Marx's Labor Theory of Value for Kicks

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Marx's Labor Theory of Value for Kicks

Post by Totenkopf » July 14th, 2007, 6:10 pm

Labor-time does not equal value in terms of wages or production price, according to Marx. He seems to assume that prices-–under capitalism, of course–-including wages, do not match the actual value of the labor required to produce the item/good/commodity. Mark-up, profits, and the supply-demand factors (monopoly, gluts, consumption as a whole, etc.) add all sorts of other problems. Additionally Marx himself admits (reviewing some of the material--count me as one who thinks Capital needed like some severe editing) that he has no rough and ready conversion tables, or exchange rules– which seems a bit strange, since he insists workers are always shorted by management/owners; he seems to rely on some objective labor-value, without being able to specify what that is, or how it is precisely measured or even defined. Thus, he seems to undermine his own argument.

There are other problems with the LTV. Gold has a great exchange value, but that is not the end of the story, and its value is hardly measurable in labor hours (i.e Jed stumbles upon a nugget out in the hills–no real work required). That is perhaps obvious as well, but gold’s value (historically as well) really is not simply a matter of it being difficult and costly in labor hours to mine, but has something to do with status, prestige, Power…………….

Bringing in desire as an explanation of demand or whatever–(Veblen’s conspicuous consumption?) complicates things, or possibly makes economics a branch of clinical psychology--or anthropology of some sort--but nonetheless the Subject and his/her needs, does enter the picture here and there (and my own sense is that Marx’s more materialist aspects–even quasi-biological aspects– are in conflict with some of his abstract theorizing in regards to value, prices, commodification).


<strong>Use/exchange value</strong>

Marx usually avoids "normativity": he does not prescribe; he describes. And like other economists, he has a problem defining, or quantifying, shall we say, utility, and its relation to consumption, or even supply and demand. Water and food–pure use value, right– could be far more valuable than diamonds in many “real world” situations (a drought, or war, riot, etc). Yet in a stable market, obviously the diamond’s exchange value far exceeds that of necessaries such as water.

By commodification he generally means mass production of goods (which have use value, and sometimes exchange value as well–as with precious metals), does he not; or commodification as sort of a phenomena of free-market, industrial capitalism. So commodification, supported by capital (and by labor) may result in various market imbalances –gluts, scarcity, over-under pricing, etc.–sometimes to the benefit of the owners, but not always.

An essential aspect of Marxism, then, concerns how items/goods/resources which have high use value–foods, fuels, textiles, lumber, etc.–<strong>become commodities</strong>, along with the items which have only exchange value–jewels, and really money itself, and what that mass production depends upon, or requires in terms of labor–the exploitation “factor” then somewhat provisional (tho' orthodox marxists might take issue with that). He is still somewhat mercantilist–even contracturalist— in the sense of suggesting that a society based on the exchange of “use value” items–items produced/grown/manufactured by the laborer/owner himself–would be preferable to that of the mass production/industry of capitalism. But instead of the pastoral dreams of a Jeffersonian contracturalist (even one who might agree to the elimination of finance/banking), Marx would have the State manage those contracts, and that’s where any self-respecting anarchist should reach for his revolver………….

<strong>Marxism and the State</strong>

From Marx’s notes to English workers:

“….leaving aside the so-called “rights” of property, I assert that the economical development of society, the increase and concentration of people, the very circumstances that compel the capitalist farmer to apply to agriculture collective and organised labour, and to have recourse to machinery and similar contrivances, will more and more render the nationalisation of land a “Social Necessity”, against which no amount of talk about the rights of property can be of any avail. The imperative wants of society will and must be satisfied, changes dictated by social necessity will work their own way, and sooner or later adapt legislation to their interests.”"” ... n-land.htm

Lenin develops this idea in State and Revolution, making numerous references to M & E. I am not saying it’s prima facie incorrect, but at least call a spade a spade. Marx’s somewhat “agrarian” aspects are among the more cogent sections of his theories, if somewhat utopian.

A few sentences later:

“”National centralisation of the means of production will become the national basis of a society composed of associations of free and equal producers, carrying on the social business on a common and rational plan.”"

