From: Ian Wright (wrighti@ACM.ORG)
Date: Mon Aug 20 2007 - 13:56:25 EDT
I do think a lot of confusion is generated by the use of the word "value" in many different contexts. Sometimes I wonder whether the term should be thrown out and new terminology adopted to avoid confusion. Also, having immersed myself in Smith and Ricardo recently, I think that some of our OPE-L discussions of this topic reveal a regression in understanding compared to Marx and the classical economists. The following fragment prompted this: "If the product of labor is unable to be sold, this means that the society has not needed it, and consequently the labor spent in its production is not social labor. And to the extent that value is the expression of social labor, such a product has no value." The classical distinction between labour-embodied (total clock hours required to produce a commodity) and labour-commanded (the price it fetches in the marketplace divided by the average wage rate) is important here. A product that cannot sell fails to command labour. But this event does not imply labour is not embodied in its production. A product has labour-value regardless of whether it meets a social demand or not. In this situation, a fraction of the total social labour has not been equalized with another part. Indeed, the mismatches between the labour-embodied in commodities and the labour-commanded by commodities are part of the mechanism of the reallocation of social labour through time (the law of value). Call this the dialectic between value, exchange-value and use-value if you want. I believe it is a fundamental mistake to think that price, or the value form, is constitutive of labour-value. Although casually linked they are ontologically distinct. Temperature exists without thermometers. Also, the trans-social requirement that all societies must allocate their labour-time is an essential part of historical materialism (c.f. Marx's letter to Kugelman). To state that "value" only arises with capitalism throws this essential insight away. It also ignores the existence of sophisticated divisions of labour, markets and monetized exchanges long before the social invention of the capitalist firm and the hegemony of capital. Apologies for slight grumpiness, but I didn't get enough sleep last night.
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