[OPE-L:4758] more on money

From: Rakesh Narpat Bhandari (rakeshb@Stanford.EDU)
Date: Wed Jan 10 2001 - 21:07:13 EST

	In my previous post, I reprised Marx's argument that the 
properties of the gold commodity as money cannot be explained, to use 
Aristotelian terms, by the material substance (causa materialis) of 
gold but rather by its form (causa formalis) as the universal 
equivalent in the exchange relation. It would indeed be as misleading 
to explain certain attributes of gold in terms of its material 
substance as it would be to account for the most striking properties 
of an exquisite statue in terms of its metallic content, rather than 
its form .  The puzzling attributes of gold obtain by the imposition 
of the specific form of the universal equivalent on the determinate 
substance of abstract labor. Marx's meta-science then seems to assume 
at least at the semantic level the possibility of Aristotelian formal 
causality; in other words, causality is not reduced to event 
generation by the transfer of  energy from one entity to another : 
"The general relative form of value imposes the character of 
universal equivalent on the linen, which is the commodity excluded, 
from the whole world of commodities." (I, 159)  Marx has replaced 
gold with linen as a reductio ad absurdum criticism of the common 
sense notion that the dazzling properties of money, viz., its 
monopoly over direct exchangeability, derive from the metallic nature 
of the money commodity rather than the form of the universal 

If I state that coats or boots stand in a relation to linen because 
the latter is the universal incarnation of abstract human labour, the 
absurdity of the statement is self-evident. Nevertheless, when the 
producers of coats and boots bring these commodities into a relation 
with linen, or with gold or silver (and this makes no difference 
here), as the universal equivalent, the relation between their own 
private labour and the collective labour of society appears to them 
in exactly this absurd form. (I,169)

	But in this critique of the fetishism of money, Marx has 
compromised the orthodox labor theory of value.  Marx implies here 
after all that characteristic of social labor in capitalism, as Paul 
Mattick, Jr., has put it, is that the transformation of quantities of 
various forms of concrete labor into homogeneous, abstract labor or 
value (as Marx defined it) occurs precisely through market exchange. 
Though the work of production is in fact social labor, it is 
exercised under the control and to account of individual enterprises; 
the social character of production is thus invisible until the 
products are sold. "Only then can the piece of work in social 
production be measured-for only then does it have such a place." 
Value as commodified substance indeed goes through a change in 
ex-change. Value does not persist unchanged in ex-change; the value 
substance is not what it is in change that does not itself change. 
Rather the commodity only pupates into the value substance in the 
successful act of a monetary transaction :

Gold, as we saw, became ideal money, or a measure of value, because 
all commodities measured their values in it, and thus made it the 
imaginary opposite of their natural shape as objects of utility, 
hence the shape of their value. It became real money because the 
commodities, through their complete alienation, suffered a 
divestiture or transformation of their real shapes as objects of 
utility, thus making it the real embodiment of their values. When 
they thus assume the shape of value, commodities strip off every 
trace of their natural and original use-value, of the  particular 
kind of useful labour to which they owe their creation, in order to 
pupate into the homogeneous social materialization of 
undifferentiated human labour. (I, 204)

	In short, at what point do commodities acquire value?  In A 
Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Marx did not evade 
the difficulty:

But the different kinds of individual labour represented in these 
particular use values, in fact, becomeŠsocial labour only by being 
actually ex-changed for one anotherŠSocial labour-time exists in 
these commodities in a latent state, so to speak, and becomes evident 
only in the course of their ex-change. The point of departure is not 
the labour of individuals considered as social labour, but on the 
contrary the particular kinds of labour of private individuals, i.e., 
labour which proves that it is universal social labour only by 
supersession of its original character in the exchange process. 
Universal social labour is consequently not a ready made 
prerequisite, but an emerging result. Thus a new difficulty arises: 
on the one hand, commodities must enter the exchange process as 
materialized universal human labor, on the other hand, the labour 
time of individuals becomes materialized universal human labour time 
only as the result of the exchange process. 

	In trying to understand how the propensity of a quantum 
system was drawn out in different ways according to how it was 
surrounded by measuring devices,  Werner Heisenberg was led to think 
of the system's potential as a "quantitative version of the old idea 
of 'potentia' in Aristotelian philosophy. It introduced something 
standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual 
event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between 
possibility and reality."  For Marx, value also seems to exist in 
potentia; money measurement is thus more than the passive 
ascertainment of a pre-existing property but rather the production of 
a datum (value) through the active involvement of measurer and thing 
measured. In other words, value seems to describe a system--the thing 
being measured and the measurement being made--rather than being an 
independent description of the thing being measured.

	No less than measurement in quantum mechanics, money 
measurement seems to invert common sense: while the commodity only 
possesses the quality of having value after that quality has been 
quantitatively measured in a successful exchange, we would find it 
absurd that if only after a quantitative measurement of a thing's 
quality ("it's eleven feet") can we say that it in fact possesses the 
quality ("it has extension").  It is as if objects do not even "have" 
extension until they are forced to adopt a particular value through a 
measurement.*** For Heisenberg and Marx quantum potential (or quantum 
superposition) and value, respectively, are  kind of shimmering 
mirages of dream-like reality, waiting to be awakened by the magical 
Midas touch of measurement. While Heisenberg with his revived 
Aristotelian potenia may have been trying to save an underlying 
reality when no such thing may indeed exist, Marx seems to have 
located the actualization of commodity value in the act of monetary 
measurement itself, not in expended labor in the hidden abode of 
production, and thus to have weakened the Marxist dogma that the 
expenditure of labor alone is necessary and sufficient for the 
creation of value.


***Simmel makes this very argument however:

the logical difficulty that two things can only be of equal value if 
each of them has a value of its own seems to be illustrated by the 
analogy that two lines can be equally long if each of them has a 
definite length. But strictly speaking a line gains the quality of 
length only by comparison with others. For its length is determined 
not by itself--since it is not simply 'long'--but by another line 
against which it is measured: and the same service is performed for 
the other line, although the result of this act of measurement does 
not depend upon theis act of comparison but upon each line as it 
exists independently of each other. Let us recall the category that 
embrace the objective value judgement, which I termed metaphysical: 
from the relationship between us and objects develops the imperative 
to pass a certain judgement, the content of which, however, does not 
reside in the things themselves. the same is true in judging length; 
the objects themselves require that we judge them, but the quality of 
length is not given by the objects and can only be realized by an act 
within ourselves. We are not aware of this fact that length is only 
established in the process of comparison and is not inherent in the 
individual object on which length depends, because we have abstracted 
from particular relative lengths the general concept of length--which 
excludes the definiteness without which general length does not 
exist. In projecting this concept onto objects we assume that things 
must have length before it can be determined individually by 
comparison. (Philosophy of Money, p.86)

It is difficult however not to think that the line has some 
pre-existing property (extension?) to which we then *attribute* 
length in measurement; the *attribute* of length is a conceptual 
representation of the line's *property* of extension. The difficulty 
with value, as with quantum superposition, is that there seems to be 
no pre-existing property of which measurement yields a conceptual 
representation. The property/attribute distinction I suggest however 
may not be tenable, as has been suggested to me by Mattick, Jr. The 
fact of the matter is that few philosopher scientists seem to find it 
tenable (Bunge and Lewontin are exceptions).

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