[OPE-L:1225] the conservation and destruction of value

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Tue Sep 14 1999 - 19:05:52 EDT

Jurriaan wrote in [OPE-L:1223]:

> I agree it can lead to realisation, but I do not agree advertising
> labour is by definition unproductive under capitalism. Advertising
> labour produces products just like other kinds of labour, and this
> labour can be fully subsumed under capital. End of story !

Advertising labour does not result in the production of a commodity. The
result -- if successful -- is rather the *sale* of a commodity.

> I disagree. I think it is a commodity from the point of its complete
> production (except in production processes where the product can be sold
> without needing to be completely finished) to the point of final sale and
> consumption. If you study capitalist production processes you will see this
> is true. A capitalist does not think, "I enjoy producing this product,
> let's produce it and then see if we can sell it for a profit". That is a
> petty-bourgeois view of things.

The capitalist point of view typically is that since a product has been
produced, it will be sold. Most frequently, this perception is reinforced
by their recent experience of selling the commodities that they produced.
And they, in their arrogance and folly of assuming that what was true
previously in the marketplace will continue to be the case, continue as if
this process will go on indefinitely into the future.

It is in the crisis (sectoral and/or general) that capitalists are
humbled. It is only then that their arrogant self-confidence takes a
tailspin. All of a sudden, the smirks are wiped-off of their faces.
The logic of the marketplace, which includes (but, of course, is not
limited to):

a) the separation of production and sale temporally and spatially;

b) the possibility of a generalized overproduction of commodities;

bites them where it hurts them the most. I.e. their "bottom line."

> You might wish to consider this quote from the late Prof. Mandel, arguing
> against Prof. Morishima: "Labour expended in the production of a given
> commodity, but not recognised by society, is not productive of value for
> the owner of that commodity. However, precisely because value and the
> production of value refer ultimately to the distribution and redistribution
> of the total available labour-power of society engaged in production, that
> macro-economic aggregate is a basic economic reality, a basic 'fact of
> life'. If five million workers work 2,000 hours a year in material
> production, the total value product is ten billion hours, indpendently of
> whether the socially recognised value of each individual commodity is equal
> to, or larger or smaller than, the actual number of labour hours expended
> in its production". (Cap Vol 2, Penguin, p. 39).

This is the old "conservation of value" principle. We discussed that
previously, even though no one was able to tell us who was the originator
of that perspective. I *don't* think it was Marx.

So, once value has been produced, it can't be destroyed (except by

Some possible counter-examples and questions:

1) There was a hurricane that struck the Bahamas today. Is their less value
in the world today as a consequence or does it simply result in the
revaluation of value on a global scale? From my perspective, value was
*destroyed* today and there is less value at day's end unless the value
created and made real today in other parts of the world was of a greater

2) Was value "conserved" following the bombing of Hiroshima? Or was it
diminished? My position is the later. There *was* value which then ceased
to exist when the bomb dropped. The following day: was there more or less
value in the world?

3) Suppose that while in the marketplace, "commodities" spoil to the point
that they can no longer be sold (i.e. they no longer have a use-value).
We can all think of circumstances in which this might lead to a
re-valuation of the existing stock of commodities (e.g. the destruction of
some portion of the fruit product might lead to an increase in the price
of the remaining stock). Are you, however, willing to say that there are
*no* circumstances in which this could lead to a reduction in value on an
aggregate scale?

4) Suppose a type of machinery is rendered obsolete and ceases to have
*any* exchange-value. Has the aggregate value been a) conserved through
the redistribution of value to the benefit of other capitalists; or b)

Let me note, also, that if there is a *destruction of capital values
during a crisis* (which I think was Marx's position), then this *by
itself* violates the "conservation of value" principle.

Of course, if we gave up on the conservation of value principle, it might
mess-up (i.e. make indeterminate) many of the fancy equations that some of
us like to write. I don't suppose that factor is related to the desire to
maintain that principle?

In solidarity, Jerry

PS: Note that I am *not* saying that value can be increased in exchange.
What I am saying, in part, is that aggregate value can be *diminished* if
"commodities" are not sold.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun Feb 27 2000 - 15:27:09 EST