An Incontestable Argument for the Law of Value

June 2022 Forums General discussion An Incontestable Argument for the Law of Value

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  • #229042
    Prakash RP
    Participant

    It’s the fact that we know of nothing valuable that happens to have no labour embedded in it that appears an incontestable argument for the law of value discovered by Marx.
    Capital, land, and labour are the three basic inputs for the production of commodities in the capitalist mode of production. Capital is the accumulation of fruits of labour, precisely, surplus-labour, that labourers have to perform gratis for the capitalist class. Land (under private & public ownership) also owes its value to labour since a lot of funds had to be parted with to gain the ownership of the parcel of land and to protect it from illegal occupiers. Nevertheless, neither capital nor land is labour that happens to be the use-value of a special commodity called ‘ labour-power ‘, a discovery by Marx, which possesses the unparalleled capacity to create more value than its own value. All commodities produced in the capitalist mode of production have got value and are the product of labour. Other sorts of commodities created or collected by self-employed artisans, farmers, pearl divers, etc have also got some labour embodied in them.
    I make a distinction between value and market-value. No value means no market-value, hence no market-price. Things without value are not bought or sold in a market. Nevertheless, there are some things, ‘ such as conscience, honour, ‘ and ‘ uncultivated land ‘, which marx viewed as non-commodities that may have price ( Marx viewed such prices as ‘ imaginary ‘ ) and be bought and sold the same way as commodities are, although they possess no value ( i.e., ‘ no human labour has been incorporated in [them] ‘ ). ( Karl Marx. Capital Volume One , chapter three, section 1 ; para 20 )
    If Marx is right to view these things as things without value, they do not make good examples meant to disprove my thesis that we know of nothing valuable that does not contain some labour. Nevertheless, I have strong reservations about whether Marx’s view of these things is correct. I’ve already shown that a parcel of land under private or public ownership not only possesses value but gains in value with the passage of time, and with the economic development of its surrounding area. As regards honour and reputation, I’d say such stuff cannot be valueless because a lot of labour over a long time has to be spent by you before deserving recognition as an honorable or a reputable figure at home or abroad. It really needs a medic, an engineer, a lawyer or a researcher to do a good deal of hard work over a good many years in order to earn a national or an international reputation, doesn’t it ? On similar grounds, the reputation of a company’s brand name is a product of a lot of labour of the company’s ordinary workers and managerial staff, as I see it. As regards the stuff called ‘ conscience ‘, I must say a lifeless body cannot have any such a thing as ‘ conscience ‘. Only a conscious man can have ‘ conscience ‘. I’m not sure whether it’s right to view it as something valueless. The selling of ‘ conscience ‘ seems to mean acts like treachery or breach of faith for some selfish gain which are equivalent to illicit acts like smuggling, trafficking in drugs and dames or providing covert services aimed at illegal foeticide. Such illicit, covert acts are like trading in some illicit commodities, to my way of thinking.

    The purpose behind posting it here is to invite critical comments from learned SPGB members.

    #229049
    ALB
    Keymaster

    Whether he was right or wrong, Marx undoubtedly held the view that there were some things that had a price but not “value” in the sense of being the product of socially necessary labour. You mention some of them such as uncultivated land, honour, conscience, etc.

    Uncultivated land is clearly not the product of any labour but can still have a price. Once it has been cultivated then it does contain an element of labour. Even so, the price of land doesn’t have to bear any relation to this. The price of land is a capitalisation of the rent it can bring in and this depends on its location and the uses to which this allows it to be put. It does not reflect any socially necessary labour that might also have been incorporated in it.

    The value of a commodity, according to Marx, is a reflection not so much of the amount of socially necessary labour expended to produce it from start to finish as the amount that has to be expended to reproduce it. This means that if something cannot be reproduced then the labour theory value does not explain its price. Its price depends on the demand for it. Land is in this position.

    There are other things that are also in this position, even though they are the product of labour. Works of art would be a typical example but also performing talents such as Messi and film stars. Because they cannot be reproduced the labour theory of value does not apply to them.

