- Capitalism and Alternatives -

I find it limited

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on October 27, 1999 at 10:33:51:

In Reply to: Labor theory of value again posted by Gee on October 26, 1999 at 16:20:05:

: Labor theory of value is a socialist cornerstone

SDF: An assumption basic to Adam Smith and David Ricardo too.

: The theory states basically that the value of an object is solely a result of the labor expended to produce it.

SDF: Could you cite a source for this definition?

From what I remember, the labor theory of value states "basically" that the EXCHANGE value of an object is a result of the labor expended to produce it. Understanding this is the key to not dismissing the labor theory of value as it was forwarded by Smith and Ricardo, too.

For instance, if we want to exploit the use-value of a coal mine, for instance, to allow coal to be sold or somehow otherwise distributed, someone has to WORK at the mine.

In a capitalist society, by definition, if we are to talk about "using coal," we have to talk about "exchanging coal". Only a few members of this society have their own personally-owned coal reserves, and so the many must buy coal from the few who own it, if they want coal. With a money system, we can therefore talk about a PRICE of coal. Marx wanted to establish a relation between the PRICE of coal, and the amount of labor expended upon these things. Think of it as being like the idea of a social energy circuit. People work, and the sum of this work is reflected in the "wealth" that is the domain of FINANCIAL SOCIETY under capitalism.

The real problem IMHO with the discussion of "nature" as the ultimate source of all values (in volume 1 of CAPITAL) is that it never really happens -- "value" in CAPITAL is equated with "exchange value," so Marx didn't really explain the "natural origin of values" which his theory presumed. See, there are use-values, which I suppose ARE "natural," and there are exchange-values, which are the product of a particular form of society, i.e. financial society. Marx appears to have equated "value" with "exchange value" ( & for me it's what makes CAPITAL vols. 2 and 3 so difficult to pick up a second time). Exchange values by definition aren't "natural," they're an effect of a system of exchange, defined of course by MONEY. The whole effort behind the "labor theory of value" was to explain values (i.e. prices) in a money system.

Wine may taste better when it is aged, but that says nothing about the effective demand the wine itself fetches. It may taste great and cost $5, or it may "taste great" and the only reason you think that it tastes great is because you paid $500 for it, and you don't want to feel ripped off. Sure, we might argue that more expensive wine has a more interesting "use-value," in that we might be more likely to drink it than we would to pour it into our kitchen sinks. But this says nothing about the price of the wine.

At any rate, what you appear to have hit upon is the idea that the labor theory of value does not say anything about the taste of good wine, or anything else of importance about the particular selection of use-values by any particular society of human beings. It abstracts economically from the idea of a society based upon exchange.

Think of it as the explanation of an energy circuit -- people work, and their financial "employers" take the products of this work, and sell the produce of the global working class back to itself, at a monetary profit of course. Thus production, distribution, exchange, consumption. Meanwhile, raw materials are turned into materials, and materials into products, which are then sold at a profit by capitalists to the consumers, who (mostly) also producte. How the energy is distributed (into good wine, or bad wine, or whatever) is irrelevant to the analysis of what happened to this work -- it's the explanation of the system of "financial profit" which the Labor Theory of Value hoped to explain. It's a narrow thing.

The big profits are made by taking the labor and raw materials (capital) from one group of people and selling the finished product to another group of people (the rich, the well-off, and anyone with money). The biggest financial domains are therefore those of employers. But 100% of the system is itself provided by labor and raw materials (i.e. "nature"). Labor is necessary, though, otherwise the raw materials do not become materials. The only reason anything has a price, is because someone else worked upon it.

Here in the US, for instance, we can buy work-shirts from Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Costa Rica, China, and Hong Kong. They're cheap even when they're new. Will any of these countries buy our US-made work-shirts at the same rate we are buying theirs? Of course not. The produce of the rest of the world is being offered at bargain-basement rates to the global financial classes, who can then give cheaper deals to Americans (Europeans, Japanese etc.) while still making a big profit. Nike makes enormous profits off of its teenage Vietnamese laborers, and such profit would be only LESS astronomical if the shoes were marked down from $60/pair to $40/ pair. Slaves labor for free, so the Chinese get an even bigger profit...

The entire world is put to work making exports for the US, Europe, and Japan, and doing its financial business are the Fortune 500 companies. The labor theory of value tries to explain that fact, not its environmental substrate. Marx wasn't an oil geologist.

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