SV: [OPE] Ricardo and The Iron Law Of Wages

From: Martin Kragh (
Date: Mon Jul 14 2008 - 10:41:53 EDT

A note. Reading original texts in their context is always a tricky thing and topics very often get obscured, especially in a lot of the more literary interpretations of political economy. However, the way I have read Ricardo there is nothing which supports a rigid interpretation of the subsistence theory of wages. Ricardo himself noted:
"Perhaps this is expressed too strongly, as more is generally allotted to the labourer under the name of wages, than the absolutely necessary expenses of production. In that case a part of the net revenue of the country is received by the labourer, and may be saved or expended by him; or it may enable him to contribute to the defence of the country."
D. Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. P. Straffa, vol. 1, Cambridge, 1951, p. 348n. 
In Ricardo there is no such thing as any "iron law" for anything, such assumptions would be counter to his whole methodology. I have never read any statement by Ricardo which was not immediately qualified, just as it should be in *good* social science.     
Kind regards,


Från: [] För Gerald Levy
Skickat: den 14 juli 2008 15:54
Till: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
Ämne: [OPE] Ricardo and The Iron Law Of Wages
The blog entry by Robert V ends:
"As I understand it, the formal mathematics of the theory of value merely
requires the wage to be given.  But, as my email  correspondent points
out,  if the wage is above subsistence, workers can save and class structure 
of capitalism will not be reproduced."
I don't see why this conclusion is warranted. While the (real) wage is 
often taken to be given in many 'classical'  theories, this does not seem to
me to be necessary. I.e. those theories of value could be re-framed in 
such a way that the real wage is allowed to rise (or fall) within certain
limits and the classical theories  of value would not be negated by that 
revision. Similarly, the prospect of workers saving does not undermine 
a LTV or the theory of surplus value, let alone mean that the "class
structure of capitalism will not be reproduced".  It would certainly
lead to more income and wealth differentiation within the working
class, but the basic class structure of capitalism would not thereby
be threatened.
If Robert is saying that the problem arises simply because of the
"formal mathematics" of the theory of value, then that is a good 
argument for re-casting the theory in less "formal" terms. I.e. if 
the assumption of a fixed real wage is necessary for mathematical
purposes, then I question the appropriateness of the (linear) math for
understanding the real subject. 
In solidarity, Jerry
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