    Louis Boudin has explained this well in his The Theoretical System of Karl Marx:

    “This group includes all those things which, although produced by labour, are essentially the product of some higher natural gift or power, and are, therefore, irreproducible by mere labour. This includes all works of art and the like. Not being the subject of production or reproduction by labour they are, naturally not subject to the laws of value”.

    So your defence of Marx’s Labour Theory of Value on the grounds that everything that has a price is in fact a product of some labour is unnecessary. It is not merely being the product of some labour that gives something a price reflecting the amount of socially necessary labour expended to produce it. The Labour Theory of Value only applies to “commodities” in the sense of something produced for sale that can be reproduced. Products of labour such as works of art or the exercise of sporting or acting skills are not commodities in this strict sense.

    #229050
    DJP
    Participant

    It’s the fact that we know of nothing valuable that happens to have no labour embedded in it that appears an incontestable argument for the law of value discovered by Marx.

    This was not Marx’s argument. You seem to be confused about what Marx means by “value”. Plenty of things that we could not live without, and which are therefore highly valuable, are definitely not a product of human labour, air and sunlight for example.

    Marx doesn’t argue that the “value” of an individual commodity = it’s “price” (not even in the long run), in fact it’s important for his theory that they do not. For Marx the “value” and “price” of a commodity are not the same thing. We cannot see the “value” of a commodity directly, only indirectly through it’s price. But other things influence price other than value and things that are not commodities can have prices too.

    #229312
    Prakash RP
    Participant

    I’m sure that you’ve conflated ‘“value”’ with the use-value. By ‘“value”’, Marx meant the exchange-value alone which is fundamentally different from the use-value. By ‘valuable’, I meant something in possession of some ‘“value”’.
    The ‘Plenty of things’ you consider ‘highly valuable’ although they’re ‘definitely not a product of human labour’ are, precisely, highly useful. The expression ‘highly valuable’ is an instance of mistaken diction.
    Marx didn’t say the value and price of a commodity are ‘the same thing’, nor did I.

    #229314
    ALB
    Keymaster

    If you want a really detailed discussion of the various meanings and etymology of the word “value” or, rather, of its equivalent in German Wert the thing to read is the notes Marx wrote in 1881 on a book by a man called Adolph Wagner:

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/01/wagner.htm

    Here is an example:

    “What annoys (shocks) Mr. Wagner about my presentation, though, is that I will not do him the favour of complying with the patriotic German professorial “striving” for confusing use-value with value. (…). He says:

    “In harmony with the view of Rodbertus and also of Schäffle I place the use-value character of all value in the fore, and emphasise the assessment of use-value all the more, since the assessment of exchange-value is simply not applicable to many of the most important economic goods,”

    The only thing which clearly lies at the bottom of the German stupidity is the fact that linguistically the words value [Wert] or worth [Würde] were first applied to the useful things themselves, which existed for a long time, even as “products of labour,” before becoming commodities. (…)

    As the commodity is bought by the purchaser not because it has value but because it is a “use-value,” and is used for definite purposes, it goes without saying that 1. use-values are “assessed,” i.e. their quality is investigated (just as their quantity is weighed, measured, etc.); 2. if different sorts of commodities can be substituted for one another for the same use, one or the other will be given preference, etc., etc.

    In Gothic there is only one word for Wert and Würde: vairths, τιμη, τιμαω, assess, i.e. evaluate; to determine the price or value, to rate; metaphorically: to appreciate, esteem, honour, distinguish. (…)

    Wert and Würde [value and worth] are thus closely related in both etymology and meaning. What conceals the fact is the inorganic (incorrect) inflexion of Wert which has become customary in Modern High German: Werth, Werthes instead of Werdes, since Gothic th corresponds to High German d, not th = t, and this is indeed still the case in Middle High German (wert, gen. Werdes, loc. cit.). According to the rule in Middle High German, d at the end of a word became t, giving wert instead of werd, but genitive Werdes.

