Two years ago I wrote a small piece against notions I understood to be fundamental enablers of the traditional law of value in Marxist doctrine and its associated theory of exploitation. The present essay is a completely revamped version of that piece which focuses on the logical structure of my arguments (specifically the biological aetiology of value-significance) and contains revitalized responses to my critics.
A concept or a creed is only as strong as its presuppositions and ideational heritage. When an idea takes the form of a Euclidean axiom in any given system, its errors have the potential to corrupt every other part within that complex, pushing the whole further away from the reality of things in perfect proportion to which its proponents observe the intellectual virtues of integration, consistency, and non-contradiction in later analysis. A fundamental starting point of Marx's analysis of for-commodity production (alongside his derivative theories of profit and crisis) - his crucial axiological commitments to what I call “intrinsicism” - is dead wrong, and utterly fails to recognize the context which makes valuation possible, and talk of valuation meaningful. The present essay details and proves these condemnations in clear terms.
In this essay, there are many sections written with the purpose to both anticipate and answer potential objections, especially ones I have already encountered. In my time since writing the piece mentioned at the outset, I have received more than a few criticisms. I answer them all here. The motive for answering even the incompetent objections consists partly in a predilection for completionism and partly for the benefit of those sober individuals whose potentially similar misgivings are not conceived in bad faith. That the latter sort of group even exists may seem a queer suggestion to those who have debated self-proclaimed socialists on the fundamentals of value theory for any serious amount of time; even among academics and their leaders, heavy sympathizers of Marxist doctrine seem to be unique in commingling their defense of a putatively amoral or descriptive or “functionalist” analysis with an incessant moralizing of their opponent, supplanting rigorous argumentation all-too-often with simple indecency and a level of interpretation games that would make a 21st century theologian blush. An archetypal example can be found within Leszek Kolakowski's section on “Lenin as a polemicist” in book two of his Main Currents:
“In theoretical debates, too, [Lenin] was more concerned to overwhelm the adversary with words and abuse than to analyze arguments in detail. Materialism and Empiriocriticism is an outstanding example, but there are many others. In 1913 Struve published a book entitled The Economy and Prices, in which he argued that value in Marx’s sense, independent of price, was a metaphysical and nonempirical category and was economically superfluous. (This was not a new idea but had been put forward by many critics from Conrad Schmidt onwards.) Lenin commented in these terms: “How can one help calling this most ‘radical’ method most flimsy? For thousands of years mankind has been aware of the operation of an objective law in the phenomenon of exchange, has been trying to understand it and express it with the utmost precision, has been testing its explanations by millions and billions of day-by-day observations of economic life, and suddenly a fashionable representative of a fashionable occupation - that of collecting quotations (I almost said collecting postage stamps) - comes along and ‘does away with all this’: ‘worth is a phantom’.” Lenin proceeds to explain: “Price is a manifestation of the law of value. Value is the law of price, i.e., the generalized expression of the phenomenon of price. To speak of ‘independence’ here is a mockery of science.” Then the summing-up: “Expelling laws from science means, in fact, smuggling in the laws of religion.” And the judgment: “Does Mr. Struve really think he can deceive his readers and disguise his Obscurantism with such crude methods?” This is a typical example of Lenin's treatment of an adversary. Struve had said that value can not be calculated independently of price: Lenin says that to speak of independence is a mockery of science. There is no attempt to meet the real argument, which is drowned in a welter of verbiage and abuse.”
Given that this sort of clear-cut, risible deficiency in logic (assuming Lenin was not being intentionally deceitful) is evidently true of the supposed vanguard, is it any wonder their followers so often resort to tactics outside the purview of reason? If my own experience and research is any indication whatsoever then it simply cannot be overstated how weasely so much socialist analysis is on the issue of value (I have found these same patterns to be true also of laissez-faire proponents on the issue of original appropriation), and so I take great pains in this essay to dismantle some more of the usual weasel-tactics and retorts. But enough about the poverty of Marxist discourse - this essay is about the poverty of Marx’s theory.
“It is actually by experience of our teleology — our wish to exist further on as a subject, not our imputation of purposes on objects — that teleology becomes a real rather than an intellectual principle”.
-- Weber & Varela, Life After Kant
I have begun my essay with this quotation because I want to state the fundamental thesis of my argument right away and in no uncertain terms: the sphere of valuation is coeval with the sphere of life. Whatever other remarks or implications made in this essay, the thesis that evaluation of any and every kind demands organismic embodiment in the face of biological conditionality is the fundamental idea I mobilize to tear at the edifice of Marxist value theory. If that already sounds a bit unwieldy know that I will be going slowly and explicitly through the meaning and derivation of axiological instrumentalism (as opposed to intrinsicism) in a later section. All throughout I draw from scholars and philosophers to expand points but more often to better articulate the position of those probably opposed to my analysis. I have often found that in giving summarizing statements of non-sympathetic interlocutors or principles, individuals rarely pay appropriate attention to the issues at hand as judged from the perspective of the follower. I am therefore eminently grateful to Andrew Kliman for having provided an excellent foil with his paper “Marx's Concept of Intrinsic Value”. Much of Kliman's phraseology, both because - in my estimation - of his distance from individuals like David Harvey on issues of commodity-fetishism as well as his particular appreciation for the importance of the doctrine I wish to attack (which is obviously manifest in his projects to mitigate the assumptions at play in positive interpretations of Okishio's theorem), is highly useful for situating a critique and is used throughout my essay to better ground the exact problem at hand. More positively, I am particularly grateful to philosopher Marc Champagne for his explications of the Objectivist metaethics in the later sections of his paper “Axiomatizing Umwelt Normativity” and the formulations contained therein, and to economics scholar Gilles Campagnolo for his critical identification of the profoundly Aristotelian roots of Mengerian value theory and by extension marginalist thought as a whole.
Before moving on, I want to say a quick word about motivation and the historical precedent of my arguments. Some students of economic history might be thinking that in the face of more than a century of modern value theory, price theory, and massive critiques from Austrian thinkers, mainstream camps, and from self-professed sympathizers even like Mandel or Elster, opposed to what I am taking to calling the “intrinsicist” cause, there is little or perhaps nothing at all more to be said in favor of the “marginalist” or “subjectivist” orientation, and that given this orientation’s present dominance for perhaps a century and counting, the kind of ideas I'm taking aim at here are less than irrelevant in active circles of economic debate. Maybe so. Indeed in the second volume of Howard and King’s A History of Marxian Economics (published over 30 years ago), the authors state “adherence to the quantitative labor theory of value continues to decline…[m]any Marxian economists have simply retreated into a qualitative value analysis.” And while I agree, I continue to see the assumptions that I attack here surfacing by other names and sneakily packed into other premises, often even in academic work (especially attempted resolutions to the notorious transformation problem). In a review of Howard and King’s historical treatment, Kliman characterized the conclusions advanced as a potential cause of the aforementioned “retreat” as proceeding from a “one-sidedly Sraffian” presentation. I take aim at Marx’s value theory here with an explicit focus on the original theoretical construction. My critique is so stylized as to deal exclusively with the fundamentals at hand, i.e., that which makes conceptions of intrinsicism possible. I make no real pretense at originality here in the explication of subject-relativism or “subjectivism”. My purpose is merely to strengthen the marginalist cause by commingling its theory with even more Aristotelianism; I accept the analysis of Soudek and Campagnolo in realizing Aristotle as an ancient anticipator of Jevon's theory of exchange and Menger's theory of value (both of which must be admitted here to have problems of their own), and wish to ally these modern developments with the metaethical theory of Rand, bringing a particular measure of unity to Aristotle's methodological individualism and functionalism in the form of an economic value theory. There is space enough for a stronger and more sophisticated doctrine of instrumentalism, and I aim to at least introduce it here.
Let us begin.
