Episode 26: Dialogue with Patrick Murray on the Value-Form Paradigm, Part 2

Brendan and Andrew continue their dialogue with Patrick Murray, the noted value-form theorist. (The value-form paradigm is a Marx-inspired strand of political economy that focuses on the market.) Patrick responds to Andrew’s arguments that Marx’s views on the origin of profit, intra-firm trade, and the quantity theory of money presuppose that commodities’ prices are determined before they are sold. And, as in Part 1, much of the discussion focuses on whether, in Marx’s theory, a commodity’s value is only potential before it is sold; whether “co-constitutive” value-form theory collapses into a more extreme version; and whether Marx held that the magnitude of a commodity’s value is determined exclusively by the amount of labor that is socially necessary to produce it.

Throughout the discussion, frequent reference is made to: a published symposium on the value-form paradigm, in which Andrew and others criticized the paradigm, while Patrick responded to them; Part 1 and Part 2 of the recent RFH discussion of “The Value-Form Paradigm vs. Marx’s ‘Capital’”; and Marx’s Capital, especially chapter 1 and chapter 3 of volume 1.

Plus: current-events segment on our attitudes to the Democratic Party and Jill-Stein voters, in response to a listener’s comments.

Radio Free Humanity is a podcast covering news, politics and philosophy from a Marxist-Humanist perspective. It is co-hosted by Brendan Cooney and Andrew Kliman. We intend to release new episodes every two weeks. Radio Free Humanity is sponsored by MHI, but the views expressed by the co-hosts and guests of Radio Free Humanity are their own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and positions of MHI.

We welcome and encourage listeners’ comments, posted on this episode’s page.

Please visit MHI’s online print publication, With Sober Senses, for further news, commentary, and analysis.

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September 13, 2020


  1. Is the total value labor can create by producing a single product over a fixed period of time, say linen, determined by demand, according to Marx? If there’s an amount of labor of average intensity, using average production methods, that would create enough linen to satisfy demand, does labor above that amount create value? If not, does Marx think there is any limit to the value that labor can produce, over a fixed period of time, by making a single product other than the maximum amount of labor and means of production available?

  2. Hi Seth,

    “Is the total value labor can create by producing a single product over a fixed period of time, say linen, determined by demand, according to Marx?”

    In Marx’s theory, demand determines how much of the linen has use-value. Any linen that doesn’t have use-value isn’t a commodity and thus doesn’t have value. The magnitude of the value of the pieces of linen that are commodities, and thus have value, is determined exclusively by the avg. amount of labor currently needed to produce them–not by demand.

    This is the case even if all of the linen can be sold at a price less than the value (per unit) of the portion of the linen that does have value. E.g., imagine that 1200 hrs of labor are expended on 200 yds of linen, but that demand for linen is only 120 yds. Only 120 yds are use-values and have values. The amount of labor needed to produce them is (120/200)*1200 hrs = 720 hrs. The other 480 hrs. of labor don’t create value. The avg. amount of labor needed to produce the 120 yds that are actually commodities is 720 hrs/120 yds = 6 hrs per yd. If the 120 yds sell at their value, they sell for the monetary equivalent of 6 x 120 = 720 hrs of labor. But it’s probably possible to sell all 200 yds of the linen, at a price that’s the monetary equivalent of 720 hrs/200 yds = 3.6 hrs per yd.

    Demand isn’t determining, or affecting in any way, the value of those yards of linen that are commodities, even though it may seem to do so. Their value is exclusively determined by the average amount of labor needed to produce them. Nor is the total price of the linen affected by demand (in this example)–the total price = the total value. The whole mass of linen has a total value = to the monetary equivalent of 720 hrs., and that is also its total price!

    I think the above answers your other questions, too, though I’m not sure I’m catching your meaning.

    You may wish to check out the comments in the Ep. 25 page, where we’re having a similar discussion.

    • So use value not only refers to the quality of a thing, as usable to fulfill some desire, but to a quantity of things. Given a quantity of things, some of that quantity may have use-value, and therefore may have value and be commodities, whereas another of that quantity may have no use-value and therefore no value.

      I’m trying to get my head around the disagreement. There was a lot of assertion of being in agreement.

      Patrick seems to account for fluctuations in price due to demand as commodities as being “less” socially necessary and therefore having less value. He interprets Marx’s concept of socially necessary as referring to demand as well as production methods. So as demand decreases he asserts that the entire mass of things are still commodities, but have less value.

