Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU Steve.Keen at unsw.EDU.AU
Tue Aug 16 18:08:30 MDT 1994

Inter alia, Gene recently posted that:

"I agree with Chris that one dispute centers on whether Marx
considered labor-capacity's use-value to be strictly qualitative;
and I agree with Chris that Marx did so consider it...

"Far from being "simple-minded" (to quote Keen's slur), Marx's
insistence that labor-capacity's use-value is qualitative
constitutes an integral part of the analysis that gives his
critique its vast power.  Keen's misreadings would only hobble

While apologising for the slur, I would appreciate someone
explaining what is qualitative about the use-value of
labor-power in the following quotes from p. 188 of Vol I,
where Marx first reveals the source of surplus value:

"The past labor that is embodied in the labor power, and the
living labor that it can call into action; the daily cost of
maintaining it, and its daily expenditure in work, are two
totally different things. The former determines the exchange-value
of the labor power, the latter is its use-value."

Maybe I'm "misreading" this, but "latter" the final sentence
refers to "its daily expenditure in work", while "it" refers
to "labor power", n'est-ce pas? Then I would not think I'd gone
too far wrong in thinking that the use-value of labor-power
was its daily expenditure in work. To me, that looks

Of course, I am aware that generations of Marxists have, as did
Sweezy, identified the use-value of labor-power with the specific
type of labor undertaken (i.e., use-value gets identified with
concrete labor-- "To the commodity as a use-value corresponds
labor as useful labor... The labor, whose utility is thus represented
by the value in use of its product, or which manifests itself by
making its product a use-value, we call useful labor." (Sweezy 1942,
pp. 28-29). So maybe this is what Marx meant.

However, consider the next sentence from Capital:

"The fact that half a [working] days labor is necessary to keep the
laborer alive during 24 hours, does not in any way prevent him from
working a whole day. Therefore, the value of labor power, and the
value which that labor power creates in the labor process, are two
entirely different magnitudes; and this difference of the two values
was what the capitalist had in view, when he was purchasing the labor

"Magnitudes"? Does that word conjure up images of quality to you,
or quantity?

Is there a clincher? I believe so:

"What really influenced him was the specific use-value which this
commodity possesses of being a source not only of value, but of
more value than it has itself."

Pardon me, but under no circumstances can I regard this characterisation
of use-value as being qualitative. The "specific use-value" of labor-
power is that it is "a source not only of value, but of more value
than it has itself". Its use-value is a quantitative thing--the
quantity of value--and the specific attraction of this use-value to
the capitalist purchaser is that it exceeds another quantitative
thing, its exchange-value.

I can find no "insistence" here by Marx that use-value is always
qualitative. What I find is a subtlety that lets Marx begin Capital
with an apparent dismissal of the economic significance of use-value:

"But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised by
a total abstraction from use-value... If then we leave out of
consideration the use value of commodities, they have only one
common property left, that of being products of
labour." (p. 45.)

and yet later argue that the very explanation of the source of surplus
value lies in use-value:

"We are, therefore, forced to the conclusion that the change originates
in the use-value, as such, of the commodity, i.e. its consumption."
(pp. 164)

How could that be if use-value was always qualitative? How could an
always qualitative thing be the explanation of a quantative entity--

The "insistence that labor-capacity's use-value is qualitative" is
a product of Marx's interpreters, not Marx himself. If you doubt
this--as I'm sure you do--then I suggest you read the _Marginal
Notes on Adolphe Wagner_ (Mclennan, D.,1971, _Karl Marx: Early Texts_,
Basil Blackwell, Oxford is an accessible version), where Marx states:

"Secondly, only an obscurantist, who has not understood a
word of Capital, can conclude: Because Marx, in a note to
the first edition of Capital, overthrows all the German
professorial twaddle on `use-value' in general, and refers
readers who want to know something about actual use-value to
`commercial guides',--therefore, *use-value* does not play
any role in his work..."

On the other hand, the obscurantist has overlooked that my
analysis of the commodity does not stop at the dual mode in which
the commodity is presented, [but] presses forward [so] that in
the dual nature of the commodity there is presented the twofold
*character* of *labour*, whose product it is:...
that *surplus value* itself is derived from a `specific'
*use-value of labour-power* which belongs to it exclusively etc
etc., that hence with me use value plays an important role completely
different than [it did] in previous [political] economy, but
that, *nota bene*, it only comes into the picture where such
consideration [of value, use value, etc.] springs from the
analysis of given economic forms, not from helter-skelter
quibbling over the concepts or words `use-value' and
`value'. (p. 198-200.)

While I apologise for the slur of "simple minded", there has been
a tradition since Hilferding of demeaning the role of use-value
in Marx's economics--yet Marx when confronted in his lifetime
with such an interpretation described its purveyor as "an
obscurantist, who has not understood a word of Capital"...

Steve Keen


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