SETTING THE STAGE
Early on in his paper “Marx's Concept of Intrinsic Value”, Kliman notes that while writing Capital and in seeking to split up the conflation of value and exchange-value, Marx held one Samuel Bailey's Critical Dissertation as an object of refutation. Bailey held that exchange-value was accidental: a thing's value is merely the amount of another thing for which it is exchanged. Contra Bailey, Marx conceived of and argued for exchange-value as being distinct from value proper in capitalist circulation, and that the former represents merely a “mode of expression” of a commodity's intrinsic value. Marx writes "... exchange value, generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it". (emphasis mine)
Marx wished to show that in the context of social relations inculcated by a mode of economic activity where “the production of surplus-value is the...sum and substance of capitalist production” a commodity's value belongs not to that which it exchanges for (not to the manifold bodies being the objects and material impetus of exchange) but to itself, and that the act of exchange does not bring about the determination of value but rather brings about the expression of value that commodities have prior to and independent of potential exchanges. Kliman notes then that Marx's essential aim in the beginnings of Capital therefore is not so much to present a “labor theory of value” as it is to present a real and persistent divorce between value and exchange-value, i.e., to rectify the marginalist habit of confusing use-value with exchange-value, of failing to recognize the distinct, evaluative domain qua commodity-form which undergirds capitalist circulation, or “the movement of industrial capital”. This domain persists as an inextricable condition of commodity creation and commodity exchange within the relevant mode of social (re)production which is capitalism.
It is extremely important here to mention that while Marx does indeed consider value an intrinsic property of the commodity itself, he does not consider value to be absolute. He does not consider value to be what Kliman terms a “trans-historical, immutable reality”. It is precisely in capitalism’s particularization of the form under which “social labor in definite proportions” expresses and exchanges that such labor’s corresponding value-form can not help but be historically contingent. The naturalization of strictly capitalist categories (or their coming to supplant the natural in the consciousness of men - this is a potential function of ideology) is for Marx a kind of fetishism. We see this sort of fetishism plainly operative today in the tautological strategy of certain apologetics which uncritically lament departures from capitalist circulation as opposed to the good by nature. What is in fact ordained “by nature” and recognized by Marx is an opposition between the revolutionary spirit and the belief - faithless in man - in the form of social production as something not to be overcome, nay even challenged. In what follows, my critique positions something truly outside the province of the man-made - the metaphysical identity of biological existence - against Marx's qualification of the crucial contingency he commingles with private property relations, i.e., value.
As we move forward then let us never lose sight of the fact that the appropriate sort of value Marx has in mind for marketable commodities (we will treat of the measured and implicit irrelevance given to use-value in a later section) and which we put to question here is not absolute, but has a profoundly social character, related in itself to the present condition of what constitutes the socially necessary aspect of a given commodity's (entire) labor-intensive production. Marx perfectly agrees that value is a property of commodities, but not of the matter of commodities simpliciter, “due to their existence as things" as Kliman puts it.
One more thing to note before moving on. The biggest contention by the author of probably the longest response to my original piece completely failed to understand how it was that my critique of Marx's intrinsicism was in any sense opposed to Marx's theory of commodity fetishism, i.e., how it was that axiological intrinsicism and axiological absolutism are distinguishable. In showing that, for Marx, his disdain for the latter makes explicit recourse to the former, I shall be restating my original rebuttal again here for a later section - plus considerable more explanation - but in less crass and more careful terms than before. For all of the responses I give to previous criticisms my aim is to present very precisely both where the critique has gone astray and/or how my position differs from the misapprehension.
Onto the beginnings now of Capital. And while our focus will remain there, I take great care to incorporate a holistic understanding of Marx's value theory that remains highly conscious of and answerable to future editions and their technical revisions, as well as the concepts brought to the fore by Marx in his non-transient or persistent theory of crisis (throughout his writings), hopefully ensuring that my fundamental attack (beginning here but to be continued in future developments) on the very sign-status or referentiality of such ideas as the “labor theory of value” and “surplus-value” can not go unappreciated or skirted. Most of the heavy theoretical groundwork will therefore be done here.
Unless stated otherwise, all of the following quotations in this section are from Capital.
"our investigation must . . . begin with the analysis of a commodity."
Marx treats the commodity as the basic unit of capitalist production and so begins his analysis of the latter by investigating the former. Kliman, holding the central point of Marx's early analysis to be divesting value proper from simple exchange ratios or from being exhausted by them, notes that there might be a seemingly important difference between Marx's self-professed starting point and what he himself regards it to be. But this is only an illusory tension, for it is precisely in Marx's analysis of the commodity here where he “discloses…that value, unlike exchange-value, is an intrinsic property of the commodity itself” (Kliman). Moving on.
"A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another."
Some Austrian commentators have advanced spurious critiques against the labor theory of value by first pointing to things which exist outside market relations - which presuppose production directed towards the satisfaction of consumer wants (or in other words sets up consumption as the final cause of production), presently real or simply conceived - or outside social relations at all (desert island scenario) and in saying that these things demanded labor in production yet are found to be useful to no one or have else deteriorated beyond any value the labor theory is rendered impotent. This criticism misses the mark because Marx has imported into his characterization of a commodity that it must be capable of presently satisfying human wants of some kind - that it is useful - or as he says later on in a different context, "[l]astly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value." In a later edition of Capital, Marx added that exchange-value is merely a particular form of manifestation of value proper. It makes no sense then to argue that where the former has been lost or degraded the existence of the latter is somehow impugned as a determinant of value for the precondition of that just-mentioned “manifestation” was the object in question having entered an “exchange relation with a second commodity”, i.e., having - ultimately - participated a social reality (which the market relations mentioned above may potentially constitute). Related to this I think is the spurious quality of those candidate exceptions to the labor theory such as aged wine found in a cellar or fine art, because those things, being divorced from usual social production, do not answer to production's usual social character, and so even if they are exceptions to the rule so too are they exceptions to the dominant logic of capitalist circulation, the actual object of investigation. And just as the cognitive economy, usefulness, and truth of concepts are enabled by their omission of non-essential factors, so it is no sin for an axiological or political doctrine to not countenance - intentionally or not - the results and operations of non-essential factors of production (in both value and cost).
We will have further reason to come back to these remarks later on. Let's keep going.
"The utility of a thing makes it a use-value. 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."
Marx here admits that utility does not exist apart from a commodity, the material "bearer" of useful, physical properties. But there is in fact at least one other thing the existence of utility can not do without and which I will identify and expand on later. This is only to say that even if utility as a property of the commodity is independent of the amount of labor necessary to utilize that utility (the very project of utilization obviously presupposes something to utilize), the commodity in itself is not sufficient for the simple existence of utility. The reconciliation of potential want-satisfaction, i.e., usefulness, being used as a necessary condition of commodity-status and my charge of intrinsicism will also be expanded on greatly later.
"Exchange value, at first sight, presents itself as a quantitative relation, as the proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for those of another sort, a relation constantly changing with time and place."
Exchange value or value in exchange is quantitative insofar as it can be expressed as a ratio involving other use-values ("two gizmos for six gadgets"). This relation or ratio is hardly constant. It seems readily obvious that exchange value is not constant and that both persons, place, knowledge and myriad other things appropriate to a given context factor largely in the ultimate determination of exchange value. Recall from the outset that Marx wanted to distinguish between value and exchange value and to show value proper to be what Kliman calls a “non-accidental relation”. This latter goal would hardly be consistent with a conception of value wherein the persons and place can have an ultimate role in the determination of value; a non-accidental account would not permit flux of this sort.
Marx recognizes this. He writes:
"Hence exchange value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms. Let us consider the matter a little more closely." (all emphasis mine)
Let's. And we now turn to the prime object of refutation in this essay: Marx's third-thing argument. I will go ahead and put the uninterrupted substance of his argument first below before later deconstructing it.
"A given commodity, e.g., a quarter of wheat is exchanged for x blacking, y silk, or z gold, etc. – in short, for other commodities in the most different proportions. Instead of one exchange value, the wheat has, therefore, a great many. But since x blacking, y silk, or z gold etc., each represents the exchange value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking, y silk, z gold, etc., must, as exchange values, be replaceable by each other, or equal to each other. Therefore, first: the valid exchange values of a given commodity express something equal; secondly, exchange value, generally, is only the mode of expression, the phenomenal form, of something contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.”
“Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron. What does this equation tell us? It tells us that in two different things – in 1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities something common to both. The two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is exchange value, must therefore be reducible to this third." (emphasis mine)
As Kliman so astutely notes, Marx is not asking here what allows or conditions commodities to be exchanged as many Austrian economists have presumed. He has narrowed his view from the exchange-process to its component parts, to the commodity. He is therefore not asking how or why commodities exchange but as what do commodities exchange, on which the very flow of capital is predicated and even potentially subordinates interests of an order opposed to capitalist reproduction from both the propertied and propertyless alike (this perspective is important to historically socialist chastisement of those theories which exhaust economic movement by recourse to the “laws of supply and demand”, for such laws supposedly explain only oscillations about persistent costs and prices, as opposed to the development of a persistency bound up in the very character and costs of production). To directly restate and paraphrase Kliman: Marx derives the existence of intrinsic value from a postulated exchange of equivalents, not equivalent exchange from a postulated existence of intrinsic value; he has established that commodities exchange as bearers of intrinsic value, a 'third thing' present in each, the exchange-form of commodities’ commensurability, and something appropriately divisible from those commodities’ exchange-values. I have seen an objection to the very idea that the above distinction is a meaningful one and which I present now for the purpose of being able to provide both additional clarification and an introduction to the next section: "if the former claim is true [recall that we just dispensed with the latter claim - deriving “equivalent exchange from a postulated existence of intrinsic value” - above], it should be phenomenally indistinguishable from the latter case. In other words, Marx employs a crypto-noumenal argument for intrinsic value rather than an overtly noumenal argument. Try as he might to obfuscate this through Hegelian obscurity in Volume III, Marx has committed metaphysical properties to the object...". I argue that this is, in fact, a potentially meaningful distinction because exchange can plausibly imply the commensurability ("exchange of equivalents") of its objects without that commensurability consisting in the postulation of intrinsic value. I take the "phenomenally indistinguishable" phrasing to suggest that Marx somehow imports a conception of intrinsic value into his very characterization of "equivalents" (I partly attack this very thing quickly near the beginning of the section after next down below). This is an accurate assessment but it is not necessary to legislate this supposed distinction at the outset to be something illusory or not so genuinely sharp for that would beg the question in favor of instrumentalism as the key to understanding "equivalents", and this is rather something to be demonstrated and not merely assumed.
Therefore before attacking the above argument in its entirety head-on, a complete change of gears to a somewhat lengthy introduction to the epistemological foundations of value concepts, of value-speak whatsoever - the linchpin of the aforementioned demonstration - is necessary.
INTRODUCING OBJECTIVIST AXIOLOGY
“[I]t is the goal-directed character of life - and the biological basis of that goal-directed character - which provides the foundation for the very concept of value.”
-- Allan Gotthelf, Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle’s Biology
What is the fundamental context and basis for our talk of “value”? What essential facts of reality are there which license and give rise to the concept of "value", to the evaluative estimation of things, to their gradation, measurement, and privileging relative to some standard which affords axiological comparison through time (such as in Marx's relating the unpaid value of labor inputs to the value of commodities produced as an explanans of his “M’” characterization)? How are these evaluative concepts formed and where do they come from?
Ayn Rand, building on a thesis of the other-oriented or teleological aspect of valuation inspired by Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, defines value simply as “that which one acts to gain and/or keep”, and delimits the scope of this concept’s application to living organisms (we will attend to some differences between Rand and Aristotle in just a bit). In order to understand why she does this let us first consider or rather uncover the epistemological hierarchy on which "value" implicitly rests (for example the concept of “theft” is genetically dependent upon the concept of “property”; we want to seek out the genetic roots of “value”). Rand writes:
"'[v]alue presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? ‘Value’ presupposes a standard, a purpose, and the necessity of action in the face of an alternative. Where there are no alternatives, no values are possible."
The first thing to note is that value is a subjective-relative or subjective or relational phenomenon. The existence of value demands both the existence of a valuing subject - a "whom" - and the existence of an end to which that value is a means - a "for what". Valuation is not and can not be undertaken therefore in the absence of a goal or end lest the impetus for action be nonexistent, and it can not exist without a subject, something to do the valuing or hold there to be some value - something which may have and indeed does place a stake in the realization of one alternative over another. To show the falsehood of axiological intrinsicism (which is what I am accusing Marx of and who we will soon return to) it is necessary only to show that the supposed intrinsic attribute at hand - our “third thing” in this case - is actually a relational one, i.e., to demonstrate the impossibility of commodities being axiologically valenced per se - as a condition of commodification or otherwise. It is plainly true that physically there are observably intrinsic attributes like mass so it very obviously can not be argued that intrinsic attributes do not exist. The issue is merely whether or not value is such an attribute or instead ultimately subject-relative or what was earlier termed “accidental”. One of the points of this section then will be to show how it is that there really can be no demonstration of intrinsic value because any such demonstration would necessarily entail exhibiting a relation, of seating it in the context of a subject and end, so there can be no possibility of ever disentangling value from this kind of relation. Let us continue.
Rand also writes that value presupposes "a standard, a purpose, and the necessity of action in the face of an alternative". A standard is merely the end of action, the ultimate value to which all lesser values are the means. No stranger to Aristotelian formulations, Rand identifies valuation as needing to culminate in some end, a standard of value (sometimes called an “inclusive end” in Aristotle scholarship). Value demands a "for what" so we see that value is an instrumental phenomenon and takes the form of action towards or satisfaction of some other goal (but not exhaustively so: the biological context of valuation makes it so that the means of life are in a fundamental sense indivisible from life’s realization or achievement - the instruments of life are none other than its constituents. This insight provides a strong basis for rejecting the popular consequentialist versus deontological distinction in ethics but this is a topic far outside the scope of this essay.). Should our values be means to some end (say, education) which is itself a means to some other end (money) which is itself a means to some still other end (livelihood) we find that if this sequence does not terminate in some ultimate value, some standard which facilitates teleological gradations, then the sequence can not start either (we would never "get off the ground" so to speak). In response to a presentation of an earlier version of this paper I saw it objected that Rand's axiology was implicitly contradictory because of clearly accepting the form of Aristotle's “function argument” and yet dispensing with Aristotle's analysis of the human ergon in which the nutritive soul is for the sake of the rational soul. Rand supposedly inverts this relationship by way of commingling or even identifying her standard of value - “man's survival qua man”, the kind of “ultimate value” we have been talking about, with the nutritive soul. I responded as follows:
“At risk of sounding a bit weird in these condensed remarks, I would say Aristotle's biological fascinations caused him to understand the being of man in a more consequentialist light than Rand (I fully understand that Aristotle is not a consequentialist either). By this I mean that insofar as Rand's ethics transcends the traditional coupling of egoism and consequentialism (and I definitely think Rand's status concerning this transcendence is a bit tricky to understand - the previously established historical precedent is not without at least some meritable, comprehensional aspect) the subordination you speak of in Aristotle's thought of the nutritive to rational soul is a kind of subordination Rand would not really admit in the first place. Why? Because Rand does not see the consequence of specific values - be it of the body or the spirit - as something distinct from the goodness in their pursuit; she admits no separation between the good life and the actions to which it owes its existence (e.g. the condition of nutrition before ‘pure contemplation’), even in their respective evaluations. What is good for Rand owes its status not to some separable, consequential actuality, but the causal contribution it plays in the achievement of ‘man's survival qua man’. Thus, for Rand, there is no distinct subordination of any soul to any other, for just as man is an indivisible unity of body and spirit so too are their respective values’ value in the maintenance of human life.
This is perhaps a long-winded way of saying that life is not some consequence over, apart from, against, or separable from its means, its necessary values. It is those evaluations, those actions. While I do think Rand would admit of a gradation of good values (hence the need for ‘teleological measurement’) I do not think she would admit of a gradation owing to some intrinsic distance between physiological and psychological values. So she would speak only of moral values ‘for the sake of’ man's survival qua man, and no biological subsystems responsible for that actualization as ever for the sake of one another, for they aren't actually separable in their ultimate purpose - no gradation in the ‘value’s value’ I mentioned earlier, no ‘second-order’ ethicality, if you will. Rand doesn’t position the rational soul as something which ought to exist for the sake of the nutritive soul because she sees positioning either of these as existing for the sake of the other as something illegitimate; all individual values come to exist for the sake of the causal contribution they make to something beyond themselves - and this makes them instruments - but this further value is in no way disentangled or distanced enough from the values and virtues that constitute a life to qualify as an intrinsic or non-instrumental value, for life is just a complex process of action which consists principally in gaining the very values that are the means to it. The preservation of organismic integrity - be it physiological or psychological, nutritive or rational - is a means to itself. ”
We thus see that value-judgments and actions on them so construed do not spring from a vacuum and can not float away and apart from a complex binding all values as instruments to a standard or ultimate value. Being instrumental, value is always and everywhere bound up in teleological relations. Now these identifications, plausible and useful though they may be, have so far merely been introduced so. To truly demonstrate the fundamental failure of axiological intrinsicism, we must link the sphere of valuation to instruments and subjects beyond simply stating it so (note: we will see later on that value is not simply subjective-relative because of a putative impossibility to act or incorporate or make use of instruments on the part of those existents which are not "subjects", but rather that the issue of value does not come up and is literally unintelligible outside the quest for achieving biological existence, outside the sphere of those existents which are subjects who are living. Champagne puts it this way: “If the ontological continuance of life was guaranteed like that of matter, [Rand] argues, no value could be possible, for there would be no real alternative to anything - no incentive to order one object or activity as more or less important than another . . . Values are thus an objective fact that flows from the finite biological existence of any creature. It is only because an organism can at any time lose its life that it has a tangible stake in its surrounding environment.”).
