to the three sections of Chapter 3 of Capital.

(1) The Measure of Value
Marx states explicitly that throughout Capital the base commodity money in his analysis is assumed to be gold (Marx 1990: 188). The relevant units of a commodity money like gold were historically derived from weight units (Marx 1990: 191). Governments tend to legally fix the standard monetary units (or “money-names”) of gold or silver (Marx 1990: 194), and these units function as the units of account or the standard of price (Marx 1990: 195). So commodity money functions as a measure of labour value and also expresses prices.

Marx argues that only commodities that are products of labour with an abstract socially necessary labour value can be equated with those of other commodities and so therefore function as money:
“The first chief function of money is to supply commodities with the material for the expression of their values, or to represent their values as magnitudes of the same denomination, qualitatively equal, and quantitatively comparable. It thus serves as a universal measure of value. And only by virtue of this function does gold, the equivalent commodity par excellence, become money.

It is not money that renders commodities commensurable. Just the contrary. It is because all commodities, as values, are realised human labour, and therefore commensurable, that their values can be measured by one and the same special commodity, and the latter be converted into the common measure of their values, i.e., into money. Money as a measure of value, is the phenomenal form that must of necessity be assumed by that measure of value which is immanent in commodities, labour-time.” (Marx 1906: 106).

“But only in so far as it is itself a product of labour, and, therefore, potentially variable in value, can gold serve as a measure of value.” (Marx 1906: 110).
A price is a “money form,” which is the expression of the value of a commodity in terms of gold, e.g. 1 ton of iron = 2 ounces of gold (Marx 1990: 189). Price in terms of gold can be an ideal, notional or abstract form (e.g., when someone asks a particular price for a commodity that is not yet sold), since one does not need to receive physical gold to value a good in terms of price (Marx 1990: 189–190). Prices can be imaginary quantities of gold (Marx 1990: 192).

Money has no price, according to Marx, since that would involve equating “it to itself as its own equivalent” (Marx 1906: 107; Marx 1990: 189).

For Marx, prices in gold depend on the labour value of gold:
“… although the money that performs the functions of a measure of value is only ideal money, price depends entirely upon the actual substance that is money. The value, or in other words, the quantity of human labour contained in a ton of iron, is expressed in imagination by such a quantity of the money-commodity as contains the same amount of labour as the iron. According, therefore, as the measure of value is gold, silver, or copper, the value of the ton of iron will be expressed by very different prices, or will be represented by very different quantities of those metals respectively.

If, therefore, two different commodities, such as gold and silver, are simultaneously measures of value, all commodities have two prices—one a gold-price, the other a silver-price. These exist quietly side by side, so long as the ratio of the value of silver to that of gold remains unchanged, say, at 15:1.” (Marx 1906: 108).
That is, even though Marx may admit later that actual prices often diverge from labour values, he is committed, at the very least, to the view that the long-run value of gold money is determined by the abstract socially necessary labour time required for gold’s production and also as this relates to the labour value of other commodities. But this idea, if taken seriously, requires that the actual exchange value of gold as money against other commodities gravitates around the long-run value of the abstract socially necessary labour time needed to produce gold. This is an important point, and badly undermines the Marxist apologists’ claims that Marx never meant labour value to be a determiner of individual commodity prices in Capital. Volume 1 of Capital is fundamentally inconsistent with volume 3.

To sum up, Marx makes two distinctions in the function of gold money:
(1) as a measure of value money is the “socially recognised incarnation of human labour,” and

(2) as a standard of price, gold money is “a fixed weight of metal” (Marx 1906: 110), usually fixed by law by states (Marx 1990: 194). Originally these derived from the weight units of precious metals like gold or silver, but for many historical reasons monetary unit names diverged from the strict weight names.
For Marx, money needs to be a commodity so that it is a product of human labour with a potentially variable labour value (Marx 1990: 192), which governs the value of money.

