Imputation, Theory of

Imputation, Theory of


a bourgeois theory which holds that a quantitatively determined part of production and of its value owes its origin to labor, while capital—which can be identified with the means of production—is supposedly the source of another part. The theory aims at concealing the exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie. In reality, however, only labor (abstract labor at that) creates value and surplrs value. The means of production do not create new value; their value is transferred to the goods manufactured by virtue of the useful nature of the actual labor of workers.

The theory of imputation is based on the so-called theory of factors of production proposed by the French vulgar economist J. B. Say and elaborated by the American economist J. B. Clark in his work The Distribution of Wealth (1899; Russian translation, 1934). The partisans of the theory of imputation see its main task as elucidating which parts of wealth may be attributed (imputed) to labor and capital respectively. Bourgeois economists based the theory of imputation on the false notion that the productivity of the factors of production decreases as their quality increases. In this case, the group of workers employed last will have the smallest labor productivity and will produce the minimum, so-called marginal, product; in accordance with the theory of imputation, this marginal product will determine “labor’s share.” The “product of labor” is defined as the output created by the “marginal” worker multiplied by the total number of workers; when this product is subtracted from “the product of industry,” the difference is “imputed” to capital and called the “product of capital.” On this basis, Clark asserts that workers appropriate the entire product of their labor and are not subject to exploitation.

The basic idea of the theory of imputation can be illustrated by a numerical example. If the production of an initial group of workers—ten, for example—is 100 units, then when the next ten workers are added, the increase in production will be 90 units; the addition of still another ten workers will give an increase in production of 80 units. In this case, the marginal productivity of a worker will be 8 units (80 ÷ 10). According to Clark, 240 units (8 × 30) of the 270 units of production can be imputed to labor, while the difference between the total product and the “product of labor” (that is, 270 − 240 = 30 units) should be “imputed” to capital and considered the “product of capital.”

Both the reasoning and the conclusions of the theory of imputation are unsound. The theory is built on a distortion of the laws determining the correlation of the material and personal elements of production—primarily the law of the increase of the organic structure of capital. In accordance with these laws, the progress of productive forces is expressed in the increasing quantity of the means of production (in terms of value and, even more, in kind) per worker; this is accompanied by an increase, not a decline, in the productivity of labor. Like the theory of the declining fertility of the soil, the conception of the declining productivity of the factors of production is based on abstraction from technical progress. The very idea of “marginal productivity” and “marginal product of labor” turn out to be an apologetic fiction aimed at justifying capitalist profits and the capitalist system as a whole. In reality, the entire value of goods is created by labor alone and can be “imputed” only to labor; capital does not create value. In addition, workers receive far less than the entire value they create; at best, they receive, in the form of wages, the equivalent of the value of their labor power, whereas the other part of the value created by them—the surplus value—is extracted from them without any equivalent and is appropriated by the bourgeoisie. Thus, the separation of the “product of labor” from the alleged “product of capital” is devoid of economic sense.

The theory of imputation is widespread in various forms in contemporary bourgeois political economy.


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, chs. 4-5.
Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 3, ch. 48. Ibid., vol. 25, part 2.
Marx, K. “Teorii pribavochnoi stoimosti” (vol. 4 of Kapital). Ibid., vol. 26, part 3, pp. 471-550; appendix, pars. 1-5.
Clark, J. B. Raspredelenie bogatstva. Moscow-Leningrad, 1934. Chapter 21. (Translated from English.)
Samuelson, P. Ekonomika. Moscow, 1964. Chapter 26. (Translated from English.)
Kritika burzhuaznykh ekonomicheskikh teorii. Edited by M. N. Ryndina. Moscow, 1960. Pages 89-98.
Nikitin, S. M. Teorii stoimosti i ikh evoliutsiia. [Moscow, 1970]. Chapter 6.