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The Counterfactual Method of Marx's Theory of Surplus


  • Stefano Perri


The aim of this paper is to show that Marx supports his theory of surplus value by developing a counterfactual argument, that is, by comparing the 'normal' state of a capitalist economy against a hypothetical state in which no surplus is produced. Marx then divides his analysis of value into three successive steps. The first deals with the production of new value in the sphere of production; the second with the process of creation of surplus value, both in the sphere of production and in the sphere of circulation; and the third with the process of equalisation of the rate of profit, which is accomplished via capitalist competition in the sphere of circulation. The paper proposes a formalisation of the three-step analysis and of the counterfactual argument. Marx's three-step analysis is shown to be a scientific analysis of the hidden connections between social relations (expressed in labour flows) and commodity exchange; thus it is not a useless detour.

Suggested Citation

  • Stefano Perri, 2003. "The Counterfactual Method of Marx's Theory of Surplus," Review of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 15(1), pages 107-124.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:revpoe:v:15:y:2003:i:1:p:107-124 DOI: 10.1080/09538250308438

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Keen, Steve, 1993. "Use-Value, Exchange Value, and the Demise of Marx's Labor Theory of Value," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Cambridge University Press, vol. 15(01), pages 107-121, March.
    2. Lipietz, Alain, 1982. "The so-called "transformation problem" revisited," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 26(1), pages 59-88, February.
    3. Samuelson, Paul, 2012. "Understanding the Marxian Notion of Exploitation: A Summary of the So-CalledTransformation Problem Between Marxian Values and Competitive Prices," Economic Policy, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, pages 182-202, August.
    4. Cartelier, Jean, 1991. "Marx's Theory of Value, Exchange and Surplus Value: A Suggested Reformulation," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 15(3), pages 257-269, September.
    5. Samuelson, Paul A, 1974. "Insight and Detour in the Theory of Exploitation: A Reply to Baumol," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 12(1), pages 62-70, March.
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