Marx even attempts to explain general price inflation and deflation in terms of labour value:
“A general rise in the prices of commodities can result only, either from a rise in their values—the value of money remaining constant—or from a fall in the value of money, the values of commodities remaining constant. On the other hand, a general fall in prices can result only, either from a fall in the values of commodities—the value of money remaining constant—or from a rise in the value of money, the values of commodities remaining constant. It therefore by no means follows, that a rise in the value of money necessarily implies a proportional fall in the prices of commodities; or that a fall in the value of money implies a proportional rise in prices. Such change of price holds good only in the case of commodities whose value remains constant. With those, for example whose value rises, simultaneously with, and proportionally to, that of money, there is no alteration in price. And if their value rise either slower or faster than that of money, the fall or rise in their prices will be determined by the difference between the change in their value and that of money ; and so on.” (Marx 1906: 111).
Using his questionable Hegelian dialectical analysis, Marx infers that underneath the money price of goods there is an underlying labour value:
“Price is the money-name of the labour realised in a commodity. Hence the expression of the equivalence of a commodity with the sum of money constituting its price, is a tautology, just as in general the expression of the relative value of a commodity is a statement of the equivalence of two commodities. But although price, being the exponent of the magnitude of a commodity’s value, is the exponent of its exchange ratio with money, it does not follow that the exponent of this exchange-ratio is necessarily the exponent of the magnitude of the commodity’s value. Suppose two equal quantities of socially necessary labour to be respectively represented by 1 quarter of wheat and £2 (nearly 1/2 oz. of gold), £2 is the expression in money of the magnitude of the value of the quarter of wheat, or is its price.” (Marx 1906: 114).
Only at this stage in his analysis does Marx state that labour value and price can diverge:
Magnitude of value expresses a relation of social production, it expresses the connection that necessarily exists between a certain article and the portion of the total labour-time of society required to produce it. As soon as magnitude of value is converted into price, the above necessary relation takes the shape of a more or less accidental exchange-ratio between a single commodity and another, the money-commodity. But this exchange-ratio may express either the real magnitude of that commodity’s value, or the quantity of gold deviating from that value, for which, according to circumstances, it may be parted with. The possibility, therefore, of quantitative incongruity between price and magnitude of value, or the deviation of the former from the latter, is inherent in the price-form itself. This is no defect, but, on the contrary, admirably adapts the price-form to a mode of production whose inherent laws impose themselves only as the mean of apparently lawless irregularities that compensate one another.” (Marx 1906: 114).
So, according to Marx, as labour values are converted into prices, we find “the shape of a more or less accidental exchange-ratio between a single commodity and another.” Astonishingly, we find no further analysis of how prices are formed or how they diverge from labour values in Chapter 3. Harvey (2010: 58–59) interprets this passage as a recognition by Marx that supply and demand conditions govern the prices of commodities on everyday markets. But Harvey also argues that Marx thinks that the long-run Classical equilibrium price (or natural price) is the centre of gravitation for market prices, and that this natural price is a “representation of socially necessary labor-time that generates the value crystallized in money” (Harvey 2010: 61, 59). This is utterly unsatisfactory, since the Classical natural price includes a uniform profit rate and Marx denies that this natural price directly equals or corresponds to labour value.

As we have seen above, Marx seems committed to the view that the natural value of a unit of gold money is ultimately determined by the abstract socially necessary labour time needed to produce it, not by random fluctuations of prices in accordance with supply and demand. So clearly Chapter 3 has a massive hole in it: how do labour values (including of gold) determine prices, and how do labour values relate to Classical prices of production/natural prices?

