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Things ended short last week, which is well because it gave us a chance to reflect over the material already introduced. It occurred to me that it might be beneficial to just jump ahead for a moment to talk about the the distinction Marx makes between value and price. The two terms are not synonymous in this analysis. We’ll encounter this in some detail later, and in the meantime can take into consideration that here price is the money name for the exchange-value believed to be contained in the object, and that the prices of commodities do not always equal the exchange-values they bear.

Elsewhere in the old business… One new concept last post. I promise I will get the glossary up today. Just like the posts, feel free to add your comments to the glossary.

Socially necessary labor-time: The labor-time required to produce any use-value under the conditions of production normal for a given society and with an average degree of skill and intensity of labor prevalent in that society.

For use values to be commodities and commodites being defined principally as bearers of exchange-values there has to be some thing by which to govern the rate of exchange of each commodity with the other. This third thing is the social variable of value as an estimation of the amount of abstract socially necessary labor contained within commodity x in relation to commodities y, z, a, etc.

Clearly this socially necessary labor time is variable. Value is therefore also variable, and circumstances that change the former will change the latter as well. Socially necessary labor is actually a multi-variate concept constituted of the five sub-variables:

1) worker’s average degree of skill

2) level of scientific development

3) level of technological application

4) social organization of the process of production

5) environmental conditions

All of these cause the rate of value to fluctuate.

“In general, the greater the productivity of labor, the less the labor-time required to produce the article, the less the mass of labor crystallized in that article, and the less its value” (131). And vice versa.

Now it is time for some caveats. First, something can be a use-value without being a value. This is generally the case when the utility is not mediated through labor, like finding a wild fruit. Also, a thing can be a use-value and be a product of human labor without being a commodity. For example, satisfying ones own needs with the products of their own labor. To be a commodity the thing must not only be given to another, but it must be done so through the medium of exchange. Sharing and downlaoding media content and tools of the software and media production process is another example of use-values freed from the commodity character.

However, nothing can be a value without being a use-value. If a thing is useless so is the labor within it. The labor does not count as socially necessary labor and therefore does not count as value. This is why most of us can’t make money playing video games or by having ourselves filmed making maccaroni and cheese.

Next time… ‘the dual character of the labor embodied in commodities’



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