Indeed some might now be thinking something along the lines of, “okay, this is all very well and good, but you've merely defined value in such a manner so that teleology and a valuing subject play an important role and have not in fact yet demonstrated the necessity of this coupling. The legislating of terminology does not seem to supplant the identification of a cause, a reason why we should not be allowed to hold value of the kind we mean to inhere in existents independent of a valuing subject.” Perfectly related to this, some might be thinking also that Marx is licensed to define "value" in any manner he wishes just so long as he is consistent in use and with respect to what he wants to explain, i.e., the regulation and movement of capital, prices, etc. This attitude seeks then an apparent safety in stipulated artifacts and definitions qua stipulations. What this perspective completely and utterly fails to grasp however is that the issue is not at all about what anyone thinks what the word "value" should or should not mean, or can mean. Aristotle writes in his Topics, "it should make no difference whichever description is used; for our object in thus distinguishing them has not been to create a terminology, but to recognize what differences happen to be found between them" (emphasis mine). Our issue is thus rather about the identification of exchange-values' commensurability character (and not condition - recall the bit about "postulated exchange of equivalents" and Marx's explicit acknowledgment of what Austrians sometimes call the "double inequality" precondition of exchange taking place) as something inextricably bound up with biological being, rendering illicit any stipulated sense of "value" which hopes to capture this character without explicit recourse to that which can not belong to the commodity-form alone, and could never even hope to be the end-result of Marx's "seeking the one-in-the-many-commodities" (such as “being a product of labor”). Stipulations may err epistemologically if the putative definiens contradicts, evades, or otherwise negates the very phenomena which cause and allow for the referent(s) in question to be conceptualized, to be given meaning and context. Put another way, Marx's relevant definiens is fundamentally separated from that which causes the need of an organism to privilege things within its umwelt (as well as ultimately sets the satisfaction of want in general against the alternative of not-life) and which serves as the objective dual cause of both the exchange phenomenon and what constrains by necessity what commodities may be exchanged as. For without an eye to organismic-relativity the identification of a common property is relegated to the identification of a similarity relation simpliciter, i.e., an identification without an eye to exchange, to the mode of commensurability in question and the very object of our inquiry. I will expand on these points more in the next section. For now, let's go back to the issue and relevance of alternatives for the existence of values. From Rand:
"There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence-and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not; it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death."
As I partially hinted at in the very beginning of this paper, Rand ultimately couples the existence of values with the existence of life. It is the constant conditionality of the form of life that gives rise to the metaphysical need of values and to the need of acting to secure and keep things instrumental to an organism’s' preservation, to privilege objects within one’s environment. Without life, there can be no value-significance, no reason to have some stake in the world which is not allied in some sense with the specific action(s) demanded of survival. There is no preference without conditionality, no standards outside the context of a struggle. This is the metaphysical basis for claims to value. The subject-relative aspect of all value is by nature an embodied, biological perspective. Champagne again: “[I]f we are to understand why there are values to begin with, [Rand] argues that we must recover the immanence implicit in embodiment, and grant full metaphysical primacy to particular lives.” (emphasis original)
I omit a more technical discussion of Rand's "necessity of action in the face of an alternative" qualification here in favor of mentioning that in the absence of alternatives (which is not the same as saying the outcome is metaphysically given; alternative does not imply choice) there is no basis for assigning any outcome a place in an axiological lattice (beginning with life) because it has been made necessary that some entity's own action is unnecessary or necessarily ineffective; valuation is utterly distinct from passivity and even when metaphysically given processes are what animate an entity in imitation of a process of valuing the distinction still holds. This distinction ultimately turns on the phenomenon of self-generated action, a phenomenon Rand held in conjunction with self-sustaining, and goal-directed action as partly essential characteristics of the living organism. Rand admitted (or stressed) even things like some non-conscious cellular actions and phototrophic processes as instances of valuation, of valuing (the "telos" in both cases being preservation or the active maintenance of bodily integrity and of life). When we look out into the world we find few things capable of instantiating goal-directed action - of acting to gain and/or keep things. Most entities surrounding us in our everyday lives are inert and unconscious. Most things simply do not engage in goal-directed action or act to gain and/or keep anything. While we can perhaps subsume the falling of any body under the concept of "action" the relevant sense employed here is specifically self-generated action; what must be stressed is not merely that a thing participates in action but that it instantiates it. This insistence on self-generation is not to deny the existence of external, efficient causation but merely to regard it as indecisive and in fact incessantly mitigated by the actions of organisms whose energy generation we must locate within internal structures (and as directed by internal mechanisms), be it information from the nucleus to internally held energy structures or conscious decision making. Of course, no organism can create its own energy as all energy ultimately derives from external sources and even fully deterministic, biochemical reactions would qualify as instances of self-generated action so long as the immediate source of energy and the powering of action can be located within the organism. In fact, the vast majority of internally-generated action is indeed a response to external stimuli but while that stimulus may be responsible for triggering certain action it does not power it. There even exist structures "designed" to ignore external stimuli almost entirely and operate only by intrinsically generated movement such as in the neuronal structures responsible for circadian rhythmic patterns of mammals.
To make clear the distinction between the destruction of the inanimate (and its forms) and the cessation of life insofar as both relate to the notion of a fundamental alternative, it is necessary to point out that the inanimate is not presented with the immediate alternative of death, that both its form and the material processes which facilitate its recognizable, emergent structures are a given, and that its destruction or change (in form) is ultimately, save for external interference, a matter of nothing but deterioration. Life is utterly distinct from this - its continued existence requires active, goal-seeking, and achieving processes by the organism as a whole, as an integrated unit in opposition to the disconnected, disintegrated, and given courses of its ultimate material constituents in isolation. The destruction of the form of life is potentially reducible not merely to the destruction of its elements (which could precipitate the destruction of something like solidity on account of imposing a different electronic structure), but to the improper activity of those elements’ functioning as an integrated whole. Just as life is not to be found in any of its ultimate components so its cessation is not simply a matter of losing them. Death and the loss of functioning are not primarily about the loss of an element (save for obviously something like a major organ) but of those elements’ proper functioning. It is true that the loss or removal of particular elements such as oxygen will result in death. The loss of these elements is not itself however the loss of life but merely what precipitates it, despite the activity of life consisting precisely in things like respiration; just as life is irreducible to its component parts or element-potentials so it is irreducible to its component activities or structural-potentials. Life is not a quantum, but motion of a specific kind. Therefore while inanimate matter merely is and will be for time without end the animate can become inanimate. The living and the dead are different. Life, as a constant process of action, stands as the value-generating phenomenon, the terminus of instrumentality and the starting point and standard of any axiological lattice. Value always and everywhere begins with life or more accurately living subjects, and stays bound to them as individual, living subjects. There is a literal nonsensicality to the disentangling of value from a valuing subject, of holding value to inhere in anything at all and in our present case, a commodity. It is finally time to turn back to Marx's third-thing argument.
ENDING THE LTV
Back to Marx's argument:
"But since x blacking, y silk, or z gold etc., each represents the exchange value of one quarter of wheat, x blacking, y silk, z gold, etc., must, as exchange values, be replaceable by each other, or equal to each other. Therefore, first: the valid exchange values of a given commodity express something equal..."
