Monday, 17 June 2013

The separation of exchange and use value as a process

I’ve noticed a trend of late that we’re seeing a separation more and more of exchange value and use value two separate parts which make up a commodity according to Karl Marx. A commodity has a use-value and an exchange value. Marx held that these two things implied a third thing, value, and that there was a fundamental antagonism inside this relation between use-value and exchange value. This contradiction pops up again and again in his writing on capitalism. Let’s see what he was talking about. A commodity has a use. This is its use-value. What does use-value tell us? It tells us how a commodity satisfies a social need. If we want to feed everybody we need a certain quantity of food. If we want to build everyone a house we need a certain quantity of wood and nails. Some use-values require no effort to attain: air, sun, gravity, etc. Others require effort to attain. There is a finite limit to the amount of labor that can be devoted to the production of use-values. Society must apportion this labor between the production of different use-values in some way. As technology changes the amount of labor required to produce some use-values decreases thus signaling a change in the apportioning of labor. As technology evolves to reshape what human labor is capable of producing so do our needs and desires evolve. In different societies this labor is apportioned by different methods. In a market society it is the buying and selling of the products of labor in the marketplace that serves the purpose of allocating labor between the production of this use-value or that use-value. This creates a second type of value, unique to market societies: exchange-value. Exchange value is the ratio in which one good exchanges for another. Perhaps one baseball exchanges for a loaf of bread. Or a new car exchanges for a thousand bottles of whiskey. These ratios are all exchange values. In a developed market society one commodity eventually emerges as the primary commodity in which all other commodities express their exchange value. This is what money is. For most of the history of capitalism this commodity has been gold. By comparing the ratio of apples or cars or Cricket bats to gold all commodities measured their exchange value in ratios to gold. These two sides of the commodity, its use-value and exchange value, form two opposing, contradictory poles. They may not seem very contradictory right now, but over the course of Das Kapital Marx shows us just how much of the social antagonisms of capitalism are rooted in this tension between use-value And use value. The two are constantly in dialectic to each other mixing and merging blurring the lines as a commodity is formed. Yet today we are finding that as capitalism is struggling in a fundamental crisis it’s struggling to find more and more exchange values. There are plenty of use values but not enough exchange values as I see it. Use-value only exists for a person using a commodity. If I am selling a Apple or a Football this commodity has no use-value at all for me. Its use-value only exists as a social use-value for a society that has demanded its production. But I, the seller, have no use for it at all. I am only interested in the exchange-value, how much money I can get for it. Once the commodity has been consumed it looses exchange value. So a comodity is only able to deal with exchange value for as long as it serves a socail want or a sale as such once that sale has been made it goes back to its use value. This contradiction between use-value and exchange-value becomes more and more significant, becomes more and more antagonistic the more we examine all of the ways that it plays out in a capitalist society. We can’t really talk about them here until we work out the concepts of capital, profit, etc. But a simple example might suffice for now: One example maybe he fact that we have many run down and derilict homes in the UK a estimated 1 million that could be renevated and brought back into use value these properties are not used to satisfy this social need. Why not? Because the owners of these commodities are not interested in their use. They are interested in their exchange-value, the rent they receive from the property. For decades they collected rent while the use-value of the house deteriorated. And now, to the landlords, these houses that blight the neighborhood are just assets waiting for the right investment opportunity. References"

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