[OPE-L:1226] Re: the conservation and destruction of value

From: Ian Hunt (Ian.Hunt@flinders.edu.au)
Date: Tue Sep 14 1999 - 21:02:27 EDT

I agree that value can be destroyed. Advertising expenditure prevents that
destruction and so- in that sense - creates value. It is arguably also part
of teh use-value of a product that its uses are known. A completely unknown
thing that has potentially extremely useful properties has no use-vale.
Advertising expenditure can be productive in that sense. But this is partly
like the way a sale can be productive. Putting products on shelves and
putting tyhem in the posssession of a user may augment the use-value of a
product. You could still argue, though, that all this means is that such
labour is partly productive, which is compatible with it's being partly

If you accept that transformation of the form of value does not add, in
itself, to the use-value of a thing, then you will regard all that labour
involved in the transformation of value as unproductive. If a company hires
its own advertisers and salespeople, that labour is unproductive. But if
its unproductive expenses involve paying a sales or advertising company to
do the selling and avertising, then the labour of those employees is
productive. An unproductive expenditure of the company seeling the product
provides returns for a company selling advertising or sales services.

Ultimately, you could take all labour involved in the realisation of value
as productive of value and surplus value (realised value and surplus value)
or you could take the distinction between value and realised value
seriously, and treat the capital funds required for sales and advertising
as increasing the capital stock required to sustain a given flow of value
(as Paul suggests with his example of the way that advertising plays a role
in increasing the start-up funds a company requires before it turns a

>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.

Associate Professor Ian Hunt,
Head, Dept of Philosophy,
Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
Philosophy Dept, School of Humanities,
Flinders University of SA,
Humanities Building,
Bedford Park, SA, 5042,
Ph: (08) 8201 2054 Fax: (08) 8201 2556

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