This last proposition is, especially in the manner Marx uses it as a condition of magnitude (for labor power) to which money answers in his exploitation theory, an egregious non sequitur. The "replaceability" Marx speaks of here means merely the accidental interchangeability of exchange values for a given commodity. And in this sense they are equal, qualitatively, in simply serving as exchange values, but this does not evince any axiological or quantitative (“...there exists in equal quantities something common to both”) equality precisely because in framing those exchange values as replaceable the subjects involved in the exchange are omitted, and what constitutes a "valid exchange value" can likewise literally not be understood in the absence of an exchanging (valuing) subject.
"Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron."
Characterizing the act of exchange as the interchange of equivalents has been done ever since antiquity. Indeed Aristotle writes in Book V of his Nicomachean Ethics that “[n]either would there have been association if there were not exchange, nor exchange if there were not equality, nor equality if there were not commensurability”. Marx saw himself as answering for the true character of this commensurability, perhaps even against Aristotle's stipulation of nomisma (money), for money is again removed from the true character of value in serving the role of representation. Put another way, the universal representation accorded to money has as its cause of universality a common substance to represent - the emergence of price is not a given but an eminently socialized phenomenon.
But where Marx's reduction of commodities caused him to privilege abstract labor-force as the commensurability condition, Aristotle gives us (beyond Book V) the beginnings of an intersubjective mechanism of commensurability and price-fixing, a relation grounded not in the objects of exchange, but its subjects. Campagnolo puts it this way:
“subjective value as resulting from the individual judgment of the partners in trade determines the valuation that each partner has of the good he/she intends to trade for another, for which he/she feels urgently some need that asks to be satisfied. There lies the source and rule of the process of exchange, together with its necessary starting impulse: someone (an ‘agent’) feels a need, understands that some good is able to satisfy that need and values according to the intensity of the latter.” (emphasis original)
In Book IX of his Ethics, Aristotle (having dispensed with the topic of distributive justice in Book V) writes of the perpetuation of mutual agreement:
“For as a rule, those who have a thing value it differently from those who want to get it. For one's own possessions and gifts always seem to one worth a great deal; but nevertheless the repayment is actually determined by the valuation of the recipient. But he ought no doubt to estimate the gift not at what it seems to him to be worth now that he has received it, but at the value he put on it before he received it.” (all emphasis mine)
Early debates in socialist circles on Marxist value theory introduced the issue of the permissibility of reducing Marx's third-thing to abstract utility in just the same way Marx had gone about the isolation of abstract labor. This was resisted by Henry Hyndman on account of the particularizing function of the individual with respect to utilization, thereby making it impossible to measure use-values of one kind against another in this fashion (except by recourse to something like money), and leaving such a notion as “abstract utility” perfectly meaningless on account of dropping the “particulizer”, the subject. To this end, he borrowed a passage from Ricardo while lambasting the value theory of his long-time opponent Jevons, and which I quote only very partially here:
“When I give 2,000 times more cloth for a pound of gold than I give for a pound of iron does it prove that I attach 2,000 times more utility to gold than to iron?”
The phrasing and presumption at work in the very formulation of this query crucially begs the question in favor of a fundamentally cardinal kind of measurement appropriate to the quantification of our “third-thing”, divorced from a patently ordinal system of measurement which would be at work were the locus of commensurability to be identified with a commodity's capacity to redound on an individual's axiological lattice, and where such qualifiers as “2000 times more” are totally inapplicable. The intensity, impact, and influence of exchanged-for objects on the achievement of values are not measured with cardinal numbers, but with ordinal rankings, i.e., teleologically. Let us clarify this principle further by turning back to Marx for a moment:
"What does this equation tell us? It tells us that in two different things – in 1 quarter of corn and x cwt. of iron, there exists in equal quantities something common to both. The two things must therefore be equal to a third, which in itself is neither the one nor the other. Each of them, so far as it is an exchange value, must therefore be reducible to this third."
In exchange, this “third thing” is not actually a thing at all, but a disposition, a mutual attitude of exchangers towards their respective end of exchange relative to the thing personally exchanged. And more, this disposition is quantifiable not in virtue of a totally illicit magnitude measured in “labor-time hours”, socially necessary or otherwise, but the ordinal difference between the exchanged and exchanged-for, the position of the latter as closer to the top of each individual’s axiological lattice, i.e., life or the satisfaction of want generally, in the judgment of the trader. The what I am taking to calling the “commensurability condition” of commodity exchange is to be found not in a reduction to some depersonalized “third-thing” present in each commodity, but an evaluative attitude present in each exchange participant. Marx is perfectly aware of the existence of this attitude in Capital, but errs in positing the exchange-form of commodities, the “what commodities exchange as”, as something to supplant or else is estranged from the domain of instrumentality, of subject (and not social - more on this in just a moment) relativity (“We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange-value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use-value…the common substance that manifests itself in the exchange value of commodities, whenever they are exchanged, is their value.”, emphasis mine). Related to this, Hilferding, in his essay responses to Bohm-Bawerk's “psychological theory” of value and criticisms of Marx, tried to argue that Marx does not neglect use-value in the appropriate sense by calling attention to his treatment of utility (“to satisfy wants”) as a precondition of commodification and of exchange proper. I have seen this tactic employed also by other less adept socialists when trying to confront the notorious criticisms advanced by Wicksteed. But the issue is not at all about the importation of utility in the abstract as guaranteeing the desirability of exchange, but the primacy and condition of utility exhausting the form of value, of value in use supplying the fundamental character of commensurability. The very fashioning also of value as something commonplace, or in other words the reduction of commensurability to something belonging simply to the multiplicity of objects to be exchanged simpliciter - and on which basis they appear throughout exchange - subverts entirely the individually particularized, i.e., biological, character of the evaluative relation between a subject and objects valued as well as between the objects (the conditionality of biological existence can be the only cause of evaluative gradations and equalities), and actually pushes the original prerequisite of want-satisfaction as a condition of commodity-status into irrelevance - which was precisely the goal in moving beyond the accidental/"phenomenal" form of exchange-value - because it exists on and pertains to an axis of evaluation estranged (throughout capitalist circulation) from that axis which supposedly appears as a multiplicity! The appropriate recovery of individuality belonging to “my” theory here can perhaps be seen also in its non-failure to subsume those previous “exceptions” to the labor theory (which, again, is not to be read uncritically as an immediate error or weakness) in something like the value of water as something greater than that of the proverbial diamond to a stranded adventurer in a desert; the satisfaction of basic nutritive requirements is a principal activity of securing bodily integrity at all times and therefore as a value always oscillates very near the top of axiological hierarchies; in all cases of value-creation and value-seeking does the body facilitate their means.
The commonality we have been speaking of therefore is not substantial but intentional, for a “postulated exchange of equivalents” is necessarily a postulation which countenances inter-subjectivity, and not merely inter-commodity relations. Commodities do not themselves exchange but rather individuals exchange commodities, and no theory of exchange can legitimately lose sight of those individuals doing the exchanging. And whether value is parsed in exchange, in utility, or in any other manner, each and every one of these categories is subsumed by - is parsed from - the overarching and exhaustive category of biological value which, strictly speaking, is a redundancy; value is inextricably agential. Exchange in itself is not predicated on nor does it evince any say about the objects of exchange per se, but only the relation they hold to the exchangers. The only “qualitatively equal” part is the apparent concomitance of interest in the exchangers, not a concomitance or even the very existence of intrinsic values. Like I've said, the “third thing” is to be found in and is the relationship all exchangers hold toward what they are exchanging for: perceived gain (whether or not any party "actually" gains is irrelevant since the dispositions - not the effective content or eventual results - of the party members is all that matters; the quantification of “gain” is also an issue of teleological measurement). Just as Marx implicitly omits the metaphysical necessity of a valuer for the existence of values, so he implicitly omits the necessity of the relationship which must hold between valuers with respect to the values they each exchange for in order for those objects to be characterized (and not conditioned - this distinction has already been explained and made use of multiple times above) in the very first place as exchange-values.
But wait just a minute you say. What about the “social character” of value - the relational aspect of value for which Marx criticized as fetishists those who do not recognize such a domain? Does not the qualification of “socially-necessary” bring subjectivity back into the fold?
