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The limits of Ricardian value: law, contingency and motion in economics

Freeman, Alan (1999): The limits of Ricardian value: law, contingency and motion in economics.


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This paper discusses the relation between law and contingency in the formation of value. It begins from a much-ignored assertion of Marx, repeated throughout his works, that the equality of supply and demand is contingent and their non-equality constitutes their law. This highly complex and original idea leads us to the idea of capitalism, and a market, as an entity which perpetuates itself by failing to perpetuate itself: it is the fact that supply diverges from demand which causes the system to continue, not the fact that supply equals demand, which is only the case as a statistical average and never exactly holds. This fundamental and unrecognised difference between Marx’s approach and that of the classicals also distinguishes Marx from most modern economics, which has focussed on equilibrium as the de facto defining principle from which value may be deduced. The problem is exactly the opposite: it is to define a conception of value which does not require equilibrium and makes no presupposition that supply equals demand, that goods are sold, that profits equalise, or that any of the ‘lawlike’ properties of an ideal market actually hold. The ‘lawlike’ properties of a market must then be deduced as an outcome of the dynamic, that is temporal, behaviour of the market, expressed in terms of the interaction between value so defined and use value. In order that such a concept of value may have universal applicability, price has to be reformulated as a form of value, and money theorised on this foundation. This article, presented to the EEA mini-conference on value in 1999, sets out the general principles involved.

Keywords: Crisis, inequality, market failure, TSSI, Temporalism, Marx, Value, Marshall, Walras, equilibrium, non-equilibrium, history of thought, Keynes, Austrian Economics, Post-Keynesian economics, Ricardo

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