Forwarded mail from Anthony (use value of capital)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 31 14:03:12 MST 2001


Regarding the use value of capital.

The point I originally asked Jim Drysdale to try to explain better, was
his opinion on the use value of capital. In his reply to me he wrote,

"Labour power is the essential use value of capital because only the *use*
of labour power embodies value. Thus, labour power is the variable
component of capital. That is, the use of which in the production
(process) of the commodity adds value to the capital cost of production. M
- C -M+..."

I think Jim is confused about where use value begins and ends, and where
exchange value begins and ends.

Jim referred me to Capital, volume 1, chapter 1, and I agree with him that
that is the best place to refer for a learned opinion on this subject.
Here is the most important quote from that chapter on use value,

"The utility of a thing makes it a use-value.(4) But this utility is not a
thing of air. Being limited by the physical properties of the commodity,
it has no existence apart from that commodity. A commodity, such as iron,
corn, or a diamond, is therefore, so far as it is a material thing, a
use-value, something useful. This property of a commodity is independent
of the amount of labour required to appropriate its useful qualities. When
treating of use-value, we always assume to be dealing with definite
quantities, such as dozens of watches, yards of linen, or tons of iron.
The use-values of commodities furnish the material for a special study,
that of the commercial knowledge of commodities.(5) Use-values become a
reality only by use or consumption:  they also constitute the substance of
all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth. In the form of
society we are about to consider, they are, in addition, the material
depositories of exchange- value."

Although capital, is not a physical thing with a given set of physical
properties in the same way that iron and corn are, it must have a use
value if it is to be bought or sold. The question that Jim and I differ
over, is, in what does that use value consist?

My opinion, which is consistent with Capital Volume 1, Part 1, Chapter 1 -
and I belive with all of the other volumes, parts, and chapters of
Capital, is that the 'use value' of capital consists in the fact that
capital can be 'used' to produce other 'use values.'

However I should have said that the most important use value of capital
consists in the fact that it can be used to produce other use values.
Capital, like almost everything that can be bought and sold, has more than
one use value.

Jim's opinion seems to be that the 'use value' of capital lies in the fact
that it 'embodies value'. I am not sure how Jim is using the word
'embodies'. Maybe he means that it is a 'store of value', 'contains
value', or maybe he means that it 'adds value' (an archaic use of
'embodies' but a legitimate one.)

I think Jim understands that only variable capital adds value, so probably
we should interpret his remark to mean something like,

"Capital's use value lies in its ability to store value."

I would agree with Jim (if this is what he meant) that this is one of the
use values of capital.

All the best, Anthony




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