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Where does value reside psychologically/multiple conflicting theories of value

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BloodDiamond
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Jan 30 2017 23:27
Where does value reside psychologically/multiple conflicting theories of value

We all know that various economists disagree on what constitutes value in society and in commodities. There are various theories of value that have been proposed throughout history such as labour, agriculture (Physiocrats), marginalist, etc. If we assume that value in society adheres to one of these theories of value, surely that implies that it must be consistently upheld and applied across capitalist society. As far as I am aware, all economic theories that are based on a theory of value assume that that value remains constant throughout the doctrine and can always be applied as the sole theory of value.

My question is: do people subconsciously adhere to one of these theories of value, even if they do not consciously recognise it? For example, if we assume a Smithian adheres to a labour theory of value whereas a Marginalist adheres to a marginal theory of value, both economists must assume that all humans everywhere who participate in the global capitalist economy must subscribe to their particular theory of value, at least on a practical level.

Therefore the Smithian would assume the Marginalist subconsciously adheres to a labour theory of value (at least in their economic actions), even if they consciously see themselves as adhering to a marginal theory of value. Likewise, the Marginalist assumes the Smithian is in fact a Marginalist in practice but is not consciously aware of it and thus consciously considers themselves to be a Smithian.

The only alternative to this would be for the Smithian to truly act as a Smithian in their approximation of value and the Marginalist to truly act as a Marginalist in theirs. But this would put both of their economic doctrines in a bind as it would imply that multiple theories of value and economic actions based on them can occur simultaneously in a global world economy based on commodity exchange. Smith's theory would simply be reduced to stating that value was determined by labour, providing you as an individual chose to believe that. What sort of economic doctrine would this be?! Anyone could make up any old economic doctrine based on this premise!

Hope this makes sense.

Spikymike
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Jan 31 2017 16:55

I'm afraid that doesn't make much sense to me at all. There certainly are different theories about how capitalist society operates. We have to make our own judgement based on our experience and understanding of the practical operation of the world around us as to which theories or combination of theories best explains that reality. The real world does not run according to what theory individuals ''subscribe'' to, although capitalist governments and their economic advisers can make fools of themselves by seeking to run it according to theories which don't deliver in practice what they aim for.

BloodDiamond
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Jan 31 2017 20:16

Ok well let's take Marx. His economic work is based on a labour theory of value. His developments in Capital are all based on this theory of value and the economic examples he constructs to demonstrate his findings all presuppose this theory of value being universally accepted by everyone participating in the economy and demonstrated by practical acts. For example, the idea that the value of labour-power is determined by its average reproduction costs is assumed to be universally accepted by both bourgeoisie and proletariat in Marx's economic examples. It is assumed that all members of both classes act with this assumption in mind.

If, as you say, economic theories do not deliver in practice what they aim for, are we therefore to ignore all of Capital and thus Marx's theory?

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Khawaga
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Feb 1 2017 02:18

I'm sorry to say that that does not make any sense at all. As Spikey said, these theories of value have got nothing to do with people believing in them or not. WIth value, Marx is trying to get at the objective laws of the economy, laws that dominate our behaviour and thinking. We are all under the spell of the commodity fetish whether we believe in it or not; we all behave as if commodities have value given that we habitually and daily exchange them for money.

Quote:
For example, the idea that the value of labour-power is determined by its average reproduction costs is assumed to be universally accepted by both bourgeoisie and proletariat in Marx's economic examples. It is assumed that all members of both classes act with this assumption in mind.

Nope. This is just wrong.

Quote:
If, as you say, economic theories do not deliver in practice what they aim for, are we therefore to ignore all of Capital and thus Marx's theory?

Marx is not trying to come up with policy proposals; that's what neo-classical economists do. Marx was analysing the capitalist mode of production and not trying to "deliver" anything in practice; the only thing he was aiming for was the negation of the system he described.

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Craftwork
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Feb 1 2017 19:53

do people subconsciously adhere to one of these theories of value, even if they do not consciously recognise it? For example, if we assume a Smithian adheres to a labour theory of value whereas a Marginalist adheres to a marginal theory of value, both economists must assume that all humans everywhere who participate in the global capitalist economy must subscribe to their particular theory of value, at least on a practical level.



Put simply: what matters are social relations, not individual intentions.

As a response, I'm just going to quote Michael Heinrich (a guy who's associated with the Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe and wrote a decent book on Capital). Please read this carefully:



"Tied up with the question concerning the difference between Marx’s value theory and classical value theory is the question of whether Marx had “proven” the labor theory of value, that is, whether he had established beyond the shadow of a doubt that labor and nothing else underlies the value of a commodity. This question has been frequently discussed in the literature about Marx. But as we’re about to see, Marx was not at all interested in such a “proof.”