      Andrew, you are interpreting Marx as saying that demand fluctuations make a certain number of things that were commodities no longer commodities. Demand does not affect the value of individual commodities, but affects the total value. If demand decreases, this total value can express itself as a reduced price on a mass of things that are more numerous than demand, or some of that mass of things may be destroyed so that only the commodities remain.

      It seems the total value of commodities and their appearance as prices of individual commodities are being conflated on Patrick’s part. It’s possible only a quantity of things may possess use-value and be commodities. This is the case before the commodity owner takes the goods to market, the market is merely the place where this fact appears. They may try to compensate by burying any extra in a ditch, or lowering the prices of each unit. This is the being of value as it presents itself in the market, but in no way affects the value of each individual commodity.

  3. Andrew, you are interpreting Marx as saying that demand fluctuations make a certain number of things that were commodities no longer commodities. Demand does not affect the value of individual commodities, but affects the total value. If demand decreases, this total value can express itself as a reduced price on a mass of things that are more numerous than demand, or some of that mass of things may be destroyed so that only the commodities remain.

    Basically, yes, although I think the expression “Demand … affects the total value” is misleading and vague. So it’s an expression I avoid.

    The total value of a mass of commodities is, by definition,

    total value = (value per use-value) x (# of use-values)

    In Marx’s theory, the “value per use-value” is determined exclusively by the avg. amount of labor that’s socially necessary to produce this kind of use-value–given current technology, and average skill and intensity.

    This doesn’t mean that demand can’t affect the “value per use-value,” as I discussed either in Ep. 25 or Ep. 26. If demand is especially high, for example, inefficient producers will be able to produce profitably, and do so. Their entry will reduce avg. efficiency, and thus raise the avg. amount of labor that’s socially necessary to produce this kind of use-value, and thus raise the “value per use-value.”

    The “# of use-values” depends on demand (because an item for which there is no demand isn’t a use-value).

    So in this theory, there are two channels by which demand can be said to “affect” the total value. But again, I avoid expressions like that, because they misleadingly seem to suggest that the magnitude of a commodity’s value, according to Marx’s theory, is not determined exclusively by the avg. amount of labor needed to produce it. That misleading suggestion is just plain false.

    “I’m trying to get my head around the disagreement. There was a lot of assertion of being in agreement.”

    Yeah, it can be confusing, because what you listened to is what I call a “kreplach moment” :


    –in fact, more than one kreplach moment.

    Patrick kept trying to argue that demand is a “determinant of value” in Marx’s theory, and “therefore” that Marx either (a) contradicted his own theory or (b) smuggled in sneaky caveats that he didn’t disclose to readers, when he wrote that the magnitude of a commodity’s value is determined exclusively by the avg. amount of labor needed to produce it. Just as in the kreplach joke, Patrick agreed with every step of my demonstration that his points and textual evidence did not contradict or require modification of Marx’s “determined exclusively” thesis. But then, when it was all put together, and the conclusion was that Marx’s “determined exclusively” thesis emerges unscathed, it was KREPLACH!!!! Patrick balked. He evaded the “determined exclusively” conclusion, did not accept it, and instead reverted to his vague and ambiguous statement that demand is a “determinant of value.” This happened more than once.

  4. Hi Antropos,

    Unfortunately, I think it’s wasted effort and not worth reading. On p. 4, BG says, “What needs to be priced, the 610 or only the 500? The answer is the entire 610 not the 500 because in accordance with Marx’s assumptions, and due to the use of market values, one element cannot be priced while the other is left at its original value. It would be methodologically incorrect to end up with a mishmash of reproduced and embodied prices.”

    The whole paper rests on this claim, which restates the old “Marx forgot to transform the input prices” nonsense. Research in the temporal single-system interpretation of Marx’s value theory, esp. my 2007 book, Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A refutation of the myth of inconsistency, shows that there’s no need to transform the input prices, that Marx’s own account of the transformation of values into prices of production is complete and correct, and hence that there is no “transformation problem” to solve in the 1st place.

