Value and exchange value

glevy at glevy at
Sun Aug 6 03:42:26 MDT 1995

To continue with this thread:

What determines the value of a commodity?  On the most abstract level, we
could say (as Marx did) that the value of a commodity is expressed as the
amount of socially-necessary-labor-time required to produce a commodity.

But, value can not be understood as a definition, it has to be understood
as a dialectical process. So, some additional comments are in order.

1) What is socially-necessary-labor-time? This is *measured*
quantitatively as an exchange ratio. To understand this concept as a
process, we have to go on next to understand abstract labour, exchange, and
money (in its most abstract form). The quantitative dimension of this
expression is only the most outward, and most abstract, form in which
this expression can be understood. The greater revelations come when we
begin to understand value as an expression of social relations under
capitalism. Value itself, therefore, has historical and cultural dimensions.

2) For a commodity to have value, it must also have use-value. Use-value,
though, can not be simply understood since it relates to human needs and,
consequently, has to be understood both historically and culturally.

3) Commodities are produced but they do not fully become commodities
until they are sold in the marketplace. A commodity has potential use-
value when it is first produced, but it only becomes a commodity when it
has been sold, i.e. when the use-value, expressed in quantitative terms as
an exchange-value and price, becomes actual (rather than just potential).
Consequently, while workers at a shipyard are involved in commodity
production if they are producing that ship with the intention of selling
the ship in the marketplace for a price, it only becomes a ship when it
is sold and used. If it were to be finished but never launched, it would
remain a potential ship rather than an actual one.

It is early in the morning here so I'm not so sure that I have expressed
the above entirely accurately. If there is anyone else who cares to
expand upon (or take issue with) these formulations, please feel free to
do so.


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