The Trinity Formula: Interaction of Capital and Values

Karl Marx introduces the trinity formula to us near the end of the work. One interpretation of the trinity formula is that it’s a description of how capital (the collective value of the means of production), land (arable land is the example), and labor (productive activity by human beings) interact with one another. He reduces these three concepts to values and then shows what happens when you change them. Capital is not a thing, but rather a definite social production relation, belonging to a definite historical formation of society, which is manifested in a thing and lends this thing a specific social character. Capital pumps the surplus-labor, which is represented by surplus-value and surplus-product, directly out of the laborers. In this sense, it may be regarded as the producer of surplus-value. Marx says that landed property has nothing to do with the actual process of production. He gives the following: “a certain quantity of labor produces a certain product—in accordance with the natural fertility of the soil.” In other words, fertility does not affect labor or capital. If soil is more fertile than average, that means a larger quantity of products is produced for the same amount of value. Marx says that labor is “a mere ghost — “the” Labor, which is no more than an abstraction and taken by itself does not exist at all”. Labor becomes a real thing when someone performs it and becomes a laborer. Marx, argues that the laborer is not receiving personally all the fruit of his labor under capitalism. In the trinity formula capital appears to the capitalist, land to the landlord, and labor-power, or labor to the laborer, as three different sources of their specific revenues, namely, profit, ground-rent and wages.

Karl Marx recognizes the profit that owners make as necessary in a dynamic economy but desires that it go to society rather than the owner. Marx writes at great length of the exploitation of labor and the laboring man’s right to the profits resulting to the owner from this labor. Marx believes that the surplus value or profits that are generated, should not be all inherited by the owner or capitalist but rather they should be divided amongst the laborers who work to produce that surplus. Marx says that capital pumps the surplus-labor, which is represented by surplus-value and surplus-product, directly out of the laborers. In this sense, it may be regarded as the producer of surplus-value. Just as the operating capitalist pumps surplus-labor, and thereby surplus value and surplus-product in the form of profit, out of the laborer, so the landlord in turn pumps a portion of this surplus-value, or surplus-product, out of the capitalist in the form of rent. For owners it is only their ownership that is their means of access to the wealth produced by workers under capitalistic direction, it is implied that capital and land ownership are valid in this society as fair production factors whose operation is supposed to have produced parts of the value products, but which is really only distributed in the capitalist product.

While the idea of distributing profit amongst the laborers seems like a good idea, it also comes with negatives. Marx denies the right to private ownership of property. Instead, he says there should be only public or communal ownership of property. Capitalism, he contends, with its belief in pri­vate property and the resulting profits, rents, and interest from this ownership is unjust and an exploitation. Karl Marx and the socialists con­tend that society must own all property and use it for the benefit of all. The profits from land, factories, and business gen­erally ought to go to society and not to the private owner of the means of production. These profits, Marx contends, are a result of seizing the “surplus value” of the laborer. Profits are condemned by social­ists as immoral. But without profits there can be no growing economy. Profits are vital to any economy, socialistic or capitalistic. Labor has value as it produces products that satisfy the con­sumer, and hence in a free capi­talist economy it is the consumer ultimately who determines the wage of the laborer and what is to be produced.

In this section of the book Marx continues to defend the laborer and portrays the capitalist as being the bad guy who’s only reason for business is to make profit by exploiting the laborer. Marx’s argument is not as convincing as it could be, throughout the section he talks about who makes profit, and who benefits from profit, no other factors such as working conditions or what is done with those profits is discussed. While one could argue that the owner doesn’t need all the surplus profits, one must also take into the consideration that an owner is highly educated and one who has worked hard to get to where they are. An owner has the right to reap the benefits of his success and do with it as he pleases. The only moral restriction involved is the prohibi­tion for a capitalist to harm the person involved or laborer involved.