Fundamentally, for Marx, many things that have no actual labour value can have prices:
“The price-form, however, is not only compatible with the possibility of a quantitative incongruity between magnitude of value and price, i.e., between the former and its expression in money, but it may also conceal a qualitative inconsistency, so much so, that, although money is nothing but the value-form of commodities, price ceases altogether to express value. Objects that in themselves are no commodities, such as conscience, honour, &c, are capable of being offered for sale by their holders, and of thus acquiring, through their price, the form of commodities. Hence an object may have a price without having value. The price in that case is imaginary, like certain quantities in mathematics. On the other hand, the imaginary price-form may sometimes conceal either a direct or indirect real value-relation; for instance, the price of uncultivated land, which is without value, because no human labour has been incorporated in it.” (Marx 1906: 115).
So, for Marx, uncultivated land, because it is not a produced commodity, has no labour value, but can fetch an imaginary money price. But it is worse than this. In Marx’s economic theory, there are a vast swathe of goods whose prices are not actually “real” but “imaginary,” as follows:
(1) non-reproducible commodities, whether antiques, works of art by certain artists or masters, objects or goods signed by famous people sold on markets, letters or writings by famous people, vintage wine, etc.

(2) second-hand goods,

(3) uncultivated land, and

(4) the prices of financial and real assets bought and sold on secondary asset markets.
I discuss this point here.

Marx’s theory of prices, based as it is on labour value, is in reality an extraordinarily feeble theory with little explanatory power, given how many prices must be regarded as wholly “imaginary” under it.

(2) The Means of Circulation
Marx regards commodity exchange as part of a process of “social metabolism,” in which a commodity moves from being a non-use value to a seller to being a use value consumed by a buyer (Marx 1990: 198). This process is obscured by money. Commodities as use values are related to exchange values in terms of money which measure labour value, and in turn the money is used to buy other commodities as use values (Marx 1990: 199–200).

For Marx such a transaction is denoted by the expression:
Commodity – Money – Commodity, or
This is a type of “commodity circuit”: indirectly, by the medium of money, one commodity exchanges for another. The labour value in the commodity simply “undergoes a change of form” (Harvey 2010: 63), from a commodity labour value to equal money labour value (money also being a type of commodity). That is, it is a change “in form of a particular commodity into the universal equivalent, the money commodity” (Harvey 2010: 63).

Also, any sale of a commodity is simultaneously a purchase (Marx 1990: 203–204), and for the seller it can be described as C–M and for the buyer M–C.

In analysing this, Marx repeats his view that commodities need to be demanded as use values for labour value to be realised:
“The social division of labour causes his labour to be as one-sided as his wants are many-sided. This is precisely the reason why the product of his labour serves him solely as exchange value. But it cannot acquire the properties of a socially recognised universal equivalent, except by being converted into money. That money, however, is in some one else’s pocket. In order to entice the money out of that pocket, our friend’s commodity must, above all things, be a use-value to the owner of the money. For this, it is necessary that the labour expended upon it, be of a kind that is socially useful, of a kind that constitutes a branch of the social division of labour. But division of labour is a system of production which has grown up spontaneously and continues to grow behind the backs of the producers. The commodity to be exchanged may possibly be the product of some new kind of labour, that pretends to satisfy newly arisen requirements, or even to give rise itself to new requirements. A particular operation, though yesterday, perhaps, forming one out of the many operations conducted by one producer in creating a given commodity, may to-day separate itself from this connection, may establish itself as an independent branch of labour and send its incomplete product to market as an independent commodity. The circumstances may or may not be ripe for such a separation. To-day the product satisfies a social want. To-morrow the article may, either altogether or partially, be superseded by some other appropriate product. Moreover, although our weaver’s labour may be a recognised branch of the social division of labour, yet that fact is by no means sufficient to guarantee the utility of his 20 yards, of linen. If the community's want of linen, and such a want has a limit like every other want, should already be saturated by the products of rival weavers, our friend’s product is superfluous, redundant, and consequently useless. Although people do not look a gift-horse in the mouth, our friend does not frequent the market for the purpose of making presents. But suppose his product turn out a real use-value, and thereby attracts money? The question arises, how much will it attract? No doubt the answer is already anticipated in the price of the article, in the exponent of the magnitude of its value. We leave out of consideration here any accidental miscalculation of value by our friend, a mistake that is soon rectified in the market. We suppose him to have spent on his product only that amount of labour-time that is on an average socially necessary. The price then, is merely the money-name of the quantity of social labour realised in his commodity. But without the leave, and behind the back, of our weaver, the old fashioned mode of weaving undergoes a change. The labour-time that yesterday was without doubt socially necessary to the production of a yard of linen, ceases to be so today, a fact which the owner of the money is only too eager to prove from the prices quoted by our friend’s competitors. Unluckily for him, weavers are not few and far between. Lastly, suppose that every piece of linen in the market contains no more labour-time than is socially necessary. In spite of this, all these pieces taken as a whole, may have had superfluous labour-time spent upon them. If the market cannot stomach the whole quantity at the normal price of 2 shillings a yard, this proves that too great a portion of the total labour of the community has been expended in the form of weaving. The effect is the same as if each individual weaver had expended more labour-time upon his particular product than is socially necessary. Here we may say, with the German proverb: caught together, hung together. All the linen in the market counts but as one article of commerce, of which each piece is only an aliquot part. And as a matter of fact, the value also of each single yard is but the materialised form of the same definite and socially fixed quantity of homogeneous human labour.” (Marx 1906: 119–121.
Marx in this passage states that the amount of abstract socially necessary labour time appropriate for the production of any given commodity is not independent of the market demand for that commodity: market demand will determine the socially necessary labour time for each unit, so that if there is an excess of supply in relation to demand, then the amount of social labour expended in the production of the aggregate output has been too high and some labour time wasted: it is as if all labourers had spent more time than was socially necessary for the production of each unit.

