Schrödinger’s Capital: FYI, Marx NEVER said labor creates value

by Jehu

NOTE 15: Some labor creates value

So, here is the problem with Heinrich saying we don’t need proof for Marx’s propositions: Not all labor creates a product that contains value.

Think of it this way: According to Arthur, money is simply use value with no labor value whatsoever, just like all other commodities. According to the value-form school, it is the physical material of money that gives all other commodities their value, by serving as the form of value, the value-form, the money-form. Commodities, says Arthur, are the product of concrete useful labor, not abstract labor. It is not until these commodities are exchange for the value-form, that they are reduced to values.

In the value-form argument, commodities do not have a social property of value prior to exchange; they remain simply incommensurable use values — objects that cannot be compared as values, because they are of completely different qualities. Thus, before exchange, we cannot say 10 apples equal one hoe because the usefulness of apples cannot be quantitatively compared to the usefulness of hoes. Somehow, the exchange of the objects for the value-form strips the commodities of their useful qualities and reduce them to abstract labor values.

Once this is done, the commodities can then be compared as so:

10 apples equal five dollars.
One hoe equal five dollars.
Therefore, 10 apples equal one hoe

What were previously incommensurable use values can now be compared as abstract values because they have been exchange for money. By each being exchanged for the same sum of money, we can conclude each must have the same abstract value.

If this is true, we should be able to extend this equalization via the value-form thus:

10 apples equal five dollars.
One hoe equal five dollars.
100 rounds of M16 bullets equal five dollars.
Therefore, 10 apples equal one hoe equal 100 rounds of M16 ammunition.

Unfortunately, now we have a problem: Does military hardware have any useful qualities? If not, how can it have abstract labor value? According to Marx, an object that does not have use value cannot have value. Yet the ammo appears to have value. Like the apples and the hoe, the use value of the ammunition was vetted by the same act of exchange when it ‘acquired’ the exchange value of five dollars.

Now, we can assume the ammo has use value. Or we can assume the dollars do not actually confer value on the objects for which they are exchange. Or we can accept exchange does not actually prove the apples and hoe are useful products of labor. How would we establish which might actually be the case?

We have three proposition to explain the ‘value’ of the ammo:

Case 1. The ammunition has value like the apples and the hoe;
Case 2. Exchange does not prove a commodity is a product of useful labor; or,
Case 3: The apples and the hoe are as without any usefulness as the ammo.

In Marx’s labor theory of value, human labor can be expended on objects that have no value resulting from that expenditure. Like water or virgin land, these non-useful products of human labor can appear in the market and be exchanged despite having no value at all. While almost all commentators on chapter 1 of Capital usually point to a case where a lazy producer spends more than socially necessary labor time on his good, it may just so happen that none of the labor expended is useful and produce an object lacking any use value — such as, for instance, the labor required to produce a Trident nuclear missile. This is not a case where the worker spent too much time producing his commodity, or too much of some commodity is produced: the object itself can’t be a commodity because it has no use value.

In any case, it is entirely possible the worker will still get paid for her labor power and the product of her labor will find a buyer in the market — thus, both the labor and its product is vetted through exchange. We already know not all labor produces value in Marx’s theory. If the labor produces nothing of use, the product of labor can not contain value. According to the value-form school the money in the transaction is also a mere use value, containing no value. Money will thus indiscriminately go where ever it is sent, unable to distinguish between useful objects and toxic ones.

The value-form school must explain why it does not matter if 5 billion dollars is paid out for education, or to build a nuclear power plant at Fukushima. Since, according to Arthur, anything can be money as long as the state says its money, the state can print money up and spend it on whatever. In other words, if we accept the value-form argument, the “value” of the Iraq war was more than two trillion dollars.

Marx did not invent the idea that labor is the source of value. He invented the idea that while labor is the source of value, not all labor creates value. Since not all labor creates value, not all the products of labor have value. If the exchange of a product of labor for money is simply the exchange of use values, as the value form school insists, does any transaction prove an object has value? How can you tell? How can you prove this? Heinrich says we do not have to prove it because every school child knows blah, blah, blah…

Why would the value-form school take Marx’s word on this? We don’t have to prove an expenditure of labor creates value because Marx said so, but we know Marx was wrong to assume (“a priori”, according to Harvey) that labor is the source of value? Cherry pick much, folks?

Once Marx proposes not all labor is the source of value, he then begins to tick off the things that do not create value:

  • Your lazy, inefficient approach to production does not create value;
  • Your tithes don’t create value;
  • Your gifts don’t create value;
  • The labor you expend on obligations to the state don’t create value;
  • The labor you expend producing military hardware doesn’t create value.

Critical to Marx’s argument is that his predecessors were wrong: labor does not create value. Some labors create value, but not others. Since you cannot see value, nor see the production of value, how do you distinguish what objects have value and what labors produces value, from what objects and labors do not?

The argument that exchange (Rubin), circulation (Heinrich) or capital (Arthur) turns use-values into abstract values has to fail.