Marx's Value Theory--a potential critique
kbevans at panix.com
Sun May 12 14:17:48 MDT 1996
First, I'm not "Mr. Bevans". I go by the handle "boddhisatva".
Second, Marx begins Chapter 7 of Capital saying "The fact that the
production of use-values, or goods, is carried on under the control of a
capitalist and on his behalf does not alter the general character of that
production." It clearly does. It alters the "process between man and
nature, a process by which man, through his own actions mediates,regulates
and controls the metabolism between himself and nature." (Ch. 7) by taking
away the control the mediation, and alienating the "metabolism". The
pre-capitalist worker provided, principally, for himself and his local
community. Reproduction was the order of the day. Necessity dictated that
he could not stray from this task for long. In contrast, the capitalist
lives by speculation, and demands that his workers live so. Work and
necessity are SEPARATED under capitalism. Marx goes on "We know that the
value of each commodity is determined by the quantity of labor .....
socially necessary to produce it". We know no such thing. We know that a
new Edsel was nearly worthless when it was produced and is fantastically
expensive now. We know that Coca-Cola quite often sells for what orange
juice sells for, making Coca Cola Inc. rich while growers pay sub-minimum
wage and go broke anyway.
The fallacy develops when Marx says "This (the previous) rule also
holds good in the case of the product handed over to the capitalist as a
result of the labour process". No indeed, when one hands over that good
one consigns the value of work to laughing chance in the market. Why
chance? well Marx himself knows the answer to that question. Talking
about spinning he stipulates: "First the cotton and the spindle must
genuinely have served to produce a use-value" and :"the labour-time must
not exceed what is necessary under the given social conditions of
production". We cannot know the value of previous labor, or know the
correct amount of labor-time for a product until the product is sold under
(necessarily) different "given social conditions of production" (becasue
they are) sometime in the future. Not only does the time between
production and sale dictate that (at least) two different conditions of
production come in to play, but the worker is paid with money generated
under conditions preceeding even those that he works under (whether from
previous sales/exploitation, or money previously borrowed or taken from
speculators). This is why the capitalist is so obsessed with "net present
value." He cannot stand to live under the conditions of uncertainty
spawned by his speculating indolence or even that necessarily resulting
>from sale for the market. In fact all economic decisions become guesses
of "present value" under capitalism, if only because wages (the most
important capitalist decision) are set in this way.
As I have said before, I believe that the reason Marx made the mistake
of presenting labor-value as something concrete or actual is that HIS economy
was necessarily more concerned with "reproduction" than a true capitalist
economy is. The modern proletariat does not work for reproduction, but for
I believe that the best model for demonstrating certain aspects of
capitalism is not the loom, but Las Vegas. The workers are the gamblers
and the capitalists own a combination of casinos and particular games.
The "product" is meager, nauseating entertainment. For the worker's bet
(labor) the capitalist offers the joy of betting at 4 to 5 for even money.
The capitalist installs a game (capital, which includes the robotic casino
employees). Other casinos may offer better odds, or better amenities to
those who play any particular game, and the capitalist has to come out
with one that is flashier, easier, or simply novel, in the hopes of
keeping his returns high.
Although a gambler seems to be a perfect example of one who
generates surplus value, not all gamblers are profitable. Any particular
table or machine may be a loser, at any time. Hiring Wayne Newton may not
bring in the flock of high-rollers you thought it would. Free drinks and
buffets can cost dearly. A casino can fail to meet its debt obligations.
A player can even win, taking away a bargain. Casinos and capitalism are
perfect money machines when viewed from a distance. The proletariat puts
in pure, hard-earned money and gets.., well,, Las Vegas. They fly home
>from an eyesore in the desert with empty pockets and Steve Wynn smiles
like the Cheshire Cat. But casinos go broke, people go to Aruba and Club
Med, owners overspend, Wayne Newton may not be popular forever.
Marx proved exploitation with wonderful logic and completeness.
Even the fallacy of labour value (as a real thing instead of a theoretical
benchmark) did not hurt HIS message. However, it has since confounded
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