Robert Bryer: Accounting for Value in Marx's Capital: The Invisible Hand.

Author:Van Onzen, Fabian
Position:Book review
 
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Robert Bryer

Accounting for Value in Marx's Capital: The Invisible Hand, New York: Lexington Books, 2017; 332 pp.: ISBN 1498536069, 75 [pounds sterling] (hbk)

Most of us who are Marxists or left-wing social theorists have probably not taken a theoretical interest in accounting. Accounting is often perceived as a dry discipline that is concerned solely with the quantitative aspects of economics. In Accounting for Value in Marx's Capital, Rob Bryer dispels this myth and shows that accounting is crucial to understanding capitalism. A few writers prior to him have noticed this, notably Eve Chiapello and Andrew Kliman, but Bryer is the only Marxist theorist to devote a whole book to accounting. He shows that Marx himself was very interested in accounting, which is manifested in his correspondence with Engels. At the time of their correspondence, Engels was managing his father's textile business in Manchester. Bryer examines their letters, in which Marx asks Engels to provide him with information on how capitalists account for capital used in production, the turnover of capital and profit. An interest in accounting is also clear in Marx's investigation of Quesnay's Tableau in the second volume of Capital. Bryer demonstrates how Marx attempted to account for social reproduction using the accounting method of double-entry bookkeeping, which Bryer reconstructs using contemporary business language. His main conclusion is that Marx's theory of value was designed to disclose the underlying theoretical assumptions in accounting practices. Because of this, Marx himself avoids the language of accounting and constructs his own vocabulary that brings out the hidden structure used by accountants. Accounting practices are the phenomenal forms assumed by social relations of capitalist production. It is in capitalist accounts that profit first appears, and accountants are used to ensure a good rate of profit.

Bryer demonstrates that Marx's notion of abstract labour is implicitly assumed by accountants with the concept of'target cost' in replacement cost accounting. Managers hold workers accountable to produce commodities according to their target cost, which is different from the sale of the commodity. If the commodity is produced above the 'target cost' then it contains more labour than is socially necessary, and accountants record this as a loss. Accountants assume the value-form in their accounts as something distinct from prices realised through the sale...

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