So Marx cannot be correct in saying in Chapter 1 of Capital that labour value is the fundamental cause of commodity exchange, and this can be deduced because “the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised by a total abstraction from use-value” (Marx 1906: 44–45).

As an aside, Marx is aware that capitalists in their production of commodities sometimes attempt to create new desires and consumer demand:
“The commodity to be exchanged may possibly be the product of some new kind of labour, that pretends to satisfy newly arisen requirements, or even to give rise itself to new requirements.” (Marx 1906: 119).
This point, however, remains underdeveloped.

According to Harvey (2010: 66), Marx also appears to make an attack on Say’s law in this chapter as follows:
“Nothing can be more childish than the dogma, that because every sale is a purchase, and every purchase a sale, therefore the circulation of commodities necessarily implies an equilibrium of sales and purchases. If this means that the number of actual sales is equal to the number of purchases, it is mere tautology. But its real purport is to prove that every seller brings his buyer to market with him. Nothing of the kind. The sale and the purchase constitute one identical act, an exchange between a commodity-owner and an owner of money, between two persons as opposed to each other as the two poles of a magnet. They form two distinct acts, of polar and opposite characters, when performed by one single person. Hence the identity of sale and purchase implies that the commodity is useless, if, on being thrown into the alchemistical retort of circulation, it does not come out again in the shape of money; if, in other words, it cannot be sold by its owner, and therefore be bought by the owner of the money That identity further implies that the exchange, if it does take place, constitutes a period of rest, an interval, long or short, in the life of the commodity. Since the first metamorphosis of a commodity is at once a sale and a purchase, it is also an independent process in itself. The purchaser has the commodity, the seller has the money, i.e., a commodity ready to go into circulation at any time. No one can sell unless some one else purchases. But no one is forthwith bound to purchase, because he has just sold. Circulation bursts through all restrictions as to time, place, and individuals, imposed by direct barter, and this it effects by splitting up, into the antithesis of a sale and a purchase, the direct identity that in barter does exist between the alienation of one's own and the acquisition of some other man's product. To say that these two independent and antithetical acts have an intrinsic unity, are essentially one, is the same as to say that this intrinsic oneness expresses itself in an external, antithesis. If the interval in time between the two complementary phases of the complete metamorphosis of a commodity becomes too great, if the split between the sale and the purchase becomes too pronounced, the intimate connexion between them, their oneness, asserts itself by producing—a crisis. The antithesis, use-value and value ; the contradictions that private labour is bound to manifest itself as direct social labour, that a particularized concrete kind of labour has to pass for abstract human labour ; the contradiction between the personification of objects and the representation of persons by things; all these antitheses and contradictions, which are immanent in commodities, assert themselves, and develop their modes of motion, in the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of a commodity. These modes therefore imply the possibility, and no more than the possibility, of crisis. The conversion of this mere possibility into a reality is the result of a long series of relations, that, from our present standpoint of simple circulation, have as yet no existence.” (Marx 1906: 127–128).
In this passage Marx is essentially saying that Say’s law does not hold because people can hoard or hold money and not purchase commodities so that the commodity circuit C–M–C is broken, so that this interrupts and disrupts the process of circulation (Marx 1990: 208–209; this also how Harvey 2010: 66–67 interprets the passage). There is an embryonic theory of aggregate demand here, but anyone can see it is hardly developed at all. Moreover, as a critique of Say’s law, Marx’s ideas are – as in many of the instances where Marx has genuine insights into capitalism – quite undeveloped and dressed up in Hegelian dialectical claptrap that just obscures the argument.

