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A Bland and Deadly Courtesy
 
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Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Time Event
11:27p
Capital Volume 1 Part 1 Chapter 1 Section 1 Post 5

Page 39: “We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production.  Each individual commodity, in this connexion, is to be considered as an average sample of its class.  Commodities, therefore, in which equal quantities of labour are embodied, or which can be produced in the same time, have the same value.”

This is probably a good place to drop in an historical note: Up until this point, what we have is clear statement of something that the serious political economists of the time (Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Benjamin Franklin, &c &c) would have agreed with.   The stumbling block to political economists, was this: If commodities all sell at their value, and value is determined by the amount of labor embodied in it, and labor is a commodity–where does the profit come from?  Smith, as we know, invented “ordinary profits of stock” to sidestep the issue.  Franklin simply ignored it, and Ricardo, from my limited understanding (I haven’t read him), expresses the problem in the clearest terms without solving it.  In the footnotes, there are quotes of various efforts to solve this, my favorite being the guy who explained that profit comes from capitalists denying themselves luxuries.  I kid you not.

Page 40: “The value of a commodity would therefore remain constant, if the labour-time required for its production also remained constant.  The latter changes with every variation in the productiveness of labour.  This productiveness is determined by various circumstances, amongst others, by the average amount of skill of the workmen, the state of science, and the degree of its practical application, the social organization of production, the extent and capabilities of the means of production, and by the physical conditions.”

The more productive a given form labour is, the lower the value of the commodity produced by that form of labour.  This will become very important later.

“For example, the same amount of labour in favorable seasons is embodied in 8 bushels of corn, and in unfavorable seasons only in four.  The same labour extracts from rich mines more metal than from poor mines.  Diamonds are of very rare occurrence on the earth’s surface, and hence their discovery costs, on an average, a great deal of labour-time.  Consequently much labour is represented in a small compass.”

I think there was a question earlier about diamonds &c, and there’s the answer.  Makes sense to me.  What I don’t understand is why “8″ is given as a numeral, and “four” is spelled out.  But this mystery may be less important, in the cosmic scheme of things, than others, so we’ll pass over it.

“A thing can be a use-value, without having value.  This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour.  Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, &c.  A thing can be useful, and the product of human labour, without being a commodity.  Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use-values, but not commodities.  In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others, social use-values. ”

This is followed by a parenthetical comment about medieval peasant’s quit-rent-corn and tithe-corn, which is, in turn, followed by a footnote by Engels; the point being that not all use-values produced for others are commodities; they must be produced for exchange to be commodities.

Page 41: “Lastly 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.”

And here, at lest, we have reached the end of Section 1.  Huzzah.

Originally published at Words Words Words. Please leave any comments there.

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