Re: [OPE] debates on whether value existed in pre-capitalist society

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Tue Aug 31 2010 - 19:12:48 EDT

Economics of Ibn Khaldun: Revisited

The Value Theories

Value theory formed the foundation of classical and Marxian political
economy. A discussion of theories of value is present in al-Mugaddimah but
it does not occupy such a prominent role in Ibn Khaldun's writings as it
does in the classical and Marxian systems. His treatment of the determinants
of value of the commodities in many respects resembles but is not as
well-developed as the theories of value by Smith, Ricardo, and Marx.
Additionally, his remarks associating utility derived from real estate and
its price is a prelude to the utility theory of value.

1. Labor Theory of Value
Although Moslem writers had alluded to labor as an important source of value
as early as the 7th century4, Ibn Khaldun in his al-Mugaddimah had developed
the rudiments of labor theory of value. The parallelism between Adam Smith's
labor theory of value and Ibn Khaldun's labor theory of value is striking.
Smith started his labor theory of value by stating: Labour was the first
price, the original purchase--money that was paid for all things. It was not
by gold or by silver, but by labor, that all the wealth of the world was
originally purchased. (Smith 1937, 30)

Ibn Khaldun developed his value theory by indicating:
There is nothing here [originally] except the labor, and [the labor] is not
desired by itself as acquired [...,but the value realized from it] (Vol. II,

He further expanded on this theme by writing:

Carpentry and weaving, for instance, are associated with wood and yarn [ the
respective craft needed for their production]. However, in the two crafts
[first mentioned] the labor [that goes into them] is more important, and its
value is greater. (Vol. II, 313)

After a few paragraphs, Ibn Khaldun wrote:

It has thus become clear that gains and profits, in their entirety or for
the most part, are value realized from human labor. (Vol. II, 314)

Ibn Khaldun had earlier defined `profit' as:

[The part of income] that is obtained by a person through his own effort and
strength is called `profit.' (Vol. II, 312)

Here, however, Ibn Khaldun divides the total product, the gains, into used
and un-used parts. He called the part that is used up `sustenance,' a
concept that Karl Marx called `necessary labor.' In Ibn Khaldun's words
` [the part of the profit] that is utilized.' (Vol. II, 314)

For modern readers Ibn Khaldun's usage of the term profit is problematic.
However, it should be clear from the passage that what Ibn Khaldun calls
profit or gain is in fact total produce. Ibn Khaldun, in discussing the
constituent parts of the gain, explains that a man's ... profits will
constitute his livelihood, if they correspond to his necessities and needs.
They will be capital accumulation, if they are greater than [his needs].
(Vol. II, 311-312)

Therefore, Ibn Khaldun's division of the total product of labor into
`sustenance' and `capital accumulation' is similar to the Marxian notion of
`necessary' and `surplus' labor.

In considering labor as a commodity, Ibn Khaldun was a precursor of Karl
Marx in another respect. Ibn Khaldun wrote:

For labor is a commodity, as we shall show later, in as much as incomes and
profits represent the value of the labor of their recipients...'.(Issawi,

Khaldun's thought on another aspect of value theory resembles David
Ricardo's ideas. David Ricardo, in development of the labor theory of value,
was consciously in search of an `invariable' unit of measurement and
arbitrarily selected gold as a commodity which is produced by a method of
production that is an average of two extremes: `... the one where little
fixed capital is used, the other where little labor is employed, as to form
a just mean between them?'(Meek 1956, 110)

Ibn Khaldun also arbitrarily chose gold and silver as `invariable' measures
of value by stating that `God created the two mineral `stones,' gold and
silver, as the [measure of] value...' (Vol. II, 313) Furthermore,
[Gold and silver are what] the inhabitants of the world, by preference,
consider treasure and property[to consist of]. Even if, under certain
circumstances, other things are acquired, it is only for the purpose of
ultimately obtaining [gold and silver]. All other things are subject to
market fluctuations, from which [gold and silver] are exempt (6). (Vol. II,
By this analogy I neither intend to imply that Ibn Khaldun's selection of
precious metals as `invariable' measures of value was based on indepth
analyses that characterized David Ricardo's selection procedure, nor do I
mean to suggest that Khaldun was consciously in search of an invariable unit
of measurement. My comments are aimed at showing that both men arbitrarily
selected precious metals for the purpose.

>From the foregoing discussion it is clear that Ibn Khaldun had a rudimentary
labor theory of value, a prelude to the consistent, well formulated, and
sophisticated versions of the theory by David Ricardo and Karl Marx.

4. Shirazi (1985, 58 ) attributes the following statement to Imam Baghar, a
7th century shi'ite saint: `Money is nothing but amedium of exchange, and it
is the labor power of the Moslems that has put Roman's gold and silver at
our disposition.'

----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Cockshott" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 6:06 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE] debates on whether value existed in pre-capitalist

> Who was the arab thinker of the middle ages who invented the labour theory
> of value?
> ________________________________________
> From: [] On
> Behalf Of Dave Zachariah []
> Sent: Tuesday, August 31, 2010 5:18 PM
> To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
> Subject: Re: [OPE] debates on whether value existed in pre-capitalist
> society
> On 2010-08-31 17:32, Paul Cockshott wrote:
>> I seem to recall this having been debated extensively in the past with
>> Jurriaan and I taking the position that it did and various others taking
>> a different view.
>> Can anyone remember when these debates were in the archive, and who
>> argued that value was something specifically capitalist?
> I recall we had some discussions along those lines last year, where
> Jerry was advocating a 'value-form' position. For instance the thread
> 'value-form theory redux':
> //Dave Z
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