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Equivalence in Exchange


THE ERROR OF REGARDING the quantities of goods in an exchange as equivalents was made as early as Aristotle, who says: “To have more than one’s own is called gaining and to have less than one’s original share is called losing, e.g., in buying and selling . . . but when they get neither more nor less but just what belongs to themselves, they say that they have their own and that they neither lose nor gain.” (Ethica Nicomachea, v. 5. 1132b, 13–18.) Continuing, he says: “If, then, first there is proportionate equality of goods, and then reciprocal action takes place, the result we mention will be effected. And this proportion will not be effected unless the goods are somehow equal.” (Ibid., 1133a, 10–26.) A similar view is expressed by Geminiano Montanari (Della moneta, in Scittori classici Italiani di economia politica, Milano, 1803–5, III, 119f.). François Quesnay (Dialogue sur les travaux des artisans, reprinted in E. Daire (ed.), Physiocrates, Paris, 1846, p. 196) says that “le commerce n’est qu’un échange de valeur pour valeur égale” See also A.R.J. Turgot, Réflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses, reprinted in Oeuvres de Turgot, ed. by G. Schelle, Paris, 1913–23, II, 555; G.F. Le Trosne, De l’intérêt social, Paris, 1777, p. 33; Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Modern Library Edition, New York, 1937, p. 33; David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, ed. by E.C.K. Gonner, London, 1891, p. 11; and J.B. Say, Cours complet d’économie politique pratique, Paris, 1840, I, 303ff.

     As early as 1776, we find E.B. de Condillac opposing this view, although his reasons were one-sided (Le commerce et le gouvernement, reprinted in E. Daire (ed.), Mélanges d’économie politique, Paris, 1847 , I, 267). The objections that Say advances against Condillac (Say, op. cit., pp. 305–306) rest on a confusion between use value, which Condillac has in mind (Condillac, op. cit., p. 250), and exchange value in the sense of an equivalence between goods, which Say has in mind. The confusion seems to be due, however, to an improper use of the word “valeur” on the part of Condillac. Theodor Bernhardi has presented a penetrating criticism of English price theories (Versuch einer Kritik der Gründe die für grosses und kleines Grundeigenthum angeführt werden, St. Petersburg, 1849, pp. 67–236). Recently, the earlier price theories have been criticized exhaustively by H. Roesler (“Zur Theorie des Preises,” Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik, XII [1869], 81–138) and Johann Komorzynski (“Ist auf Grundlage den bisherigen wissenschaftlichen Forschung die Bestimmung den natürlichen Höhe der Güterpreise moglich?,” Zeitschrift für die gesammte Staatswissenschaft, XXV [1869], 189–238). (See also Karl Knies, “Die nationalökonomische Lehre vom Werth,” Zeitschrift für die gesammte Staatswissenschaft, XI [1855], 467.)

[1]To Chapter V See note 1 of Chapter V.—TR

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