Theories of Surplus Value, Marx 1861-3


[1.  Early Formulation of the Thesis That the Supply of Agricultural Products Always Corresponds to Demand.  Rodbertus and the Practicians among the Economists of the Eighteenth Century]

||XII-580b| The proposition that corn produces its own demand etc.[a] “casually” advanced by Adam Smith, later repeated by Malthus with considerable pomposity in his theory of rent and partly used as the basis of his theory of population, is very concisely expressed in the following passage:

“Corn […] is scarce or not scarce in proportion to the consumption of it.  If there are more m o u t h s, there will be more corn, because there will be more hands to till the earth; and if there is more corn, there will be more mouths, because plenty will bring people…“ ([John Arbuthnot], An Inquiry into the Connection Between the Present Price of Provisions, and the Size of Farms, etc.  By a Farmer, London, 1773, p. 125).


“the culture of the earth cannot be over-done” (l.c., p. 62).

Rodbertus’s fantasy that seeds etc. do not enter as an item of capital (into the farmer’s calculations],[b] is refuted by the hundreds of treatises, some written by farmers themselves, that appeared in the eighteenth century (particularly since the 60s of that century).  But on the contrary, it would be correct to say that rent is an item of expenditure for the farmer.  He[c] reckons rent among the costs of production (and it does belong to his costs of production).

“If … the price of corn is nearly what it ought to be, which can only be determined by the proportion that the value of land bears to the value of money” (l.c., p. 132).

As soon as capital takes possession of agriculture, the farming-capitalist himself regards rent only as a deduction from profit and the whole of surplus-value is for him essentially profit:

“The old method of calculating the profits of the farmer [was] by the three rents” (the métayage system).  “In the infancy of agriculture, it was a conscientious and equal partition of property; such as is now practised in the less enlightened parts of the world … the one finds land and capital, the other knowledge and labour: but on a well-cultivated and good soil, the rent is now the least object: it is the sum which a man can sink in stock, and in the annual expense of his labour, on which be is to reckon the interest of his money, or income” (l.c., p. 34).  |XII-580b||

[2.  Nathaniel Forster on the Hostility Between Landowners and Traders]

||XIII-670a| “The landed and trading interests are eternally jarring, and jealous of each other’s advantages” ([Nathaniel Forster], An Enquiry into the Causes of the Present High Price of Provisions, London, 1767, p. 22, note).  |XIII-670a||


[3.  Hopkins’s Views on the Relationship Between Rent and Profit]

||XIII-669b| Hopkins (passage to be looked up)[d]  naively [describes] rent of land as the original form of surplus-value, and profit as derived from this.

He writes:

“When the…producers were both agriculturists and manufacturers, the landowner received, as rent of land, a value of £ 10.  Suppose this rent to have been paid one half in raw produce, and the other half in manufactures;— on the division of the producers into the two classes of agriculturists and manufacturers” this could be continued.  “In practice, however, it would be found more convenient for the cultivators of the land, to pay the rent, and to charge it on their produce, when exchanging it against the produce of the labour of the manufacturers; so as to divide the payment into equitable proportions between the two classes, and to leave wages and profits equal in each department” (Thomas Hopkins, Economical Enquiries relative to the Laws which Regulate Rent, Profit, etc. London, 1822, p. 26).  |XIII-669b||


[4.  Carey, Malthus and James Deacon Hume on Improvements in Agriculture]

||XI-490a| “It will be observed that we consider the owner and farmer always as one and the same person…  Such it is in the United States.” (H. C. Carey, The Past, the Present, and the Future, Philadelphia, 1848, p. 97, note).

“Man […] is always going from a poor soil to better, and then returning on his footsteps to the original poor one, and turning up the marl or the lime; and so on, in continuous succession … and […] at each step in this course, he is making a better machine[e] … (l.c., pp. 128-29).  “Capital may be invested in agriculture with more advantage than in engines, because the last are only of equal, whereas the other is of superior, power” (l.c., p. 129).  “The gain from a steam-engine[f]” (which transforms the wool into cloth, etc.)  “is the wages of […] labour, minus the loss by deterioration of the machine.  Labour applied to fashioning the earth produces wages, plus the gain by improvement of the machine” (l.c., p. 129).  Hence “a piece of land that yields £ 100 per annum will sell” dearer than a steam-engine which produces just as much per annum (l.c., p. 130).  “The buyer of the first knows that it will pay his wages and interest, plus the increase of its value by use.  The buyer of the other knows it will give him wages and interest, minus the diminution in its value by use […] The one buys a machine that improves by use.  The other, one that deteriorates with use […] The one is a machine upon which new capital and labour may be expended with constantly increasing return; while upon the other no such expenditure can be made” (l.c., p. 131).


Even those improvements in agriculture which bring about reduced costs of production and eventually a fall in prices, but which first—so long as prices have not yet fallen—[call forth] a temporary rise of agricultural profit, almost never fail,

to increase rent ultimately.  The increased capital, which is employed in consequence of the opportunity of making great temporary profits, can seldom or ever be entirely removed from the land, at the expiration of the current leases; and, on the renewal of these leases, the landlord feels the benefit of it in the increase of his rents” (Thomas Robert Malthus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent, London, 1815, p. 26).


“If until the prevalence of the late high prices, arable land in general bore but little rent, chiefly by reason of the acknowledged necessity of frequent fallows; the rents must be again reduced, to admit of a return to the same system” (James Deacon Hume, Thoughts on the Corn-Laws, London, 1815, p. 72).  |XI-490a||

[5.  Hodgskin and Anderson on the Growth of Productivity in Agricultural Labour]

||XIII-670a| “A diminishing surface suffices to supply man with food as population multiplies” ([Thomas] Hodgskin (anonymously), The Natural and Artificial Right of Property Contrasted…, London, 1832, p. 69).

Similar ideas were expressed by Anderson even earlier.[g] |XIII-670a||

[6.  Decrease in the Rate of Profit]

||XIII-670a| Calculated on the total capital the [rate of] profit of the larger capital, which employs more constant capital (machinery, raw material) and relatively less living labour, will be lower than that of the smaller [amount of] profit yielded by the smaller capital employing more living labour in proportion to the total capital.  The [relative] decrease in variable capital and the relative increase in constant capital, although both parts are growing, is only another expression for the increased productivity of labour|XIII-670a||

[a] See this volume, p. 354 et seqq.—Ed.

[b] See this volume, pp. 45-55.—Ed.

[c] Arbuthnot, the author of the anonymous pamphlet.—Ed.

[d]  See this volume, p. 55 and Note 20.—Ed.

[e] The reference is to the land which has been worked and improved.—Ed.

[f] Carey wrote: “from its use”.—Ed.

[g] See this volume, pp. 144-45.—Ed.