Marx also repeats his idea as described in Chapter 2 that gold when initially brought to market exchanges with other commodities at its labour value:
“In order that it may play the part of money, gold must of course enter the market at some point or other. This point is to be found at the source of production of the metal, at which place gold is bartered, as the immediate product of labour, for some other product of equal value. From that moment it always represents the realised price of some commodity.” (Marx 1906: 122).
So here Marx is committed to the view that gold really does exchange for objects of equal labour value in its initial entrance into the process of circulation.

For Marx, the “process of circulation” is the endless series of transactions in a market economy where commodities exchange for money (C–M) and then money for commodities (M–C). Thus the sequence C–M–C is repeated endlessly (Marx 1990: 206–209), though when commodities are bought and used up either as consumer goods or capital goods they are removed from the sphere of circulation (Marx 1990: 211 with n. 25).

Money is a “medium of circulation” and “keeps continually within the sphere of circulation, and moves about in it” (Marx 1906: 132–133).

Marx reviews the quantity theory of his day (Harvey 2010: 68). Curiously, Harvey argues that Marx adopts a version of the quantity theory as held by Ricardo (Harvey 2010: 68), but other scholars hold that Marx fundamentally rejected the quantity theory.

Marx defines the quantity of money in this way:
“… for a given interval of time during the process of circulation, we have the following relation: the quantity of money functioning as the circulating medium is equal to the sum of the prices of the commodities divided by the number of moves made by coins of the same denomination. This law holds generally.” (Marx 1906: 132–135).
Marx also notes that gold money can be represented in physical exchanges by tokens (Marx 1990: 223).

Marx seems to think that silver and copper coins represent gold by law, but do not obtain their value from their own metal content or labour value:
“The weight of metal in the silver and copper tokens is arbitrarily fixed by law. When in currency, they wear away even more rapidly than gold coins. Hence their functions are totally independent of their weight, and consequently of all value. The function of gold as coin becomes completely independent of the metallic value of that gold. Therefore things that are relatively without value, such as paper notes, can serve as coins in its place. This purely symbolic character is to a certain extent masked in metal tokens. In paper money it stands out plainly.” (Marx 1906: 142).
Marx is quite clear that paper money must be backed by gold:
“The State puts in circulation bits of paper on which their various denominations, say £1, £5, &c, are printed. In so far as they actually take the place of gold to the same amount, their movement is subject to the laws that regulate the currency of money itself. A law peculiar to the circulation of paper money can spring up only from the proportion in which that paper money represents gold. Such a law exists; stated simply, it is as follows: the issue of paper money must not exceed in amount the gold (or silver as the case may be) which would actually circulate if not replaced by symbols.” (Marx 1906: 143).

“If the paper money exceed its proper limit, which is the amount of gold coins of the like denomination that can actually be current, it would, apart from the danger of falling into general disrepute, represent only that quantity of gold, which, in accordance with the laws of the circulation of commodities, is required, and is alone capable of being represented by paper. If the quantity of paper money issued be double what it ought to be, then, as a matter of fact, £1 would be the money-name not of 1/4 of an ounce, but of 1/8 of an ounce of gold. The effect would be the same as if an alteration had taken place in the function of gold as a standard of prices. Those values that were previously expressed by the price of £1 would now be expressed by the price of £2.