The decoupling of value and valuer is impermissible because value is a profoundly biological phenomenon, a perspective on existence requiring an embodied, conditional being whose life serves as the telos of axiological ordinality, and gives meaning to the necessity of valuing this or that, and indeed this over that (which operates most saliently during exchange). In recognizing that I have damned Marx for ignoring the organismic component of valuation critics have sought to recuperate this condition by pointing to Marx's comments - which I myself have already stressed very explicitly at the beginning (and where I even produced multiple critiques also of what entails when you forget them) - about the socialization of commodities and the social character of their value-form, and thereby reclaim the supposed relational character of value by citing value’s relation to society. This is very simply more intrinsicism at work, and a failure to appreciate what it is the relational character of value in fact relates. Substituting society for valuing agents achieves no less depersonalization than proclaiming the metaphysical independence of value altogether; society is not a living thing (or in any way subject to the requirement of specific actions which it must take to “survive”; society is not even the sort of thing which acts in the relevant sense at all), it is merely composed of, cultivated, sustained, and created by living things. It is in fact an abstraction (but not merely so). Death is not an abstraction, but the real, existential consequence of failing to acquire the appropriate values conducive to survival. Abstractions “die” only when the individuals who create, record, and remember them do, and do not themselves seek at all, let alone seek values. The recovery of the relational aspect is possible only with the introduction, not of valuers - or proclaiming its embodiment somehow magically within and among them, but of a valuer, of an individual, living, valuing subject who is immanently subject to the struggle for being. The conditionality of biological existence is a conditionality that one faces.
Another criticism I frequently saw early on, and was mentioned at the very beginning of this essay, was how is it that I am able to maintain the charge of intrinsicism against Marx when he himself seems to mobilize a charge of intrinsicism against those who would fetishize value, absolutize it?
My original answer, which made a total mockery of this equation but in terribly crass terms, identified that precisely in Marx's criticisms of these “fetishists” does he still make explicit recourse to the intrinsicism I have been arguing against all along as a fallback position. In other words, he holds the doctrines of axiological absolutism and axiological intrinsicism to be jointly exhaustive. Kliman puts it this way: “Marx is here criticizing these authors not only for their failure to recognize that value is determined by labor-time. In claiming that they absolutize and fetishize value, he is criticizing the notions that value is a trans-historical, immutable reality…” (emphasis mine). The recourse to the intrinsicism of “labor-time” is perfectly obvious. Dino Felluga, who I recently learned wrote one of my better friend's textbooks for a graduate course on Critical Theory puts it this way, “[t]he connection to the actual hands of the laborer is severed as soon as the table is connected to money as the universal equivalent for exchange. People in a capitalist society thus begin to treat commodities as if value inhered in the objects themselves, rather than in the amount of real labor expended to produce the object.” and “[s]ince we only ever relate to those products through the exchange of money, we forget the ‘secret hidden under the apparent movements in the relative values of commodities; that is labor…” (all emphasis mine). So much then for the apparent congeniality of Marx's criticisms and my own. The dichotomy of absolutism and intrinsicism is not only false, but both positions, being de facto addled as a consequence of omitting the subject and relational character of value in the appropriate sense, are equally bereft of any real referent (it is for this reason also that the construct of “surplus value” is so profoundly illicit; it is only by holding to the incorrect notion of value as a quantum that the value of productive labor and the value of commodities sold can be held as something obviously and easily determinable and commensurable, which is to say absolutely nothing of the facile equation of profit with unpaid labor or axiological ratios more generally and the pathetic ignorance of the role of creative-value-integrations and management more generally, irreducible to the activity on the part of what is usually and disgustingly named the “workers” by Marxists, in the expansion of productivity and running of profitable enterprise - more on this below). As George Santayana puts in his excellent narrative, The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy, “If one man says the moon is sister to the sun, and another that she is daughter, the question is not which notion is more probable, but whether either of them is at all expressive”. Axiological instrumentalism, being the only perspective which explicitly recognizes the metaphysical basis of valuation in biological reality, is the expressive doctrine. Value simply does not and can not inhere in commodities or anything else. The determination of equivalency depends directly on the very phenomenon Marx has implicitly omitted - the valuer. Let's turn back to some more clarification of his argument now.
"A simple geometrical illustration will make this clear. In order to calculate and compare the areas of rectilinear figures, we decompose them into triangles. But the area of the triangle itself is expressed by something totally different from its visible figure, namely, by half the product of the base multiplied by the altitude. In the same way, the exchange values of commodities must be capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all, of which thing they represent a greater or less quantity."
If anyone could still be in doubt about Marx's fundamental commitment to axiological intrinsicism this passage is all she would need (or should be). Marx's illustrative analogy here fails for just the same reason his basic analysis of the commodity fails; value is not an intrinsic but a relational phenomenon. Area is an intrinsic attribute of two-dimensional figures and is "decomposable" into different and dissimilar figures each containing their own respective areas. Area is therefore a self-contained phenomenon but value is irrevocably not. The existence of a calculating subject is not necessary for the existence of area but only its determination. The existence of a valuing subject is necessary for both the existence of value and its determination (as "greater" or "lesser" ordinally). Kliman has this to say about the apparent “intuitiveness” of intrinsicism:
"...in this society, it is a fact that even apart from and prior to any exchange of our wheat we think and say that it ‘has a value (or price) of, ‘is worth’, so much money. Moreover, we act on this basis. We compute ‘the value of’ our assets and our ‘net worth’, we decide to buy items if they ‘are worth’ more than the sticker price, etc., and we do so before we exchange and whether or not we exchange."
What Kliman fails to consider here is that these judgments are made not on a basis antecedent to exchange, but on the basis of antecedent exchanges. Consider for instance the failure of unlearned and primitive peoples to "properly" assess the value of things like gold, money, furs, and most especially land. It is precisely because they were not familiarized with these objects and their potential utility (especially as a function of buying power, properly understood. Note: like the classical economists, Marx shared a critical focus on the costs of production in the determination of price. This is perfectly appropriate and properly opposed to those who, opposite of Marx, would forget the object for the subject, and render prices out of psychological phenomena alone. A responsible "marginalist" theory of price adequately commingles the costs of production with the determination of utility itself, and therefore helps to give the object and subject both their proper due; that is what it means to observe the relational nature of value. Sundering either side of the valuation phenomenon from the other is illicit. Transcending the false dichotomy of intrinsicism and abject-subjectivism for an articulation of the objective is the way forward.), scarcity, demand, and productive opportunity which is associated with what they exchange and for which they exchange that their assessments seem utterly alien and strange to people of a more industrial character - people who have been familiarized again and again with such objects and more importantly a social context which has both enabled and regulates a prevalence to impute to these objects (including fiat money) a value in exchange and in production (and obviously not in the superficial Marxian sense as a condition of commodification as such; I plan to discuss the ultimate and efficient regulation of prices by instrumental utility alongside their persistent determination by costs of production in future essays) not appropriate to the life-course and social productivity of primitives. As a political aside, it is also quite interesting that Kliman has apparently never thought to apply this “basis on which we act” of his to the phenomenon of wages, for it is precisely in this sort of value-maximization on the part of the buyer - of both commodities and labor-force - that a competition is afforded between the sellers which render the reproduction of labor-force’s bare necessities totally and completely irrelevant to the determination of wage rates. The total failure to import a recognition of potential utility whatsoever as a means to judge the value of an exchange is reminiscent of Wicksteed’s remarks about the intolerable tension between Marx’s reduction of any one commodity’s marketable nature to that of being “a product of labor” while at the same time maintaining that no labor counts as labor save for when it is useful, removing us from the domain of relations between commodities and pushing us to relations to their individual bearers, the realm Marx worked so hard to dissociate from the exchange phenomenon (hence the “socially-necessary” qualification meant - partly - to counteract claims to the heterogeneous nature of labor in the abstract) so as to rescue the non-accidental character of value. Let me close by quoting what I regard to be the most dialectically crucial thing Kliman says in his paper:
"It seems to me that this conclusion follows necessarily once one grants Marx’s initial premise... he succeeds in showing that the wheat in fact ‘has many exchange values instead of one', that each of these exchange-values is an interchangeable expression of the same thing, the wheat’s ‘exchange’-value, and that they thus ‘express something equal’. Any challenge to this conclusion must therefore challenge the initial premise. One must argue that, although the wheat exchanges for other commodities, it does not (in any other sense) ‘have’ an exchange-value."