Adam Smith had “proven” the determination of a commodity’s value through labor with the argument that labor entails effort and that we therefore estimate the value of something according to how much effort is involved in producing it. Here, value is ascribed directly to the rational considerations of isolated individuals. Modern neoclassical economic theory argues in a similar manner, taking utility-maximizing individuals as a point of departure and explaining exchange relationships on the basis of utility estimates. Both classical and neoclassical economic theory begin as a matter of course with isolated individuals and their allegedly universal human strategies and attempt to explain the whole of society from this starting point. In order to do this they have to project onto individuals some of the features of the society they purport to explain. Thus does Adam Smith define the “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” as the characteristic that distinguishes humans from animals, and from there it is of course no problem to derive the structures of an economy based upon commodity exchange from the rationality of this sort of person (the commodity owner) to declare these structures as universally human.

For Marx, on the other hand, it was not the thought processes of individuals that are fundamental, but rather the social relations in which the individuals are embedded at any given time. As he pointedly formulated it in the Grundrisse:

Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of relationships and conditions in which these individuals stand to one another. (MECW, 28:195)

These relations impose a certain form of rationality to which all individuals must adhere if they wish to maintain their existence within these conditions. If their actions correspond to this rationality, then the activity of individuals also reproduces the presupposed social relations.

Let’s make this connection clear using an obvious example. In a society based upon commodity exchange, everyone must follow the logic of exchange if he or she wants to survive. It is not merely the result of my “utility maximizing” behavior if I want to sell my own commodities dearly and buy other commodities cheaply. Rather, I have no other choice (unless I am so rich that I can choose to ignore exchange relationships). And since I am not capable of seeing an alternative, maybe I even perceive my own behavior as “natural.” When the majority behaves in the manner indicated, they also reproduce the social relations that commodity exchange is based upon, and therefore the compulsion for every individual to continue to behave accordingly.

Marx therefore does not account for his value theory on the basis of the considerations of those engaged in exchange. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, his thesis is not that the values of commodities correspond to the labor-time socially necessary for their production because those engaged in exchange want it to be so. On the contrary, Marx maintains that people engaged in exchange in fact do not know what they’re actually doing (Capital, 1:166-67).

With value theory, Marx seeks to uncover a specific social structure that individuals must conform to, regardless of what they think. The question posed by Marx is therefore completely different than that posed by classical or neoclassical economics; in principle, Adam Smith observes a single act of exchange and asks how the terms of exchange can be determined. Marx sees the individual exchange relation as part of a particular social totality—a totality in which the reproduction of society is mediated by exchange—and asks what this means for the labor expended by the whole society. As he made clear in a letter to his friend Ludwig Kugelmann, a “proof” of the labor theory of value is not the point:

The chatter about the need to prove the concept of value arises only from complete ignorance both of the subject under discussion and of the method of science. Every child knows that any nation that stopped working, not for a year, but let us say, just for a few weeks, would perish. And every child knows, too, that the amounts of products corresponding to the differing amounts of needs demand differing and quantitatively determined amounts of society’s aggregate labour. It is self-evident that this necessity of the distribution of social labour in specific proportions is certainly not abolished by the specific form of social production; it can only change its form of manifestation. Natural laws cannot be abolished at all. The only thing that can change, under historically differing conditions, is the form in which those laws assert themselves. And the form in which this proportional distribution of labour asserts itself in a state of society in which the interconnection of social labour expresses itself as the private exchange of the individual products of labour, is precisely the exchange value of these products. (MECW, 43:68)

If, under the conditions of commodity production, the distribution of privately expended labor onto individual branches of production is mediated by the value of commodities (conscious regulation or a distribution predetermined by tradition do not exist), then the interesting question is how this is at all possible, or stated more generally, how privately expended labor becomes a component part of the total labor of society. So value theory doesn’t “prove” that an individual act of exchange is determined by the productively necessary quantity of labor. Rather, it should explain the specific social character of commodity-producing labor—and Marx does this mainly beyond the first seven pages of Capital discussed above, which traditional Marxism as well as many critics of Marx take to be the most important for Marx’s value theory."

BloodDiamond
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Feb 1 2017 20:35
Quote:
WIth value, Marx is trying to get at the objective laws of the economy, laws that dominate our behaviour and thinking.

This is exactly what I'm getting at. I'm examining the consciousness (or lack of) of these laws within the minds of individuals.

@Kraftwork:

Thanks for that. So what Heinrich is saying is that Smith takes the individual act as his starting point and then amalgamates all of these to form the acts carried out by society as a whole (i.e. the laws of exchange in bourgeois society are determined by millions of individual acts of exchange). Marx, on the other hand, is taking the opposite course and saying that the social laws of exchange already exist as a determining force and therefore individual acts of exchange are determined by the social laws of exchange.

Heinrich also seems to be saying that since most individuals are not conscious of these laws, we act them out without knowing we are doing so. In this way, even at an individual level, proponents of bourgeois economic theories still presumably act according to the laws of production and exchange as demonstrated by Marx, even though they are not aware they are doing so (and indeed believe they are carrying out acts of quite different economic theories).

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Khawaga
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Feb 1 2017 22:44
Quote:
. This is exactly what I'm getting at. I'm examining the consciousness (or lack of) of these laws within the minds of individuals.

OK, thanks for clarifying, but the way you wrote it above I got the complete opposite impression. In any case, Marx point is that we behave in certain ways but have no consciousness of why we behave that way.