[OPE-L] Salto mortale

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Mar 05 2007 - 13:46:05 EST

Hi Jerry,

You are right, I'll cut down and concentrate more on publishing a complete
article. I'll just reply to a few points here.

I believe there's ironclad proof that economic value does not necessarily
imply exchange-value, and that exchange-value does not necessarily imply
price. I have read enough about economic history and logic to incline me to
that view.  Of course, you are right to say a commodity by definition has a
use-value and an exchange-value, but we knew that already. As I said, in
countertrade prices are not necessarily used for goods otherwise produced as
commodities. Exchange-value need not necessarily imply value either, insofar
as a non-produced good or unique artwork is traded, or more generally if no
socially established value already exists prior to the exchange.

The modalities of trade are very variegated in human history, and the trade
in some goods is not easily captured by the generalisations of economic
theory. It would be nice to think we could squeeze every instance of
economic life into a complete and exhaustive categorisation of it, but that
is more a technocratic fantasy than a real possibility. I've worked on
national accounts statistics in the past, and it is wellknown among
statisticians that some "boundary problems" always remain, and as a
corollary you adopt some conventions to get around those difficulties.

There is nothing particularly oppressive about economic value as such, what
is oppressive is if objectified commercial values happen to conflict with
social, human or personal values, i.e. if human activity is dominated or
restricted by market forces beyond their control, in adverse ways. What you
call the "value system" in reality is a highly contradictory system, which
can offer people BOTH freedoms (for example the freedom to purchase and own
your own yacht and its fittings, and sail it) AND oppression (for example,
the exploitation and degradation of human work, or lack of money to satisfy
even basic needs). Economists often talk about "the market" but in reality
there are many different kinds of markets, some more beneficial than others,
some more oppressive than others. To want to abolish markets when you lack a
better allocation principle is obviously stupid, but it is just as stupid to
insist on markets when a better allocation principle is available.

There are of course plenty Marxists who act as though value (and the law of
value) dropped out of the air one fine day, together with the capitalist
mode of production. But most historians and anthropologists would dispute
that. They would at least acknowledge that value has existed in all human
societies, except that it takes different forms in different types of
societies, featuring different trading and allocation principles. We cannot
escape from the fact that human beings as moral subjects are for that reason
valuing subjects, i.e. individuals who make valuations, and are affected by
the valuations of others.

So long as people produce products with their labour-time, those products
will have a value, and people will economise their use on that basis, but
whether that value is expressed in use-value, exchange value, prices, or
something else - and what regulates those valuations, obviously depends on
the prevailing social and economic relations. The question Marx asked was,
"how does it come about, that the producer and his/her labour get to be
dominated and ruled by the exchange-value of their products?" and he makes
the point that capitalism is the first type of economy in which commercial
value pervades and dominates all of economic life.

When I gave the example of the privatisation of forest, I was talking about
exotic (i.e. plantation) forest. I worked in 1977 for the New Zealand Forest
Service, and it was quite clear to me that it wasn't just a question of
simply planting a few tree-shoots on a hillside, but of pruning the trees;
scrubcutting; felling and sawing timber, and transporting it; building
access roads; general forest management; surveying and security; disease,
erosion, fire & pest control; etc. so believe me a large amount of labour
actually went into producing this forest asset and its products, which
therefore acquired value also in terms of labour costs. These costs are
included in the valuation of forests, and the forests become like "farms".
In the last decades, the valuation techniques used have become very
sophisticated, and there are now some international norms for assessing the
value of forests. I don't think Marx ever claimed that the pure law of value
could operate in primary production, but he did envisage the
industrialisation of primary production.



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