Money, mind and the ontological status of value

From: Costas Lapavitsas (Cl5@SOAS.AC.UK)
Date: Thu Jun 03 2004 - 10:02:24 EDT

Not really, Andy, we don't have to know in advance what something is in order to know how it emerges. I agree with Mike on this one. On money and value, it is important to be clear on the question we are trying to answer. For me, the most difficult question is, given a commodity set, what makes a money commodity unique? This could be answered in many ways, I suppose, but I think that the key is money's property to buy all else, which creates a fundamental asymmetry with other commodities. It is this property that I seek to explain with reference to the 'relative - equivalent' dialectic. Quantity has little to do with it. 

Money's unique property to buy is certainly linked to exchange value. I think that you have misunderstood me on this point. I propose to leave aside the substance of value as abstract human labour but certainly not exchange value as quantitative ratio among commodities. 

This has a bearing on the strand that Howard and Paul have been developing. I agree with Paul that value as social substance can exist only under capitalist conditions of production. I am not quite certain what Howard means by 'separate' producers. I would prefer to formulate it as: producers must be independent, autonomous and in competition with each other, if value is to have a real social existence. Such producers must also rely on wage labour. Under these conditions, value as abstract labour has a real social existence, because diverse concrete labours are rendered in practice commensurate through the economic actions of both producers and workers (in production and exchange). Without these conditions, value as abstract labour is a mere mental abstraction - no widespread social processes equate concrete labours in practice. You would be hard put to show that these conditions applied generally to Aristotle's Greece, though you can certainly find elements of capitalism, especially commercial and financial. 

Now, there is no need to rely explicitly on capitalist social conditions in order analytically to demonstrate the spontaneous emergence of money. Analogously, there is no need to rely on the social substance of value as abstract labour. It is enough to analyse the form of value, in particular exchange value, and the private and social relations among commodity owners. 

Occam's razor should prevail: if abstract labour does not add to the analytical derivation of money, abstract labour should be left out. This does not contradict money also being the independent form of abstract labour under capitalist conditions.  


-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew Brown <Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK>
Date: Thu, 3 Jun 2004 12:18:58 +0100
Subject: Re: Money and Mind

Costas, and all,

Alot going on at once in this thread. It may not look like it but my exchange with
Costas is germane, in my view:

On 31 May 2004 at 18:15, Costas Lapavitsas wrote:

> HI Andy,
> Just a brief point, I do not think that the attempt to specify the
> analytical process of money's emergence amounts to searching for a
> constant measure of value. It is more to do with identifying what
> makes money uniquely different.

Costas, obviously we have to know what money is, as part of grasping how it
emerges. Obviously, the quantitative aspect of money is essential to its' nature.
Now, without a constant unit of measure of purchasing power, it should be clear that
money cannot be essentially viewed as 'absolute purchasing power'. If that is all
money is, then it could not in principle be explained, because we could never
explain its' quantity through time (and we know its' quantity is essential to its'
nature). Ontologically, its' quantity, and hence nature, would have to be seen as in
principle due a result of myriad random factors.

To try an analogy: 'explaining' the emergence of money whilst abstracting from the
existence and substance of value is like 'explaining' the emergence of language
whilst abstracting from the fact that it achieves reference, that it has a semantic as
well as syntactic side.

The first three pages of ch.1, vol. 1 of 'Capital' seem to me to articulate the key to
this argument: Marx points out that commodities have 'many' exchanges values, not
just one, and that, therefore, a third thing must underlie commodities as exchange
values. I take it you reject Marx's specifc argument in these particular pages?

Many thanks,


> Costas

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