    But all this has as much or as little to do with the economic category “value” as with the chemical valency of the chemical elements (atomicity) or with the chemical equivalents or equal values (combining weights of the chemical elements).

    Furthermore it should be noted that — even in this linguistic connection — if it follows automatically, as if by the nature of the thing, from the original identity of Würde and Wert that this word also referred to things, products of labour in their natural form — it was later directly applied unchanged to prices, i.e. value in its developed value-form, i.e. exchange-value, which has so little to do with the matter that the same word continued to be used for worth in general, for honorary offices, etc. Thus, linguistically speaking, there is no distinction here between use-value and value.“

    Good luck ! In English this sort of discussion is more complicated as the meaning and etymology of two different words are involved — “value” and “worth”. Actually three different words as the word “commodity” is also linked linguistically with the idea of being useful . . .

    #229315
    LBird
    Participant

    Value cannot be measured. It’s a social relationship, that can be estimated by society, through the mechanism of a democratic vote.
    Price can be measured. It’s an individual opinion, related to an individual’s estimation of valuable-to-them.
    Bourgeois science has mathematised nature and physics, in its drive to ‘measure’ so-called ‘objective reality’, which is a by-product of capitalist valuation and money.
    Once money and measurement are taken out of any social equation, we are left with ‘value’ being determined, not by ‘price’, but by us. That’s why we can democratically overthrow ‘value’, and determine for ourselves what is ‘valuable-to-us’.
    ‘Price’ and ‘matter’ are the stuff of individuals, not of democratic producers, of socialists.

    #229321
    ALB
    Keymaster

    Marx also goes into the semantics of the word “value” in a footnote in the first few pages of Capital:

    “‘The natural worth of anything consists in its fitness to supply the necessities, or serve the conveniencies of human life.’ (John Locke, “Some Considerations on the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest, 1691,” in Works Edit. Lond., 1777, Vol. II., p. 28.) In English writers of the 17th century we frequently find ‘worth’ in the sense of value in use, and ‘value’ in the sense of exchange value. This is quite in accordance with the spirit of a language that likes to use a Teutonic word for the actual thing, and a Romance word for its reflexion.”

    Since then of course “worth” has come to be used to mean “value for money” not how useful something is.

    #229390
    Prakash RP
    Participant

    ‘Uncultivated land is clearly not the product of any labour …’
    On which grounds? A privately-owned plot (uncultivated) in a township was purchased for significant amount of hard-earned money (fruit of a significant quantity of hard labour). Even if it’s inherited by someone, it can’t be valueless just as a capitalist’s property that doesn’t contain an iota of the capitalist’s labour or a prize won in a lottery is not valueless, as I see it.

    ‘It does not reflect any socially necessary labour that might also have been incorporated in it.’
    As I see it, if ‘It’ means the price of the plot, ‘It’ certainly reflects the quantity of the socially necessary labour incorporated in it. Nevertheless, its market-price that must correspond to its demand is usually unlikely to reflect the quantity of the socially necessary labour incorporated in it.

    ‘Its price depends on the demand for it. Land is in this position.’
    I’d like to replace the term ‘price’ with the term market-price in this quote.

    ‘Works of art would be a typical example’.
    I think if we take cognisance of the distinction between price and market-price, the problem is solved.

    ‘”Not being the subject of production or reproduction by labour they are, naturally not subject to the laws of value”.’
    I can’t see any good reason why a useful product of labour is not subject to the laws of value. As labour is the source of value, the value of a useful product of labour need not depend on the condition of ‘”reproduction by labour”‘, need it?

    Talents are of numerous kinds. An artist, a sports legend, an actor, a writer, a movie maker, an environment activist, a human-rights activist, a statesman, a President like Volodymyr Zelensky, a scientist, a good teacher, an expert surgeon, etc. are all talented people. You cannot claim an artist of extraordinary skill possesses more talent than a movie maker or an inventor of a life-saving therapy such as the COVID-19 vaccine. As a maths teacher or a writer is unable to perform like Lionel Messi, the latter is also unable to teach maths or produce a good piece of writing.

    ‘works of art or the exercise of sporting or acting skills are not commodities in this strict sense.’
    I cannot see any good reason why a painting, Lionel Messi’s performance, a movie, etc., things produced for selling and bought & sold like commodities, do not deserve to be reckoned commodities.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by Prakash RP. Reason: An error was detected
    • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by Prakash RP.
    #229400
    ALB
    Keymaster

    Your basic thesis seems to be that everything that has a price will be a product of labour and that this demonstrates the validity of Marx’s labour theory of value.

    The trouble is that Marx’s theory is a theory about the value of “commodities”, defined as reproducible objects of use produced for sale. His thesis is that (if there was not production for profit) the value of a commodity would be determined by the amount of labour required on average to produce it from start to finish. As, with increasing productivity, the amount of labour required to produce a particular commodity changes (decreases) so would its value, and this would apply to any produced and unsold before the change in value. So the value of a commodity is the amount of labour required on average to reproduce it.

    This is why the labour theory of value only applies to useful things produced for sale that can be reproduced. It does not apply to a product of labour, even one produced for sale, that cannot be reproduced, e.g. a painting, a sculpture or other work of art. The price of such a one-off product of labour does not depend on the amount of labour required to produce it. As you say, it depends on the
    market demand for the product, its market price. It has no “value” in the sense of the labour theory of value.

    Some things that are not the product of labour can also have a market price. Marx mentions honour, conscience, etc. Another is “uncultivated land” in the sense of land that has not been transformed by human labour (more likely to be found in the wilderness or on the frontier of human habitation than in the centre of a town). The price even of land that has been transformed by labour does not reflect just that. It is more like a work of art in that it cannot be reproduced. Its place is where it is and its price therefore depends on the market demand for it for the uses to which it can be put.

    Nobody is claiming that “an artist of extraordinary skill possesses more talent than a movie maker or an inventor of a life-saving therapy such as the COVID-19 vaccine.” The only claim is that the price individuals can claim for their exceptional ability depends on the market demand for it. It is not, as you point out, a measure of their usefulness to society. It might in fact reflect the distorted priorities of society.

    You can call anything that is bought and sold a “commodity” if you like, but the ironic result of this is that you end up with the bourgeois theory that the price of everything sold depends on the market demand for it since this is the one thing they all have in common.

    #229816
    Prakash RP
    Participant

    My point is No value means No price, hence No market-price. Your main objection to it seems to be your claim that it supports ‘the bourgeois theory that the price of everything sold depends on the market demand for it since this is the one thing they all have in common.’ I cannot see eye to eye with you on this point. If the bourgeoisie fail or pretend to fail to see that ‘the one thing they all have in common’ is essentially human labour, it’s not the fault of my thesis.

    The condition of reproducibility makes things complicated unnecessarily, as I see it. So many things such as pearls, natural diamond, gold, silver, bee wax, natural honey, apples, mangos, food grain, vegetables, water in bottles, oxygen in cylinders, poultry eggs, fishes, etc., etc. are bought & sold as commodities which we can neither produce nor reproduce.
    Undiscovered pearls inside shells of uncaught oysters in seas are valueless. Nevertheless, it’s the pearl diver’s labour expended to discover and collect a pearl ball that makes it valuable. Similarly, it’s the human labour expended to keep an orchard, a poultry farm, etc. or catch fishes from seas that makes apples, mangos, poultry eggs, fishes, etc. valuable and thus makes them turn commodities. I cannot see what’s wrong with it.

    #229824
    DJP
    Participant

    Are you trying to understand Marx’s theory in Capital or are you trying to put forward a theory of your own?

    Either way, you seem to be tripping yourself up by conflating “valuable” with “value”. “Value” in Marx’s sense relates to the amount of social necessary average labour time that it takes to produce a commodity. In Marx’s theory a commodity is not *just* a product of human labour. It’s a useful thing, produced by labour, that is produced for the purpose of exchange. Not everything that can be sold is a commodity – think about works of art, uncultivated land, honour etc – these things have a price but they do not have ‘value’ (in Marx’s sense) since they are not commodities.

