- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Exchange value, use value, and repitition

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on October 31, 1999 at 18:13:39:

SDF: Here, Gee tells the world, as part of a discussion of the labor theory of value, that:

Gee: Profit is gain based upon use value...

SDF: And Barry Stoller responds:

Stoller: No, profit is gain based upon exchange-value.

Since SDF just spent a whole post explaining the point carefully, and it's of no use to you, who am I to go over it again?

SDF: About that "whole post". Here, I explained:

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 produce. 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.

To get back to the Gee-Stoller debate: if profit is financial profit, if we aren't merely talking about a homeless person's enjoyment of his bottle of fortified wine as the "profit" of a "capitalist," then it has nothing to do with the taste of wine, or about whether one buys wine only to pour it out because the taste is bad, or with any particular USE of wine or any of the many other products which consumers buy. Financial profit is about an amount of money, and, within a MONEY SYSTEM, money is the primary symbol of exchange-value, NOT of use-value.

Money isn't something one uses as a raw material, it's something exchanged for raw materials. Thus the connection between the concepts "money" and "exchange value". Like duh.

Exchange-value is a generalization of the concept of price, use-value is an idiosyncratic (i.e. unquantifiable, and thus conceptually NOT AMENABLE to the measurement of profit) quality of human behavior with AT BEST a tangential relation to the process of profit-making. Land speculators, for instance, make profits off of land while doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for anyone's "use-values".

From here one can now see Gee's understanding of volume 1 of Capital, and this is obviously only one of many such understandings, as posts such as this one and this one will attest. Therefore, one can also see Barry Stoller's eventual gripe.

In the above gripe, McSpotlight responds:

When has invective ever added anything to a debate?

One has to ask whether anything at all is being added to this debate. With a classroom full of first-grade students (ages 4-6 or thereabouts), I might have confidence that something was conceptually gained by my fifth explanation in a row of the concept of "addition". But here, with one who has made an elaborate PRETENSE of understanding the Labor Theory of Value, same pretense to be repeated over and over again at McSpotlight's expense?

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