[OPE-L:1215] what is the meaning of value

ECUSER (ECBURKE@scifac.indstate.edu)
Sun, 25 Feb 1996 10:06:42 -0800

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I have a few conjectures (87 lines worth) as to what Michael
Perelman [OPE-L:1207] might have in mind by the notion of Marx
"using his analysis of values as a means of showing . . . the
weakness and vulnerabilities of capitalism". Let me know if I'm in
the right zone, Michael. Then perhaps we can develop a more precise
(not necessarily more quantitative) set of conceptualizations.

One possible starting point is the venerable contradiction
between use value and exchange value. Here, capital depends on use
value not just in the sense that commodities must have a use value in
order to contain value (to be objectifications of SOCIALLY NECESSARY
labor time) but also in the sense that capital (self-expanding value,
money begetting more money) depends, from the standpoint of
society as a whole, on the presence of exploitable labor power and
the material and social conditions conducive to its exploitation.
This labor power, in order to be exploited, has to be capable of
expending useful labor where `useful' is defined in terms of the
historically developed social and material conditions of production.

An important aspect of this set-up is that there are a lot of use
values that capital requires, but which it might not be capable of
adequately reproducing in and through its own relations of
exploitation and commodified (value-formed) socio-material
reproduction. True, capital normally has no problem `freely
appropriating' such use value requirements insofar as they already
exist. Indeed, Marx spends a lot of time in various places
discussing how capital accumulation (exploitation of wage labor,
reinvestment of surplus value thus extracted, etc.) to a significant
extent lives off of capital's free appropriation of natural and
social conditions of production that are not directly reproduced by
capital itself. But, in the case of natural conditions required for
socio-material reproduction, Marx points out that capital actually
tends to corrode these use value requirements for its own expanded
reproduction. He also suggests, though less consistently, that
capitalism would have trouble producing the kinds of people required
to operate increasingly socialized, scientific-knowledge-based forces
of production in the individual and collective interests of society
as a whole. (True, at some points he seems to suggest that the
`universal-social individuals' required for the eventual transition
to a higher form of socio-material reproduction will be more-or-less
naturally evolved within the womb of capitalism itself; however at
other times he is clearer in his suggestion that these universal-
social individuals must be a product of self-conscious class struggle
conducted by and for the working class.)

I think Mike Lebowitz's various efforts to extend Marx's analysis
to incorporate `the political economy of wage labor' are consistent
with the above theme of capital not being able to, by itself, ensure
its own use value requirements. In this sense, also, capital's
dependence on `domestic' labor and production processes which are
undervalued under commodified reproduction has a formal similarity to
capital's dependence on natural conditions of reproduction which
capitalism only ascribes value to insofar as they require social
labor time for their appropriation in/for material production. (I
leave out the issue of rents for now; my opinion -- developed briefly
in a forthcoming piece in SCIENCE & SOCIETY -- is that rents cannot
offset capital's tendency to erode its own natural conditions either
qualitatively or quantitatively. Of course, the extent to which
rents are capable of countering capital's tendencies to destroy its
own socio-material conditions of existence could be a subject we
might want to consider under the general theme of "value and the
weakness and vulnerabilities of capitalism". A related question we
could consider is how Marx's approach to `free appropriation' differs
from neoclassical externalities theory.)

One question implied by the above (semi-coherent at best?)
considerations could be: If some of capitalism's tendencies toward
social and material reproduction crises are due to its undervaluation
of certain natural and other socio-material conditions of production,
then how would a socialist society correct such undervaluation? Or,
if labor and nature are each sources of wealth (as Marx repeatedly
emphasized), but value only recognizes labor as a source of wealth in
its specifically capitalist form, then how would socialism correct
this imbalance? Personally I am impressed by some of Bettelheim's
considerations on this issue in his book ECONOMIC CALCULATION AND
FORMS OF PROPERTY. Perhaps we could take that up later if a
discussion of socialism materializes on the list.

I am not sure how the above relates to the discussion of
valuation of means of production. Perhaps someone could indicate
whether, and how, they think different views on the valuation
question might be associated with different perspectives on the
contradiction between social production and private appropriation. I
know Michael Perelman has written some stuff arguing that problems
with capital valuation manifest precisely this contradiction -- i.e.,
the fact that capitalist (value) relations are increasingly incapable
of handling socialized, scientific-knowledge-based productive forces.

Well, after so little I'm already tired. Paul B.