Value: state of play

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sat Jun 3 11:27:58 MDT 1995

Chris B misrepresents my position on value. I do not concede that value
might tend to equilibriate [prices?--something is missing from his post]
in ad advanced capitalist society as an unintended effect of the actions
of capitalists. I said, with regard to invisible hand effects, that that's
the way Marx presents the operatioins of the law of value in his models.
My point was scholarly, not substantive.

My view is that as far as I can make out, values qua labor costs are not
the regulators of prices, in aggregate or otherwise, long or short term.
And if they can be tied to prices in some way, which they can in some
models, it's far from clear that they explain prices rather than being a
fifth wheel. This is a Sraffa point which one can invoke without buying
into Sraffa's story about value as presented by Steve.

I also think,
however, that the notion of value, understood more abstractly than Marx
understands it, is a useful one in the context of understanding
exploitation--in particular in the notion of surplus value as a
qualitative notion. Exploitation is (wrongful) appropriation of a surplus
produced by labor. In capitalist societies what matters is less the
physical surplus than what can best be called its value, what that surplus
is worth on the market. The source of that surplus value is largely,
though, I think, not entirely labor--not entirely because I think nonlabor
sources of value, such as temporary monopolies on the use of natural
forces, can contribute to the capitalists' aggregate share of the social
product. The measure of the relative shares can be what you like--labor
values, corn values, or just money. But the measure is an accounting
notion, not an explanatory one.

I think that this is in fact Marx's view, or close to it--Marx did define
value in terms of labor costs, so he has to say not that there are
nonlabor sources of profit but that there are nonvalue (because nonlabor)
sources of profit: some things, he says, have price but no value. If,
however, he had disambiguited the notions of the source and measure of
value, and taken value to be what he implicitly suggested it is, not labor
definitionally but whatever explains prices and is the source of profit,
he could have said what I say. I do not think that he thinks the labor
theory of value. as defended by Kliman or Cockshott, is literally true,
but rather that he uses it as a heuristic; moreover I think mnost of his
uses of it are eliminable in more sophisticated models, such as those he
starts to sketch in Capital, vol. 3.

--Justin Schwartz

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