[OPE-L:4644] Re: Four-cornered triangle

Michael A. Lebowit (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Wed, 2 Apr 1997 10:40:54 -0800 (PST)

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I'd like to join in on the side (if they'll have me) of Michael P., Mike
W. and Jerry with respect to this critical discussion of value and abstract
If all you need is a stopwatch to measure abstract labour (as Andrew
proposed), then it's rather hard to understand why Marx made such a fuss
about the concept of abstract labour, describing it as one of the best new
points in Capital, and why he was accordingly so critical of Ricardo and
classical political economy and their ensuing confusion over money. That
directly measurable "abstract labour" Andrew is describing doesn't seem all
that different to concrete labour or, indeed, far from the Ricardian
I agree with Jerry in 4603 when he responds to Alan's query about
whether the value of goods are given prior to sale and notes:

> For commodities to have value [returning to basics], they _must_ [by
> definition] have a use-value and value, including the value-form.
> In what sense, then, can we say that goods which do not have a use-value
> and, therefore, an exchange-value have a value and can be counted as
> commodities?
> Moreover, how can we say with certainty that all potential commodities
> will have a use-value prior to having that validated through exchange?
> Even if we stipulate that value can not be _created_ in circulation, this
> does not mean that value (or, perhaps more precisely, potential value) can
> not be "destroyed" or "wasted" if not realized (or "actualized" as value).

This is indeed a return to "basics": a commodity is only a putative
commodity until it is demonstrated to be a use-value; it has only a
putative, potential value until that time when it proves itself by
successfully completing that mortal leap of sale. That is the point at which
its potential value is shown to be real. How do those who accept the
argument that the value of commodities is given before sale reconcile their
position with Marx's clear statement in Vol. I, Ch. 2 that coomodities "must
stand the test as use-values before they can be realized as values. For the
labour expended upon them only counts in so far as it is expended in a form
which is useful for others. However, only the act of exchange can prove
whether that labour is useful for others, and its product consequently
capable of satisfying the needs of others."
Talk about basics! All of you OPE-list members who believe value is given
*before* sale, have you been talking about potential value all along?
yours from a windy island,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 872-0494; Home fax: (604) 872-0485
Lasqueti Island: (250) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca