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Vicissitudes of Value

Posted in Speculation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 2013/09/20 by las Pétroleuses

One of the more controversial constellations of concepts dropped in our lap by the Leftist tradition is Marx’s labor theory of value. On the one hand, in his own context, his views were entirely uncontroversial: when Marx was writing, the idea that value was a product of human labor was simply assumed across the political spectrum, and this had been the case for at least a century. On the other hand, we are looking back on this time from one after the “marginalist revolution” (among other things), and so there is a weird coloring which Marx’s analysis takes on: for those on the right, that enlightened condescension we all know so well, and on the left, that odd combination of nostalgic reverence (“if only we still lived in a time where value was such a simple conundrum…”) and embarrassed occlusion (not to mention those who obstinately defend Marx against all). Here, I’m going to focus on how Marx’s conception of value is stricto sensu idealist; in later posts I’ll address how this problem does not weaken, but in some cases actually strengthens other arguments of his (including, but not limited to, the infamous “law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall”). This post is the first in a series which shall try to illustrate how, far from being outdated, the analyses Marx puts forth in Vol. I of Capital provide the tools for a robust understanding of our contemporary economic situation–how, as Ernest Mandel put it in his introduction to Vol. I, “Marx is much more an economist of the twentieth [or twenty-first] century than of the nineteenth.” (p. 12)

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