Paper-money is a token representing gold or money. The relation between it and the values of commodities is this, that the latter are ideally expressed in the same quantities of gold that are symbolically represented by the paper. Only in so far as paper-money represents gold, which like all other commodities has value, is it a symbol of value.” (Marx 1906: 144).
This seems to rule out pure fiat money. How wrong Marx was.

(3) Money
Money “itself is a commodity, an external object, capable of becoming the private property of any individual” (Marx 1906: 148–149), so people also hoard money and so this interrupts the process of circulation (Marx 1990: 227). A money hoard is essentially money functioning as a store of value.

Marx states:
“With the very earliest development of the circulation of commodities, there is also developed the necessity, and the passionate desire, to hold fast the product of the first metamorphosis. This product is the transformed shape of the commodity, or its gold-chrysalis. Commodities are thus sold not for the purpose of buying others, but in order to replace their commodity-form by their money-form. From being the mere means of effecting the circulation of commodities, this change of form becomes the end and aim. The changed form of the commodity is thus prevented from functioning as its unconditionally alienable form, or as its merely transient money-form. The money becomes petrified into a hoard, and the seller becomes a hoarder of money.” (Marx 1906: 146–147).
This is Marx’s inflated way of saying that people desire to hold money, though he ascribes this desire to hoard to the ability of money to function as a universal equivalent and its power to buy any commodity (Marx 1990: 229).

There is also a type of social power that comes with the accumulation money:
“Just as every qualitative difference between commodities is extinguished in money, so money, on its side, like the radical leveller that it is, does away with all distinctions. But money itself is a commodity, an external object, capable of becoming the private property of any individual. Thus social power becomes the private power of private persons.” (Marx 1906: 148–149).
Marx continues to describe the desire to hoard money as follows:
“…. [sc. money is] the universal equivalent form of all other commodities, and the immediate social incarnation of all human labour. The desire after hoarding is in its very nature unsatiable. In its qualitative aspect, or formally considered, money has no bounds to its efficacy, i.e., it is the universal representative of material wealth, because it is directly convertible into any other commodity. But, at the same time, every actual sum of money is limited in amount, and therefore, as a means of purchasing, has only a limited efficacy. This antagonism between the quantitative limits of money and its qualitative boundlessness, continually acts as a spur to the hoarder in his Sisyphus-like labour of accumulating. It is with him as it is with a conqueror who sees in every new country annexed, only a new boundary.” (Marx 1906: 149–150).
Later Marx is aware that people accumulate money in order to discharge debt obligations (Marx 1990: 240). Thus some money hoards are a “reserve fund of the means of payment” (Marx 1990: 240) to deal with debt repayment.

Next Marx considers debt–credit relationships owing to the time structure of production and sale of goods and realisation of profits. Money in a debt transaction serves as a measure of value (as money of account) and as a deferred means of payment (Marx 1990: 234–235), and for the debtor takes the form M–C–M (Harvey 2010: 76). In this case money is used obtain more money, though Marx does not explicitly explain this in Chapter 3.

On credit money, Marx has the following to say:
“Credit-money springs directly out of the function of money as a means of payment. Certificates of the debts owing for the purchased commodities circulate for the purpose of transferring those debts to others. On the other hand, to the same extent as the system of credit is extended, so is the function of money as a means of payment. In that character it takes various forms peculiar to itself under which it makes itself at home in the sphere of great commercial transactions. Gold and silver coin, on the other hand are mostly relegated to the sphere of retail trade.” (Marx 1906: 156–157).
There is reference here to the endogenous nature of credit money, but it remains underdeveloped in Chapter 3 of Capital.