Centralization seems fairly close to what one might call statism–or maybe not. Marx offers his lengthy diagnosis of capitalism (from a historical and economic perspective), and then offers a cure. Neither diagnosis (the labor theory of value, really—which is not some immutable law) nor cure should be accepted as dogma, though I believe he was a better diagnostician than healer. Class struggle as dialectic itself presents all sorts of problems. And looking at value as defined strictly by the cost of production (iddn’t that orthodox marxism?) presents problems. Ditchdiggers work a lot harder than do civil engineers, yet most humans would say the guy working out the load bearing equations etc. does perform work, and really does something more valuable–even in “social” terms–than the guys collecting the stone (or refining it into steel, etc.) . How does one quantify the value of different types of work, whether intellectual or laboring? I’m not really sure, but making some assumption of the equality of all work (or workers) is not merely utopian, but naivete of the highest sort (I think Keynes thought that as well).

The quoted essay (and others) indicates that Marx was advocating the nationalization of the means of production, in regards to property, agriculture, manufacturing. I don’t think he’s thinking of stalinist 5 year plans, but it’s still a type of statism.

I’m not sure we are now chatting about diagnosis, or cure, however. A nasty statist bureaucracy co-exists with the corporate and financial powers in many parts of America, doesn’t it. Imagine a kinder, gentler Maoism where the Peoples work the fields for part of the day, and then a bit of factory or technical work, and later something like piano practice, etc… Of course that happens (if it happens at all) after churches have been burnt down, the great financiers, industrialists, technological barons are all arrested, etc. (tho’ not killed, but like given meds and sentenced to some pleasant re-education camps) and “marriage” has been made illegal, and womenfolk work alongside the menfolk. Si Se Puede! VIL himself wrote some interesting things on womens’ lib., and a requirement that females enter the workforce.


<strong>Labor as Cost of Production</strong>

Marx does not offer any magic formula for quantifying the cost of production, for converting various sorts of the labor-commodity into “real” value. So invoking Capital as authoritative misses the point: few “real” economists take the a labor theory of value seriously , at least as specified by Marx. 8 hours of making sofas = how many bags of potatoes, or apples, oats, or fuel, lumber, etc? What about 8 hours of writing java code, or writing in French? Who decides on the various exchanges (or wages, prices, bartering-rules), even in a socialist economy? Utility creeps in, at all stages. The labor theory of value in many cases seems correctly applied, but it is not a precisely defined equation or formula, nor is exploitation. At some point economic problems, problems of distribution, property, division of labor relate to something like “ethics.”

Socialists often seem to think that if workers merely take in higher wages (so that the mysterious labor-value equals what they are “supposed” to be paid–whatever that is—instead of the market wage/price), and are made owners (at least in part), then everything is cool, and the technostructure remains intact. The problem of defining “socially necessary” labor remains mostly untouched, nor is there any real substantive critique of corporations, finance, management, urbanity. A socialized or publicly-owned petroleum “business” might be better for the refinery workers than capitalist petroleum business, but it’s still a racket, destructive to the environment, requiring all sorts of skilled labor, technology etc. It seems a bit naive and reductionist to think that simply making the workers owners, or conversely, requiring management to do some labor, “fixes” things (and the marxist “fix” again usually begs certain ethical questions, however much some some comrades fancy those crypto-Hegelian abstractions of value, commodity, etc.). Perhaps others might experience certain Humean doubts as well while reading econometrics, whether traditional econ. or marxista—as in who the F. cares, even about some supposed equilibrium or efficiency. For some of us, just having a few bright progressives in the CA Assembly (or House, etc.) arguing for higher capital gains and property taxes would be a big step in the right direction; the worker’s paradise can wait.

