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In the words of an Irish Lit. professor I once knew, let’s take care of some ‘old business’, which here I do with definitions. We are about to be inundated with terms. In order to cope with this I will convert one of the pages I’m not really using to a glossary. That way the definitions from previous posts (like commodity and use-value) will be there for easy reference and will not need to be inserted at the start of every post, a place which is reserved for reviewing material from the immediately preceding post. And in the last post we covered the following terms:

Exchange-value: The quantitative relation through which use-values of one kind exchange for another. The mode of expression of abstract social labor.

Abstract social labor: The disappearance of specific types of labor into use-values. The ‘common element’ of all commodities that equalizes their individual exchange-values into value. Abstract social labor constitutes value (technically abstract social value).

Value: The quantity of abstract social labor congealed in a product; the common factor in the exchange-value of commodities.

“A use-value…therefore, has value only because human labor is objectified or materialized in it.” So how is value then measured? ‘By means of the quantity of the labor contained in the article, measured by its duration. The labor-time itself is measured on a particular scale of hours, days, etc.’

However, this is not to say that a pencil that took 1 hour to make exchanges at a lower value than the same pencil that took another worker 5 hours because they were lazy or lacked the skill or machines of the 1 hour worker. When defining the magnitude of value of a commodity as the amount of abstract human labor embedded in it, it is measured not as individual labor-time but by the socially necessary labor-time.

Say that it takes 2 hours to produce a pencil under the conditions of production prevailing in a given society. The exchange value of pencil is determined by this average, the socially-necessary labor time. When the 1 hour pencil and the 5 hour pencil go to market the former will exchange above its ‘actual’ value and the latter will exchange below. Both the 1 hour and 5 hour pencils will be treated just as if they took 2 hours to produce.

More on socially necessary labor time…next time.


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