While Kliman is abjectly wrong in his agreeing with Marx that there is any expression of axiological equality for reasons mentioned above it is crucially important to point out that I have indeed challenged the exact initial premise he singles out here: that commodities "have" an exchange-value, have an axiological aspect inherent to them (of which exchange-value is mere expression). This premise serves also as “Premise 1” of a totally contrived deductive proof I've seen from him elsewhere of Marx’s arguments and is risibly accorded the status of “Fact”. Intrinsicism is not a fact; it is a contradiction in terms. As I said before, “there can be no demonstration of intrinsic value because such a demonstration would necessarily entail exhibiting a relation . . . so there can be no possibility of ever disentangling value from a relation” or in our case, the relation appropriate to the individual trader.
The phenomenon of life is a localized universe of individual struggles against entropy, the metaphysical phenomenon which gives meaning to the valuation of things. Born of disorder, life alone seeks to preserve the clay so that it may be shaped and valued; the biological character of evaluation can never be supplanted, can never be ignored, can never be disentangled from an agent.~
ADDENDUM: REFUTING THE EXPLOITATION THEORY - A SHORT INTRODUCTION
Fundamentally, there is no such thing as surplus-value. It is only on the basis of the kind of intrinsicism refuted above that the total "value" of labor's remuneration and the total "value" of labor's products (or incorporated productive labor - labor which is useful, and therefore "counts as labor") can be understood as commensurable quantities, which does not even speak yet to the postulation of their (axiological) difference, which is then positioned as the economic basis for the existence of profit. It is only in thinking that labor simply has a value and that its associated products simply have a value (recall: "an exchange-value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities [including labor]") that the kind of putatively quantifiable difference identified by surplus-value is given meaning and context; surplus-value reduces to the surplus of the "value" of labor-force over the "value" of its remuneration. As has been demonstrated above (which is why we must keep employing scare quotes), these supposed values attributable to labor-force and its creations simpliciter do not exist. The idea of surplus-value identifies a difference between completely nonexistent value quanta, and so literally means precisely nothing when delimited to the usual attempts at capturing the simple and persistent axiological relationship between (supposedly not fully compensated) labor and its products (we will speak to plausible and legitimate, conceptual recastings of the idea behind "surplus-value" in a bit). To put it very simply, surplus-value does not exist because intrinsic values do not exist; the difference between completely unreal magnitudes is itself a completely unreal magnitude.
But the doctrine of surplus-value, specifically as an explanation for the existence of profit in capitalist society, is far more broken even than this (as hard as that may be to believe), for not only does it represent a nonexistent difference between nonexistent magnitudes, but the original identification of any difference whatsoever (which is usually merely just asserted in Marxist doctrine as a characterization of capitalist production given the historico-political precedent in the social production of surplus labor under feudal arrangements especially, and the total internal inability to deal with the origin of rent/profit in the aggregate as well as the apparent desirability of labor's employment without recourse to axiological intrinsicism) depends entirely on countenancing a totally nonexistent axis of commensurability (which has already been criticized at length above). Once we understand that the exchange-form of commensurability does not and can not exist without an eye to organismic-relativity, we are in a position to understand not only that the value of labor and its products cannot be disentangled from the perspective and judgment of the laborer, capitalist, or consumer, but that the creation of profit cannot be reduced to the supposed imposition by the "ruling class" of conditions of privation on those who sell and are - "therefore" - paid for only a part of their labor (because a measure of control and arbitrariness is seemingly afforded to the employer given that the laborer is coerced or subjugated in the sense of being harmed or even faces death by failing to exchange); the transformation of an axiological surplus into a monetary one, alongside other laborers' willingness to pay and indeed set the prices involved is something to be explained by a theory of value, and will, properly, necessarily countenance the value-judgments of the consumer. In order to further appreciate the asymmetry of these two kinds of surpluses, let us briefly consider a business enterprise which is not profitable and is losing money. The phenomenon of loss cannot be reduced to paying one's employees "too much" or even more generally to having too great sales costs. For even though loss is to be characterized essentially by having sales costs which exist in excess of one's sales revenues, it is not usually merely because one is paying this or that in costs that one has losses, but primarily because of facts about the extent to which that which one is producing is (not) selling. To expropriate "unpaid labor time" is not necessarily to sell its products, nor is it in any way a guarantee that those products will be sold in proportion to which those imagined (the imaginary and ideological character of surplus-value must keep being re-emphasized) differences between value produced and value compensated (by the employer or capitalist) are construed. Just as the the phenomenon of loss is irreducible to an axiological surplus being corralled by labor, so the phenomenon of profit is irreducible to an axiological surplus being collared by that labor's employer. It must be noted that all of this does not mean however that surplus labor or unpaid labor time can not or does not exist (even today slavery is still a very real phenomenon), but merely that what appropriately justifies the qualifiers "surplus" or "unpaid" is the labor's relation to other, genuinely potential opportunities for greater compensation, and not the simple existence of profit as such. In other words, and as partial summary of the entire preceding paragraph, value and demand are indivisible, and not simply because desire precipitates or conditions exchange. To reiterate a sentence from earlier: "...the issue is not at all about the importation of utility in the abstract as guaranteeing the desirability of exchange, but the primacy and condition of utility exhausting the form of value, of value in use supplying the fundamental character of commensurability."
The notion that one is or can be paid less than what one is "worth" is meaningful only in the context of that (generally) same market in which one's work is employed, and relative to a knowledge of better paying options within the market for sufficiently similar work; there is no such thing as being paid less than what one is "worth" on account of simply being employed, and indeed one's remuneration is properly understood as a constituent or determining factor of the value of one's labor to oneself. The proper response to the utterly confused query, "How or why would I be employed if I am being paid what I am worth?", is first and foremost: What you are worth? Worth - to whom? By recapturing the agent-relative character of value it immediately becomes clear that the money paid is of lesser value to the firm or employer than the work paid for, but that the work paid for is of lesser value to the employee than what is paid as compensation. One could just as easily say one is paid more than what one is "worth" on account of intrinsically privileging the employee's evaluation of the work produced (which may in fact represent value to the employee by itself but which is generally not the case in modern industrial society given our increasing connectedness and the benefits which are made possible to consumers by those who create the means of production) as the standard of measurement, in just the same as the employer's evaluation of the work produced (which even still is commingled with a knowledge of the work's respective compensation) is privileged as the standard of measurement in constructing facile accounts of surplus-value. The reason these standards are illicit and so misguided in their application is because value is always and everywhere agent-relative, and the aforementioned privilege-granting depersonalizes value by attempting to gradate options from some fundamentally extra-personal perspective. This can not be done. There is no such thing as "what you or your labor are worth" in and of themselves, but we can however capture one more innocuous recasting of this general notion by commingling "worth" instead with objective productive capacity, and on this basis we can construe a legitimate type of "surplus" (which stands implicitly behind my earlier recognition of surplus labor and unpaid labor time). The careful reader will notice earlier that I wrote, "what appropriately justifies the qualifiers 'surplus' or 'unpaid' is the labor's relation to other, genuinely potential opportunities for greater compensation, and not the simple existence of profit as such", and that it could rightly be objected that the appropriate sort of man, which, if he had control of his own plot of land, could produce and keep the whole of his product without having to share any part of his creations with anyone which might already simply own the plot, and that this would indeed constitute a case where it would be permissible to speak of a surplus - which has been taken from him - belonging to an individual act of labor regardless of what opportunities may exist around him. It is this perspective where the employer, owner, or capitalist contributes effectively nothing to the process of production that animates most pedestrian conceptions of worker-capitalist relations among those who are partial to anti-capitalist sentiment; a man is not to be thanked for giving back what he has taken away (recall the tautological apologetics I mentioned near the beginning, e.g., "capitalists are good because capitalists facilitate capitalist modes of production"), let alone giving it back in putatively incomplete amounts. Not only is this perspective utterly inadequate on account of its childish and borderline moronic ignorance of the productive role of the capitalist, but it fails to realize more importantly that in the real world, where relations between capitalists or entrepreneurs and their hired workers are not a matter of (let alone exhausted by) the capitalist simply siphoning off produced material products at the end of the day, the productive capacity and labor-value of the workers are inextricably bound up in, augmented by, and exist only alongside the activities of the capitalist or entrepreneur. Capitalists and industrialists help serve to create means and avenues of production (and the very value of labor-force), and rather than "take away" productive opportunities, transform what is given into myriad opportunities for others to participate and benefit from. I would like to quote at length a passage from Rand that will be helpful here:
"Look past the range of the moment, you who cry that you fear to compete with men of superior intelligence, that their mind is a threat to your livelihood, that the strong leave no chance to the weak in a market of voluntary trade. What determines the material value of your work? Nothing but the productive effort of your mind—if you lived on a desert island. The less efficient the thinking of your brain, the less your physical labor would bring you—and you could spend your life on a single routine, collecting a precarious harvest or hunting with bow and arrows, unable to think any further. But when you live in a rational society, where men are free to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you.
