From: Hans Ehrbar (ehrbar@ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Sat May 10 2003 - 16:19:37 EDT
Here is an amendment to Howard's post and also an answer to Jerry. I think it is more or less just a reformulation of what Howard meant (do you agree, Howard?) Let us start with the observation that value has causal powers. For instance, it expands itself, it is an automatic agent ("automatisches Subjekt") as Marx says in chapter 4 of Capital. Now in order to have causal powers it must be something material, it cannot just be in our minds. It also cannot be a mere metaphor. This material underpinning of value's causal powers is that value is the congelation of human labor-power. Someone has worked, has spent hours of labor producing a certain use-value. However there are many societies in which people work very hard without producing value. Here Howard's conditions come in: > What is the causal structure that defines value as a social relation? The > social relation that generates the exchange of the products of labor as > values is the relation of autonomous producers producing products (useless > to them) independently for private exchange. Any social formation where > such structures exist will tend to generate relations of value; any where > they don't, won't. If people produce under these conditions then they produce value because > Given that social relation, producers are driven to > market to obtain by means of exchange the objects they need for their own > reproduction -- the structure is causally efficacious. Perhaps there is a small difference between my interpretation and Howard's. Howard says that the "structure", by which he means "the relation of autonomous producers producing products (useless to them) independently for private exchange" is causally efficacious because it drives people to exchange their products. I agree with Howard that the above structure is causally efficacious, but I would put an extra step in there: its effect is to make abstract labor causally efficacious; this structure is the precondition for abstract labor to produce value. And this value itself is causally efficacious. In other words, if one spends one's labor-power under the above conditions, i.e., if one privately produces things which one does not need oneself but which are intended to be part of a very interdepent social division of labor of many specialized producers for the market, then one has set in motion two powerful causal chains: (a) on the one hand, this labor has not yet satisfied your own needs. You are compelled to bring this product to market and sell it so that you can buy things you yourself need, otherwise you will starve. (And others in the market will indeed accept the product of your labor in exchange for the product of their labor.) (b) on the other hand, you have produced some wonderful use-value which can be used for all kinds of things. Both of these are very material forces which make this expenditure of human labor-power causally efficacious in a specific way. It is not a mere metaphor that Marx calls value "congealed" or "crystallized" abstract labor. The person who spent this labor has to use the product as a conduit to get the things he or she needs. Because of this necessity, Marx is justified to say that the labor has not yet disappeared, sublated in the product, but it continues to exist as labor in the product. The producer first holds this labor in the form of a product he himself cannot use, then in the form of money, until finally he holds it in the form of a use-value which he can use. Value is therefore real. The "content" of value as Marx calls it, i.e., the material underpinning sustaining its causal powers, is the abstract labor used to produce it, which society still remembers as such, i.e., which is "congealed" in this product. This is why Marx says that value is congealed abstract labor. Now Howard makes an additional important distinction in his posting: that between the real and the actual. Things can be real but not actual. A good example for something that is real but now actual is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Even if the rate of profit actually rises, the underlying laws increasing the organic compostion of capital are still valid and are exerting a persistent long-run downward pressure on the rate of profit, even if this downward pressure is swamped by various short-run "counteracting influences." The value which a private producer produces comes into being and is real from the moment of production. But it is not yet "actual" as far as society is concerned. It is not yet useful for society, nobody in society may even know that it exists. It only exists as a potential, as a capacity, and as a need of the producer who did not produce for him or herself but must enter now the market. This value becomes actual only at the moment when the product is exchanged or sold. Marx calls the sale the "realization" of the value, a more precise term would be "actualization" of the value. Hans.
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