  5. My understanding is that the main point of the value-form approach is to criticise physicalist conceptions of commodity production. Insisting that the moment of exchange actualises potential value is a way of saying that we’re only counting “social labour” [gesellschaftliche Arbeit], i.e. labour time expended for commodity society. Both the use-value side and the exchange-value side of physical objects intended for sale can be regarded as useful only to potential buyers and are therefore only potential carriers of labour in general. In other words, “expenditure of human brains, nerves, and muscles” (Capital Vol. I, ch 1) does not produce value in isolation.

    Should the seller one day find herself in a situation where only part of the output can be sold as commodities, then what happens with the remaining objects? Well, perhaps they could be stored until demand goes back up and at a later date realise part of the potential value (“hopefully valuable stuff” in the head of the producer), or maybe they can only be reused as raw materials, e.g. motor vehicles as iron and steel, where just a fraction of the potential value enters into the final product. It would then only be a fraction since that’s an inefficient way of producing such materials and society only validates the average labour time spent.

    The social connection happens at the moment of exchange, at the market; private producers are actualized as producers for the needs of commodity society; labour time expended becomes determined as useful (or not) in their respective quantities.

    To say that a product that has not yet been brought to the market already contains socially necessary value of a certain quantity confuses intended use for the actual, socially determined use and its worth seen quantitatively. That is not to say that exchange or supply and demand enter into the equation from the outside. On the contrary, those who intend to be sellers of commodities must enter into exchange with one another; they “create society” by presenting their objects as commodities, expecting that they be recognised as such.

    “As a general rule, articles of utility become commodities, only because they are products of the labour of private individuals or groups of individuals who carry on their work independently of each other. The sum total of the labour of all these private individuals forms the aggregate labour of society. Since the producers do not come into social contact with each other until they exchange their products, the specific social character of each producer’s labour does not show itself except in the act of exchange. In other words, the labour of the individual asserts itself as a part of the labour of society, only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between the producers. To the latter, therefore, the relations connecting the labour of one individual with that of the rest appear, not as direct social relations between individuals at work, but as what they really are, material relations between persons and social relations between things. It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire, as values, one uniform social status, distinct from their varied forms of existence as objects of utility.” (Capital I, 1867 ed., ch 1, SECTION 4 THE FETISHISM OF COMMODITIES AND THE SECRET THEREOF, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm#S4)

  6. I’ve been thinking for a while about the effect of supply and demand, and Marx’s argument that the magnitude of value is exclusively determined by socially necessary labor time, expended during production. And then I listened to these two episodes of RFH again.

    What we know is:

    1) supply = demand. Here, a sector’s average production price (representing the sector’s produced value) determines the sector’s market price. So, magnitude of value supplied = value of value demanded.

    2) supply < demand, so that production price demand, so that production price > market price. In this case, the value demanded exceeds the value supplied. It is then the production price of one of the sector’s above-average producers that determines the sector’s market price. This indicates, again, what the average value supplied should have been.

    How does this contribute to the debate between Andrew and Patrick? IMO, in neither of the three cases does the market create, or make disappear, labor-time created in production. In other words, the relevant labor-times in each case exist prior to sale — because they were ALL expended in production. The market simply shows us what we don’t know, turning “not knowing” into “knowing”.

    At this point, Marx’s theory of money comes into the debate, IMO: money is itself the result of expending labor (paper money is an abstraction from the labor required for coin production, but this does not change the basic argument). Therefore, as Andrew argues somewhere, the labor expended in production can, immediately, be expressed in money. No sales act required.

    Overall this means that single determination, i.e., socially necessary labor-time is the exclusive determinant of the magnitude of value, is sufficient. Single determination also meets the requirement that substance, measure and form of are distinguishable, yet inseparable, from one another.

  7. Everything is really quite complicated. I’ve been trying to connect everything in my head for a long time, but it’s really hard.
    Here I will share how I understand the things related to Seth’s first post so far. I may confuse some terms like “public” and “social”, but I think it is clear what it is about.
    Here is what I think or how I understand what is described, reading this part from Capital:
    One quote from there: “…. Lastly, suppose that every piece of linen in the market contains no more labour-time than is socially necessary. In spite of this, all these pieces taken as a whole, may have had superfluous labour-time spent upon them. If the market cannot stomach the whole quantity at the normal price of 2 shillings a yard, this proves that too great a portion of the total labour of the community has been expended in the form of weaving. The effect is the same as if each individual weaver had expended more labour-time upon his particular product than is socially necessary. Here we may say, with the German proverb: caught together, hung together. All the linen in the market counts but as one article of commerce, of which each piece is only an aliquot part. And as a matter of fact, the value also of each single yard is but the materialised form of the same definite and socially fixed quantity of homogeneous human labour.”

