[OPE] Brad DeLong, 'Understanding Marx"

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Wed Apr 22 2009 - 17:10:18 EDT

I think Brad de Long has very important things to say, but understanding Marx was never his strong point. Scientia est potentia. There are things to be learnt about rotten coffee beans - although no longer used for coffee, they are a waste material that still has other industrial and agricultural uses (including fertiliser) and in that sense can be recycled; consequently, the price or value of rotten coffee beans is rarely zero. In actual fact, after they are picked and prior to roasting, yeasts and bacteria feed on the mucous layer which still covers the coffeebeans - a fermentation which deepens the flavor and body of the beans.

Marx himself says that the presupposition of the "value" of a product is, that it has a use-value, and he defines use-value in terms of the material characteristics the product has which make it useful and enable it to satisfy human requirements (needs and wants). No inconsistency there.

In Marx's theory, "value relations" do indeed exist, in the sense of relations between the values of different things, but value itself is not a relationship. That is where "value-form theory" goes completely wrong. Contrary to value-form theory, Marx himself distinguished very carefully between value as such, the forms of exchange-value, the forms of use-values and the forms of prices; Marx also distinguished carefully between exchange-value and money-price, since exchange-value need not refer to money-price, and could refer only to a trading-ratio between different products.

To be precise, value is an attribute of an object (or a subject) which is the effect of a societal (Gesellschaftliche) relationship, expressing the social co-existence of a community of people who produce and reproduce their lives; insofar as it is the natural tendency of commerce to objectify the attribution of value, value seems to be an intrinsic property of things, however. But Marx's point is, that this is actually a reification.

Ultimately, value exists, only because there are human valuers capable of regulating their behaviour according to conscious, self-chosen priorities. But the values of their products can escape from their control, and begin to lead an independent life, a life of their own which human beings are then individually fairly powerless to affect. That is how, for example, 50 trillion dollars worth of asset values can rapidly disappear into thin air, as Mr Summers says, causing the world economy to crash and millions to go hungry although nobody thinks that is "nice" or consciously wishes for it. Often, this objectified value relationship is described as "the state of the market", an aggregate effect of the actions and interactions of many people in a community which one may be able to influence, but not abolish or control.

Where Brad de Long is correct, and orthodox Marxism is wrong, is that value has both objective and subjective aspects, and that we ought to understand the relationship between the two. The so-called Marxist economists wrongly followed Werner Sombart's and Ladislaus von Bortciewicz's interpretation of Marx, leading to an intellectual impasse which could be covered up only with an endless repetition of dogmatic incantations. Once we turn Marx the right way up again, and abandon the Hegelian reifications of turgid Marxist ideology, Marx's theory suddenly makes a lot of sense. So on that score, Brad de Long is actually a very good friend of Marx, even if he doesn't know it yet.


And she can raise one eyebrow,
Put her hand on my hip
And I close one eye now,
Sweat on her lip
And I surrender to the fever
I surrender to the night
She love me so tender, I got to believe her
Love... Espresso love's allright

- Dire Straits, "Expresso Love"

ope mailing list
Received on Wed Apr 22 17:12:22 2009

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Tue May 12 2009 - 15:26:04 EDT