Perhaps there are other independent thinkers in blog land who sense that KM over-complicated things, rather egregiously: the endless discussion of exchange/use value, the commodity, pricing, labor, production etc. often seems to overlook distribution. Hobbes, 200 years BC (Before Capital) more or less posits equitable distribution–of goods, property, work— as one of his givens—really quite a socialist assumption. That may have been sort of a token offering, but one could, it seems, work from various distributive sorts of assumptions, and produce a rather sophisticated, and even quantitative critique of capitalism–without lapsing into some Proudhon-like utopianism. Much of anti-capitalist but non-marxist writing (such as Galbraith, and even Keynes to an extent) relates more to distribution—than to the problems of production and value. For physicalists–and Hobbes himself obviously physicalist—any values, even relating to work, exchange, wages, property etc. would be negotiated, with an eye to “just” distribution. And ultimately exploitation, whatever form it takes, relates to unequal distribution, more than to problems of exchange or utility. Not real fancy ( Marx’s Hegelian roots should always be held suspect anyways. Looking at those byzantine discussions on Die Waren again I detect Hegel’s ghost).

The labor theory of value could be, arguably, the “essence” of Marx: and not the worst concept to proceed from, even with the above-mentioned flaws. The LTV should be read as a type of empiricism–even British Empiricism—in essence. Marx is responding of course to Smith and Ricardo, offering his update of Ricardo’s LTV (even Locke had discussed a form of the LTV as well). So a real issue remains regarding whether say Ricardo’s version of the LTV (or other more “traditional” economists) is a more accurate model than that of Marx (or other radicals). I don’t always understand the distinction—-Ricardo DOES seem sort of correct that the price of labor would relate to the cost of production; it becomes a matter of which side you are looking at. Management tends to see labor as a liability (which is of course often wrong, exploitative, etc), while the worker feels he is being ripped off—though many workers will do well without working for a company as a wage slave, or they operate as an independent contractor etc. Which is to say, if plumbers, electricians, computer programmers, etc. (proletariat, right) are doing well (and in many places they are), then reforms have worked; Marxism does seems a bit antiquated in some regards to skilled/technical labor: though may be somewhat relevant to unskilled/peasants (say the people who assemble Apple computers in Brazil for a few bucks a day, on NIke shoes in the phillipines, or clothes in the LA garment district for that matter).

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Post by jimboloco » August 1st, 2007, 1:50 pm

I don't underdstand why Marx assumed that the concentrations of population would demand a collectivizaton of the land.
We got agri-biz right now, and the independent spirit of our individualist natures would rather see a specialization of labor with less interdependence upon the land, for many, with a few old style family farmers hanging on.

I like what he said about the initial titles to land coming by brute conquest, with ownership made legal by laws written to that purpose, and a populace that respects the laws without question, unless exploited beyond measure, becomes adament and by collective brute force repeats the act and seizes the land as did the original private brutes, only this time in collective effort, which might apply in old russian serfdumb, but now they got agri-biz too.

they got baskin-robbins in hanoi, man.

do those workers receive a living wage?
mebbe they get health care, retirement pension from the govt
but they don't own the franchise collectively, be willing to bet
some retired beaurocrat with money invested has got it down.

Baskin-Robbins I
20 Ngo Quyen St; Tel: 8252658
Baskin-Robbins II
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Gravel says the Vietnam War was in vain because you can buy a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone in Hanoi. Ho Ho Ho Chi mint. Let’s see, 55,000 American lives divided by 31 flavors...

Wait, doesn’t that mean we won? Otherwise, Baskin-Robbins here would have only one flavor,
in war there's no labor theory of value
for the laborers and profiteers ok,
but not for the wounded or dead

the bonus march never paid off either

i got $600 for being a nam vet from the state of michigan

what is the state of my servitude today?
i called in sick
will get paid about 250 cash
[color=darkcyan]i'm on a survival mission
yo ho ho an a bottle of rum om[/color]

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Post by stilltrucking » August 15th, 2007, 4:34 pm

I tell you this jimboloco but it won't get no traction here

lived through the superannuation of the political categories

I don't want to argue, just lets talk about racoons.

Did somebody mention Carnap?
He sounds refreshing after struggling with Husserl all day.
Since ordinary language is ambiguous, Carnap asserted the necessity of studying philosophical issues in artificial languages, which are governed by the rules of logic and mathematics.