    #229830
    Prakash RP
    Participant

    To the best of my knowledge & belief, I’m trying to understand and prove the truth of the law of value discovered by Marx. And I think in order to be true, this law has to be premised, like a scientific theory, on incontestable logic, Not on, as a dogma is, any mere remarks by or flawed views held by any persons whoever they might be.

    I don’t think I’ve conflated ‘“valuable” with “value”’. Would like to know what led you to think so.

    To the best of my knowledge & belief, I don’t think I ever said anything to the effect that ‘in Marx’s theory a commodity is’ something that’s ‘*just* a product of human labour’, Not ‘a useful thing, produced by labour, that is produced for the purpose of exchange.’

    Would like to know your logic for your refusal to consider ‘works of art’ to be commodities.

    I’ve already dealt with things like ‘uncultivated land, honour etc’.

    #229832
    Prakash RP
    Participant

    I do not contradict the view that a commodity is ‘a useful thing, produced by labour, that is produced for the purpose of exchange.’
    Nevertheless, I’d like to add that I think there’s No good reason for ‘a useful thing’ to need depend on the producer’s will to exchange it in order to be a commodity.

    Producers (wage workers) in a factory do not produce useful things ‘for the purpose of exchange[ing]’ them really. Still, the useful things they produce are all commodities. There’s No good reason for considering them non-commodities.
    Evidently, if, to be a commodity, ‘a useful thing’ has to be dependent on its producer’s intention to exchange it for something else, it’d be impossible to find a commodity in mountainous heaps of industrial products under capitalism, I’m afraid to say.

    #229833
    ALB
    Keymaster

    You say: “So many things such as pearls, natural diamond, gold, silver, bee wax, natural honey, apples, mangos, food grain, vegetables, water in bottles, oxygen in cylinders, poultry eggs, fishes, etc., etc. are bought & sold as commodities which we can neither produce nor reproduce.”

    But then go on to say how they can be — though humans working. Production is not humans creating something new out of nothing. It is humans transforming materials that originally came from (the rest of) nature into something useful for them.

    The examples you give are mainly of materials directly extracted from nature, but all the materials humans work on will ultimately have come from nature. It is just that the things you instance can be taken directly from nature. As you point out, this does involve work. And that work can be done again as long as these things can be found in nature, ie they are reproducible.

    Marx points this out in the opening chapter of Capital:

    “The use values, coat, linen, &c., i.e., the bodies of commodities, are combinations of two elements – matter and labour. If we take away the useful labour expended upon them, a material substratum is always left, which is furnished by Nature without the help of man. The latter can work only as Nature does, that is by changing the form of matter.[13] Nay more, in this work of changing the form he is constantly helped by natural forces. We see, then, that labour is not the only source of material wealth, of use values produced by labour. As William Petty puts it, labour is its father and the earth its mother”.

    In footnote 13 he expands on this by quoting an 18th century Italian writer who made the same point:

    [“All the phenomena of the universe, whether produced by the hand of man or through the universal laws of physics, are not actual new creations, but merely a modification of matter. Joining together and separating are the only elements which the human mind always finds on analysing the concept of reproduction; and it is just the same with the reproduction of value” (value in use, although Verri in this passage of his controversy with the Physiocrats is not himself quite certain of the kind of value he is speaking of) “and of wealth, when earth, air and water in the fields are transformed into corn, or when the hand of man transforms the secretions of an insect into silk, or some pieces of metal are arranged to make the mechanism of a watch.”] – Pietro Verri, “Meditazioni sulla Economia Politica” [first printed in 1773]

    #229841
    DJP
    Participant

    Prakash wrote: “I make a distinction between value and market-value. No value means no market-value, hence no market-price.”

    Aren’t you actually saying here that “value” and price (is this what you mean by market-value?) are the same thing, not different? How do you see what you call “value”, “market-value” and “price” as being different?

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