Marx is aware that the chain of debt obligations in a capitalist economy and the inability to repay debts is part of business cycles:
“This contradiction comes to a head in those phases of industrial and commercial crises which are known as monetary crises.1 Such a crisis occurs only where the ever-lengthening chain of payments, and an artificial system of settling them, has been fully developed. Whenever there is a general and extensive disturbance of this mechanism, no matter what its cause, money becomes suddenly and immediately transformed, from its merely ideal shape of money of account, into hard cash. Profane commodities can no longer replace it. The use-value of commodities becomes valueless, and their value vanishes in the presence of its own independent form. On the eve of the crisis, the bourgeois, with the self-sufficiency that springs from intoxicating prosperity, declares money to be a vain imagination. Commodities alone are money. But now the cry is everywhere: money alone is a commodity!” (Marx 1906: 155).
Again, like endogenous money, the role of debt in business cycles remains underdeveloped in Chapter 3.

Finally, Marx considers “world money.” In international exchange, gold and silver prevail as money (Marx 1990: 241) and countries also need gold reserves for international balance of payments (Marx 1990: 243–244). This is consistent with his commodity theory of money, and confirms that Marx is a metallist.

With the end of Chapter 3, Part 1 of Capital is concluded.

Germer, Claus. 2005. “The Commodity Nature of Money in Marx’s Theory,” in Fred Moseley (ed.), Marx’s Theory of Money: Modern Appraisals. Palgrave, London. 21–35.

Harvey, David. 2010. A Companion to Marx’s Capital. Verso, London and New York.

Marx, Karl. 1906. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 1; rev. trans. by Ernest Untermann from 4th German edn.). The Modern Library, New York.

Marx, Karl. 1990. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One (trans. Ben Fowkes). Penguin Books, London.

Nelson, A. 2001. “Marx’s Theory of the Money Commodity,” History of Economic Review 33: 44–63.


  1. Hi LK!

    I haven't read your blog in a while but I'm very glad that you're still doing these in depth analyses. I get quite a lot out of them and even though I'm studying finance right now with some accounting thrown in, I still find it quite useful to have a resource like this to refer to especially when I come across Austrians online and other neoliberal minded folks, especially the former. I got quite a kick out of your dissemination of that clown Bob Murphy last month for example.

    I for one have always wanted to get into more of Marx and was pretty pleased that you're taking the time to offer your own interpretation of his writings. Take care.

  2. On the contrary, in volume 3 of Capital Marx repeatedly stated that money can never become detached from an underlying commodity. ... This was one of the worst and most severe errors in Marx’s economic system, and badly undermines the labour theory of value as well.

    I'm interested in how you believe this undermines the theory in and of itself. As you already acknowledge, he spends considerable time on fiat ("token," in his terms) and credit money (especially further along). For a discussion on precisely this matter that you may find helpful, see, Germer 1998.

    After all, "an adequate theory of money," Freeman notes in 2004, "must establish what
    symbolic money symbolises," even if in a complex and mediated way.

    1. (1) I've never said that Marx "spends considerable time on fiat". There's some limited discussion of credit money, but not fiat money.

      And, no, token money is not fiat money in Marx's terms: token money is just symbols acting for commodity money but not divorced from it.

      (2) how fiat money undermines the LTV is already discussed in detail here:

    2. (1) Okay, fair enough. Allow me to rephrase: "As you do not acknowledge..." etc.

      And, no, token money is not fiat money in Marx's terms: token money is just symbols acting for commodity money but not divorced from it.

      ...That is exactly what fiat money is under Marx's theory. I once again invite you to take a look at what I've linked.

      (2) Yeah I read that post. It doesn't answer this question, because here I am specifically asking that you fill in the gaps in your argument, as presented in this post and that one.

    3. What fiat money is under Marx's theory? As opposed to what fiat money is? If what it is under some theory ain't what it is, that's a problem for theory.

  3. A general question regarding Marx: do you feel he had anything to say that holds up? Is Capital worth reading as anything other than an important part of economics history?

    1. In my opinion it is better read as part of the history of economic thought.

  4. I see. Does the same also hold for Adam Smith?