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Post by stilltrucking » August 15th, 2007, 4:48 pm

Sorry Herr Professor about the ref to carnap, wrong post

The remark about the supperannuation of politcal categories is from Life Against Death. Interesting chapter on Dr Swift and Filthy Lucre

A little snip from Brown's obit
Until the 1960s, as Marx had well understood, the overwhelming fact of human life had been the struggle for material existence. , Brown disdained the ‘cheap relativism’ of Freud’s early critics such as Karen Horney and Erich Fromm and understood that ‘the only way around a giant like Freud was through him’. ... l_id=11225
another snip from the obit
How did it come about, at the dawn of the 1960s, that Freud appeared as the successor to a ‘superannuated’, but not yet surpassed, Marxist project?

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Post by e_dog » August 16th, 2007, 5:06 am

Fromm's "cheap relativism"?

Fromm was doing the Freudian Marxist project well before the 1960s, man, and he ain't no relativist, not cheap neither, his books be.

What the heck does superannuated mean anyways? sounds like a bone injury condition.
I don't think 'Therefore, I am.' Therefore, I am.

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Post by stilltrucking » August 16th, 2007, 6:45 pm

it is your thread e-dog
you can always tell me to fuck off

you know what the word means
and if you don't well

On the subject of Fromm and Horney
I don't know
I have read some Horney and very little Fromm
but I remember K&D was reading Fromm her sophomore year and thought it made a lot of sense. Or maybe not. I think I will search around and see if I can find what she posted. I remember it was interesting but I can't remember pro or con. Political science was a hassle for her. I think she was talking about dropping the course.
wonder how she did, I think she would be a senior by now.

anyway I will google around for Fromm amd K&D's post about him.

Sorry TK I got way off topic
I been thinking that left/right don/t mean what it used to

I think K&D mentioned something about that too, smart kid, may she always have professors who love to teach.

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Post by stilltrucking » August 16th, 2007, 7:06 pm

ah shitz
sorry TK it was your thread
but the same goes.
I get you two guys mixed up for some reason.
Have I insulted you again?


Post by Totenkopf » August 17th, 2007, 1:42 pm

Why not address the topic, ST, instead of spamming in from your can of red herrings. Besides, Carnap was not that conservative, and there were some positivists who took an interest in marxist economics: Carnap himself on occasion seemed to be somewhat socialist (tho' more Fabian than Marxist). And while I detest most marxists, especially the more postmodernist sort, the brighter, empirically-minded Marxist generally does have some facts, evidence, and data to back up his claims of exploitation: so in a Carnapian sense, some marxist claims (in regards to capitalist exploitation of workers, for example) could be verified, at least to some extent (though whether the LTV itself could be is another more difficult issue--Marx seems to think it could be).

Great divisions do exist between the "proletariat" and bourgeois (tho' those classes are hardly well-defined or "necessary"), whether in terms of wealth, goods, property holdings, etc. but whether the marxist analysis of those divisions (based on the LTV, and dialectical materialism, really) OR any revolutionary solutions are correct is another matter. And in fact, I don't have a problem with comrades who want to hang a Bill Gates or Larry "Shekels" Elllison or Viacom execs from streetlamps: I do have a problem with the comrades who think the middle class are just sort of Bill Gates in potentia, or who would kill teachers and doctors just because they are more educated and wealthy than ditchdiggers.

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Post by stilltrucking » August 17th, 2007, 2:24 pm

I remember K&D asking when the left moves so far left it is right how do you know the difference anymore.

What is the peoples republic of china
what is Russia now
I can't seem to relate to Marx these days.
What is in store for Venezuela?

It seems like Adam Smith knocked Karl on his ass.
But let us not give up the good fight.
for a planned political ecconomyy

Marx described well
as you tell it
and the communists in germany during Weimar prescricbe ill.

What do I know?
I should not reply to any thread about Marx

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Post by e_dog » August 23rd, 2007, 5:38 pm

there's no value in labour.
'cept tha abour of love.

Marx was a Kapitalist.
George Bush is for the Vietnam War!
I don't think 'Therefore, I am.' Therefore, I am.

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