Power theory of value
Nitzan and Bichler argue that it was never possible to separate economics from politics. This separation is required to allow for neoclassical economics to base their theory on utility value and for Marxists to base the labour theory of value on quantified abstract labour. Instead of a utility theory of value (like neoclassical economics) or a labour theory of value (as found in Marxist economics), Nitzan and Bichler propose a "power theory of value". The structure of prices has little to do with the so-called "material" sphere of production and consumption. The quantification of power in prices is not the consequence of external laws—whether natural or historical—but entirely internal to society.
In capitalism, power is the governing principle as rooted in the centrality of private ownership. Private ownership is wholly and only an act of institutionalized exclusion, and institutionalized exclusion is a matter of organized power. And since the power behind private ownership is denominated in prices, Nitzan and Bichler argue, there is a need for a power theory of value. There is, however, a causality dilemma to their argument that has drawn criticism: power is based on the ability of firms to set monopoly prices yet the ability to set prices is based on firms possessing a degree of power in the market.
Capitalization, in their theory, is a measure of power, as illuminated through the present discounted value of future earnings (while also taking into account hype and risk). This formula is basic to finance which is the overarching logic of capitalism. The logic is also inherently differential as every capitalist strives to accumulate greater earnings than their competitors (but not profit maximization). Nitzan and Bichler label this process differential accumulation. In order to have a power theory of value there needs to be differential accumulation where some owners' rate of growth of capitalization is faster than the average pace of capitalization.
Capital as Power: A study of order and creorder
Conventional theories of capitalism are mired in a deep crisis: after centuries of debate, they are still unable to tell us what capital is. Liberals and Marxists both think of capital as an 'economic' entity that they count in universal units of ‘utils’ or 'abstract labour', respectively. But these units are totally fictitious. Nobody has ever been able to observe or measure them, and for a good reason: they don’t exist. Since liberalism and Marxism depend on these non-existing units, their theories hang in suspension. They cannot explain the process that matters most – the accumulation of capital.
This book offers a radical alternative. According to the authors, capital is not a narrow economic entity, but a symbolic quantification of power. It has little to do with utility or abstract labour, and it extends far beyond machines and production lines. Capital, the authors claim, represents the organized power of dominant capital groups to reshape – or creorder – their society.
Written in simple language, accessible to lay readers and experts alike, the book develops a novel political economy. It takes the reader through the history, assumptions and limitations of mainstream economics and its associated theories of politics. It examines the evolution of Marxist thinking on accumulation and the state. And it articulates an innovative theory of 'capital as power' and a new history of the 'capitalist mode of power'.
Bab·bitt | \ˈba-bət
A narrow-minded, self-satisfied conformist with an unthinking deference to official orthodoxy and institutional authority.