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Marx, the labour theory of value and the transformation problem

Burns, Tony



© 2016, © The Author(s) 2016. This article reconsiders what Marx says about what has come to be known as the transformation problem in Chapter IX of Capital Volume III, in the light of Marx’s claim, made in Capital Volume I, that the value of a commodity is determined by the socially necessary labour-time that goes into its production. I criticise the traditional way of thinking about the transformation problem, according to which what Marx is doing in Chapter IX is considering the transformation of values into prices (‘prices of production’). I argue that Marx’s prices of production may be thought of as modified values. The discussion in Chapter IX is usually seen as a supplement to the labour theory of value. On this view, its purpose is to explain how and why the prices of commodities sometimes deviate from their values. Against this view, this article argues that Marx’s remarks in Chapter IX can be seen as an elaboration on or development of the labour theory of value. It is a refinement of the account offered in Capital Volume I, which takes into consideration what Marx had in mind there when he introduced the notion of socially necessary as opposed to actual labour-time. The article draws attention to the importance of Marx’s distinction between the individual value of a commodity (determined by actual labour-time) and its social value (determined by socially necessary labour-time). It also draws attention to the methodological difficulties that are generated by any attempt to read Marx in this way.


Burns, T. (2017). Marx, the labour theory of value and the transformation problem. Capital and Class, 41(3), 493-510.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 26, 2016
Online Publication Date Nov 30, 2016
Publication Date Oct 1, 2017
Deposit Date Jul 25, 2016
Publicly Available Date Nov 30, 2016
Journal Capital & Class
Print ISSN 0309-8168
Electronic ISSN 2041-0980
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 41
Issue 3
Pages 493-510
Keywords history of economic thought, Marx, political economy, labour theory of value, transformation problem
Public URL
Publisher URL


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