[OPE-L] Fwd: Marx's Form of Analysis

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu Feb 17 2005 - 08:16:45 EST

---------------------------- Original Message -------------------------
Subject: Marx's Form of Analysis
From:    "Jurriaan Bendien" <andromeda246@hetnet.nl>
Date:    Thu, February 17, 2005 8:09 am

Without wanting to discourse metaphysically about the trading process, I
would say that Kozo Uno substantially improved on Marx's derivation of the
 forms of value. In particular, the argument that what makes commodities
commensurable in exchange is the fact that they are products of labor is
not  really tenable; this reduces to a tautology. After all, it could just
as  well be argued that this commensurability derives simply from the fact
that  they are offered for exchange or are able to be exchanged, or have a

More substantively, I think Marx's argument must be that use-values have
an  objective economic value inasmuch they are products of labor as such,
regardless of whether these use-values are exchanged or not, i.e.
regardless  of exchange-value. This objective value could be judged,
though perhaps not  very exactly, according to the work it takes to
produce the products and  consequently their replacement cost; the
attribution of value to
labour-products, and its effect on economic behaviour, is likewise an
objectively verifiable process which occurs regardless of whether that
value  happens to be quantifiable in exact terms.

What the exchange process does, through ever more precise, standardised
and  comprehensive comparisons of trading ratios, is to quantify and
objectify  the value of products regardless of the specific labor-time it
took to  produce individual products, i.e. they acquire a
socially-recognised  (socially average) value. Thereby the trading process
itself, through a  lengthy historical evolution, becomes a crucial factor
in economising  labor-time, and subordinates the forms of labor
increasingly to the forms of  value. This means one aspect of the triple
relationship in trade, namely the  relationship between products (as
against the relation between people, and  between people and their
products) begins to dominate proceedings.

This interpretation admittedly makes (economic) value a transhistorical
category, but not a timeless category, since the specific form in which
this  value asserts itself is specific to the social relations dominating
each  epoch. Marx argues that it is only in the capitalist epoch that
economic  value begins to dominate and shape all social relations, thereby
separating  the "economic" and the "moral" domains of human activity, and
in this sense  he also talks about the "economic formation of society",
through a web of  objective interdependencies created by market expansion.

It is a statistically demonstrated fact though that even when capitalist
market economy has become dominant, (1) market-functioning is dependent on
a  large amount of unpaid labor, not simply within capitalist production,
but  external to it (household labor and other voluntary or necessary
labor), (2)  the majority of products of human labor owned as assets by
members of an  economic community are not being traded at any point in
time. In both cases  clearly the products of this labor nevertheless have
a value, even if no  actual price is specifiable.

All that happens in a capitalist market economy is that the objective
valuation of labor and its products becomes systematically "biased"
according to the costs and revenues pertaining to co-existing private
enterprises (essentially governed by "earnings potential"). But to develop
 this insight in a theoretically  consistent way, requires the proposition
 that labor-products have value, regardless of whether they are exchanged
or  not, and regardless of whether we can accurately specify what that
value is.

As I have said before, my view is that those who wish to discard any
objective concept of value in favour of a price theory operate with an
extremely naive idea about prices and price formation; the fact is that
the  computation, estimation, aggregation, accounting, negotiation and
comparison  of prices invariably refers to a concept of value anyway,
eclectic as it may  be, and whether or not it is acknowledged as such or
not. Often this concept  will be presented as an "ideal price", but even
so, this is a price which  would obtain if certain conditions objectively
existed. But as soon as we  admit that prices are formed by objective
conditions, we are already talking  about value relations asserting
themselves as an objective force.

Marx's contribution then is to attempt to provide a consistent theoretical
 framework for understanding the origin and distribution of value, which
is  however unfinished, insofar as he focuses mainly on the capitalist
production and distribution of current output only. He pays little
attention  to (1) and (2) above, or to the revaluation of assets, except
in regard to  depreciation.

Obviously market expansion has as its corrollary not just that more and
more  means of production and labor-power become traded commodities, but
also that  more and more means of consumption become traded commodities.
This means  that the forms of value increasingly extend into the sphere of
consumption  as well.

In this sense, Kozo Uno's three-doctrine theory of a "purely capitalist
society" must unfortunately be judged as incomplete. My argument here is,
that even the purest of pure capitalisms cannot exist without consumption,
 not just consumption within the production process, but also outside it.
As  Marx suggested in his Grundrisse, economic analysis must investigate
not  only the mode of circulation, production and distribution, but also
the mode  of consumption; and in correspondence, he also says "any child
knows" that  no society can cease to produce anymore than it can cease to
consume. I  think this insight is of profound ecological significance as

On that note though, I'm off for a coffee :-)


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