on money

From: Hans G. Ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Wed May 26 2004 - 16:33:12 EDT

Rakesh's quote from *Theories of Surplus-value* p. 144-145
is a good find; it is an apt nutshell summary of Marx's
starting point in section 3 of chapter 1 of *Capital*.  Here
is beginning of it again, it is well worth reading again:

> Because the product is not produced as an immediate object
> of consumption for the producers, but only as a bearer of
> value, as a claim, so to speak, to a certain quantity of
> all materialised social labour, all products as values are
> compelled to assume a form of existence distinct from
> their existence as use values.

Rakesh continues:

> Since commodities are produced in order to be claims on
> social labor, one commodity comes to count in the exchange
> relationship not in its concrete form as a use value but
> as an incarnation of social labor, as itself value.

This is true, but there are a couple of intermediary steps
before it comes to this.  In order to develop these steps, I
will use Rakesh's own fun metaphor:

> So say on a tropical island where only fruit is exchanged
> and people become allergic to the fruit that they can
> themselves grow, then all fruit is produced for exchange.

Fruit growers allergic to their own fruit is a wonderful and
funny metaphor for commodity producers!  Rakesh's next
sentence contains a big leap:

> Say mangoes come to be the general equivalent.  Then
> mangoes are valued not for their concrete characteristics
> but because they incarnate Fruit itself.

This is not the next step.  Say I am a grape grower.
Unfortuntately I am allergic to grapes, but I live on
mangoes, peaches, and papayas.  The next step in this
situation is that I value my *grapes* not for their concrete
characteristics as grapes but because these grapes can get
me mangoes, peaches and papayas on the market.  Basically,
my grapes are my private money which which I try to buy

Likewise, the mango grower considers mangoes as his private
money, and the papaya grower papayas.  This cannot work,
because only one commodity can be money.  As Marx wrote in
chapter 2 of *Capital*, MECW 35, p. 34/5:

> The owner of a commodity considers every other commodity
> as the Particular equivalent of his own commodity, which
> makes his own commodity the General equivalent for all
> other commodities.  But since every owner does this, none
> of the commodities is General equivalent, and the
> commodities do not possess a general relative form of
> value in order to equate each other as values and compare
> the magnitudes of their values.

Individually there is no way out of this, but society as a
whole can create the framework for a resolution.  Marx
expresses this somewhat mysteriously as follows:

> In their dilemma our commodity-owners think like Faust:
> 'In the beginning was the deed.' They have therefore
> already acted before thinking.

Which deed?  The selection of one of the fruits, say
mangoes, as the general equivalent.  In other words, on the
market we all act as if we were mango growers.  Whatever we
want to buy, we offer mangoes for it.  This has huge
advantages for the sellers: now the seller of peaches does
not have to scratch his head whether he wants to accept 3
lbs of papayas or 5 lbs of grapes for his 4 lbs of peaches,
trying to remember what he already has in his refrigerator.
Life has become much simpler for him.  He simply gives his
grapes to that buyer who bids the highest quantity of

If we all act as if we were the mango grower, will that not
lead to an oversupply of mangoes?  No, on the contrary.
Because before I can offer mangoes for the things I need, I
have to convert my grapes into mangoes.  Same thing for the
papaya and peach growers.  This is the precarious salto
mortale which makes it all work, and it is the flip side of
the mangoes' ability to indeed buy everything.  This salto
mortale turns my grapes into a form in which not their
use-value but their value is in the foreground.  This is the
form which they need as Marx said in the very first quote

And the mangoes have now all peculiarities of the general
equivalent: their use-value represents value, the concrete
labor producing them represents abstract labor, the private
labor producing them directly represents social labor, and
the fourth peculiarity is the fetish-like character of
commodities, that social relations become the bodily
properties of things.

So far, mangoes are valued because they are first of all
measures of value, and secondly, flowing from this, they
become intermediaries of the exchange.  They are subordinate
to the circulation of commodities.  But their ability to buy
everything makes them desirable in their own right.  This is
Rakesh's last-quoted sentence (although mangoes would never get
to this point because they are not durable enough for this):

> Then mangoes are valued not for their concrete
> characteristics but because they incarnate Fruit itself.

Now we are no longer talking about how to circulate
commodities, but about abstract wealth in an independent
form.  The real hypostastization which Rakesh is critical of
happens when money is no longer a servant but becomes king;
it is a condition for the the emergence of capital.

Hans G. Ehrbar

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