    A product of labor is a commodity and has value only if there is currently a public need for it – then the private working time required for its production is socially necessary. But not just a public need, but a need for someone to exchange their product for that product (this exchange is mediated by money – I sell my product for money and then buy another product – so I have exchanged my product for another product).
    The public need for this product may exist even before the product is produced, i.e. there may be a public need for a certain amount of social working time to be spent on this type of product. That is, to have an established need for this type of product from many previous productions and sales, and this need is related to the price at which the product is sold – demand for a certain quantity with a certain price. But until the product is produced, the socially necessary amount of labor is not materialized.
    Assume that everyone produces under normal conditions and uses labor with normal intensity and that labor productivity does not change.
    If the exact required quantity of the product is produced, this also materializes the socially necessary working time for its production – in other words, it can be said that the value of this type of commodity is “produced”. If half of the required amount is produced, then only half of the socially necessary working time materializes – only half of the required value is materialized. Each individual part has a value equal to the materialized value divided by the number of parts.
    However, if more than the required quantity of goods is produced, only the necessary public working time is materialized (as with the exact required quantity) – now all this larger quantity of goods has the value of only the necessary quantity of goods.
    However, what is the value of each part in the latter case? Now each individual part has less value only because more than the necessary parts of this type of commodity have been produced. The whole quantity is considered as one commodity, and each separate part of it accordingly contains one part of its materialized value (here the commodity is not yet on the market). Once more than the required quantities have been produced, this means that more value has been spent in the form of materials, etc. – some part of the value of raw materials, materials, etc. is spent unnecessarily, i.e. is lost. Nevertheless, although more has been produced than is currently needed, we know that a reduction in the price to some level below the normal price can expand the public demand for some kind of commodity and sell all parts, including those that before the price reduction were in excess. In fact, we can assume that there will be the following trend: either the whole quantity will be sold at a lower price or one part of the goods will be sold at the established normal price, and the rest will simply not be sold or something in between these two options. However, in both cases, only those working hours that meet the previously established need will be publicly recognized. The previously established need is expressed in the “demand” of a certain quantity of a product at a certain price, but also in the fact that someone constantly offers it at that price, that is, permanently produces it in the required quantity and sells it.
    But even if the exact quantity of the product is produced today, tomorrow before it is sold, the public need for it may change for some reason and may already differ from what has been established so far – for example, to decrease. Then it will turn out that more than the necessary working time has been spent – the value of yesterday’s quantity produced today is less than it was yesterday.
    If today the public need has increased, it turns out that less than the necessary working time has been spent, but this now means that all the necessary working time has simply not materialized, but only a part of it – only one part of the value of this type of product has materialized.
    A product can be produced without a public need for it – then it is not a commodity and has no value, but appearing on the market can cause, create a need. Then it becomes a commodity and, accordingly, the average working time required for its production determines the magnitude of its value (the price may initially be any, but if this product is established, over time its price will be mainly subordinated to its value).
    Of course, if a product that has value (i.e. a commodity) is destroyed or something impedes its sale, then the need for it remains. A value that previously existed in natural form has been lost, it has dematerialized.
    The socially necessary working time, which must satisfy the social needs, is constantly changing – on the one hand, the needs change, and on the other hand, labor productivity. And because the producers communicate with each other not directly, but by exchanging their goods, the individual producer can only find out how to proceed in the results of the sales.
    So how is value formed, how is socially necessary working time established? Obviously in the continuous process of production and communication through exchange. But the value of a given type of commodity is the socially necessary amount of consumption of public labor, as part of the total labor expended, which produces all the products needed to meet existing needs. Value can be materialized in a product or still exist only as a public need, as a necessary, as yet unmaterialized social working time.

    • If anyone is curious, I changed and expanded this comment. I’m not doing this to pretend to be interesting, but because I’m trying to better understand Capital and to be able to argue with the many lunatics who, instead of trying to understand Marx, decide that they are smarter than him and begin to find “mistakes” and correct them. One had found seven or eight “logical and methodological errors” in the first few pages of Capital alone… I hope that my attempts to clarify some things can be useful for someone who is also trying to understand “Capital”.
      Here is the edited comment, which become something much longer then comment:

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