"When you work in a modern factory, you are paid, not only for your labor, but for all the productive genius which has made that factory possible: for the work of the industrialist who built it, for the work of the investor who saved the money to risk on the untried and the new, for the work of the engineer who designed the machines of which you are pushing the levers, for the work of the inventor who created the product which you spend your time on making, for the work of the scientist who discovered the laws that went into the making of that product, for the work of the philosopher who taught men how to think and whom you spend your time denouncing.
“The machine, the frozen form of a living intelligence, is the power that expands the potential of your life by raising the productivity of your time. If you worked as a blacksmith in the mystics’ Middle Ages, the whole of your earning capacity would consist of an iron bar produced by your hands in days and days of effort. How many tons of rail do you produce per day if you work for Hank Rearden? Would you dare to claim that the size of your pay cheek was created solely by your physical labor and that those rails were the product of your muscles? The standard of living of that blacksmith is all that your muscles are worth; the rest is a gift from Hank Rearden."
These points are key to further exploding the orthodox doctrine of exploitation (given that we have already deconstructed and dismissed the concept of "surplus-value"), and leading to the realization that not only do entrepreneurs and business owners not deprive their workers of the "full value" of their labor, but cause and enable them to continually raise the exchange-value of their labor in a division-of-labor society by contextualizing their productive capacity. In other words, capitalists are responsible for producing and reproducing the value of labor. This responsibility means augmenting and expanding worker labor in such a manner that its very practice becomes potentially remunerated with material benefits which completely and utterly outpace the primitive harvest of precisely that same labor simpliciter, i.e., labor which has gone relatively un-augmented and un-contextualized by an intellectual praxis at the heart of all productive activity proper, which is, in essence, an application of reason to the problem of survival. The value of employed labor of each and every kind is indivisible from the contextualizing functions of its employer in just the same way that the productivity of simple, unemployed labor is indivisible from the form in which it is undertaken, especially as a function of technological (read: intellectual and scientific) augmentation. The assumption that one's monetary compensation in the form of wages, as a value, owes completely to one's own labor (or even more ridiculously that this labor exceeds such a value! - which is claimed every time the doctrine of surplus-value is invoked) is an utterly asinine and megalomaniacal notion which ignores the fantastic extent to which employment equips the work done with the facilities to completely outpace that primitive harvest which could be said to legitimately proceed from the labor or laborer alone. The fundamental economic relationship between capitalist workers and non-capitalist workers has nothing to with the establishment of privation or immiseration, but the expansion of productive potential, opportunity, and benefit. Indeed the real value of this labor to employers and its corresponding pay (read: real wage rates) is determined by the best and brightest living today (participating appropriately in the market); intellectual efforts on the part of entrepreneurs in the service of productivity serve to raise the supply of products relative to the supply for labor. Profit is in large part the return for facilitating these kinds of integrations which serve to increase the productivity of labor (which is possible only because the mind of man -which is his basic and most important means of production - can incorporate the value of an idea, which can then be spent time eternal with no associated material costs qua directing mechanism and is the basic source of the prima facie ex nihilo character of profit), and has literally nothing to do with the contrived and proven illegitimate divisibility of wages and labor value (I have saved more explicit comments about the nature of profit for a future essay on price theory). Many laborers could not and would not exist without the opportunity to sell their labor as opposed to their labor's products (and not on account of being deprived of this or that resource), and yet it is precisely those individuals who are usually responsible for facilitating this end that are damned at every opportunity. The intellectual activity at the heart of all productivity which works to augment the character of labor in an industrial, division-of-labor economy works to redound to the labor-value and time of everyone (and yet is still so often reduced vis-a-vis the activity of capitalists to nothing more than the monopolization of natural objects, as though it were the simple control of resources - which if invoked as justification for the role of capitalist or entrepreneur would again be tautological apologetics of the kind I criticized at the beginning of this essay - and not the practice of innovation which makes the employee-employer relationship so beneficial and not merely "formally" so) so that things such as fresh food and sturdy homes, let alone handheld devices capable of transmitting and communicating electrical signals across the globe near instantaneously, are available to so many. It very simply can not be overstated how broken and misguided a perspective it is which sees and understands the improvements in modern society over the last two centuries as the effect, ultimately, of master-slave relationships - mankind has already seen plenty of this dynamic. Capitalism transcends the local appropriation of productive capacities in excess of those required for the reproduction of individual life and makes possible instead a global expansion in individual productive capacity, the opportunities by which to reproduce one's life, and real wage rates. Capitalists do not impoverish wage-earners in any meaningful sense but rather make it possible for people to be wage-earners - to earn a living without having to sell the product's of one's labor - and continually raise the exchange-value of that same labor. If we were to engage in any kind of "legitimate" intrinsicism at all on the issue of value, it would be to say that one could labor enough to equal in value what one has general, potential access to each and every day in a capitalist society through the medium of money, and which is attributable most entirely and fundamentally to the minds, risk, courage, and dedication of those individuals which Marxists and their ilk spend their time denouncing and reducing to little more than homesteaders. Capitalism has not caused the establishment of privation (which is the default mode of human existence) but unleashed the power of creative innovation. The modern world was not built out of making classes and depriving a people's access to material resources, but in allowing them to stand as potential beneficiaries of mental resourcefulness (both as business creator - in the right to private property - and business employee), which eventually transformed those original "material resources" into a harvest which has outpaced all of earlier recorded history's production combined. Private ownership of the means of production is the principle which has cast out those aforementioned "master-slave relationships", for it is man's mind which is the basic means of production, and "public ownership of the means of production" (a patently stupid and impossible phrase given that ownership implies exclusion but the "public" excludes precisely no one, and public use in no sense implies public ownership) can mean nothing - and in point of historical fact has meant nothing - other than the state ownership of individual lives; human life is a process creating and securing values. The institution of private property has not left "enough and as good for others"; it has left (and made possible) so much more. By diminishing the economic role of "leaving" and "taking" next to creating, capitalism has turned the onset of private property relations into at once an improvement in the common stock, a phenomenon which is paradoxically felt less and less intensely at a primitive level for certain individuals (who would have been creators themselves) in precise proportion to which they have a greater and greater capacity to integrate and take advantage of the increased intellectual opportunities which capitalist societies proliferate and afford.
Those who benefit most from capitalist institutions (read: those who feel the just-mentioned "improvement in the common stock" most strongly at a primitive level and do not stand to gain or take much advantage of any newfound intellectual opportunities) are precisely those which anti-capitalist sentiment usually singles out as the cause and catalyst of the aufhebung of capitalism; this is why socialism has never been and never will be a worker's movement in any primary sense, but has always been and will always be an intellectual movement. There has further always been an irresolvable tension between the usual pseudo-accelerationism, and protestations about the introduction of class-consciousness - through intellectual education - being necessary for the New Order's emergence (that the "education" of Marxist doctrine has been so influential in general owes absolutely nothing to do with the cogency of its fundamentals, but with its ability to channel envy or otherwise co-opt the disillusionment and aimlessness of eschatological fetishists). This, of course, can be seemingly evaded by supposing that such education is already constitutive of the accelerative process, but this negates the immanence of the basic worker-capitalist antagonism which is situated as primary and spurs the original faith in historical necessity. Thus the very need for a conception of "ideology", and a way of making concrete a "worker's" intellectual and conscious alienation from his own participation in the antagonisms which choke him - this allows the introduction of antagonism to become merely its elucidation, saving the doctrine of immanence. This schema is really quite clever, and the reason so many anti-capitalist creeds share a somewhat Platonic element concerning a "noumenal", political and social reality which its appercepters must first be taught to see, and not because it is not there, but because its very existence blinds one from its recognition. It is the self-suppression of the suppression, maintained by whatever favorite, bourgeois boogeyman of your choosing.
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