AskProfWolff: Are there sources of value that a capitalist can exploit that don’t rely on labor?

AskProfWolff:  Are there sources of value that a capitalist can exploit that don’t rely on labor?


This question comes to us from Dustin
James. He submitted this to us on the Ask Prof Wolff section of rdwolff.com, and
here’s his question: are there any sources of value that a capitalist can
exploit that don’t rely on labor? This is really interesting because it’s a
question about Marxist theory that’s very fundamental, and that has been
widely misunderstood. Many people think that Marx’s Theory of Value, what makes
something valuable in his system, has to do with the same thing that we call the
price of something, in other words, in english, simple English, the words value
and price are often pretty much the same, the value of something is the price you
have to pay. This is not the case in Marx’s view. He wants the theory of value
to be something completely different from the theory of price, and if you try
to make value equal price, or price to be in some form of value, you’re
misunderstanding what Marx did. Here’s the point: Marx wanted us to understand
that everything that gets produced in any community, a country, a neighborhood, a region, has to be produced by using up a portion of whatever the labor is that’s
available in that community. In other words, in that community, if you add up
all the hours that all the able-bodied people have to give to work, that’s your
total supply of labor, and that limits how much you can produce. If you produce
more potatoes, than there’s less labor left to produce shirts, and vice-versa.
The value of something in Marx is the amount of labor, out of the total
available, that it took to produce that particular thing. Value is another way of
saying it took a certain portion of the labor of the community. Price, what you
actually get in the market, is shaped by a million variables about that market, at
that time, it’s a completely different matter. It is a mistake to imagine that
because price and value are the same in conventional economics, they are the same
also in Marx. They aren’t, they never were, and you will avoid a lot of
misunderstanding if you keep that in your mind.

13 Comments on "AskProfWolff: Are there sources of value that a capitalist can exploit that don’t rely on labor?"


  1. Wasn't the intent of the question to ask if value (in the Marxist sense) can come from somewhere other than human labor? Ie from animals, machines?

    Reply

  2. Technical feedback — Pet videos and Netflix come in loud and clear on my laptop. My volume is up as high as it will go. But I can barely hear your program. Please set the volume louder when you record. Your work is too important for anyone to miss. Thanks for all you do!

    Reply

  3. Land has a pre existing value from it's fertility and proximity to other resources (Rivers, oil etc). Because it is fixed in supply, that can be exploited by monopolization. Land also gains an additional site value from it's proximity to man made infrastructure via agglomeration, so via it's monopolization, that is the exploitation of others labour via a positive externality which creates a capitalised price.
    Land gains explain almost all of the accumulation of wealth documented in Piketty. Over the long term, land gains rival equities in most Western economies, and when you consider a large amount of equities are also reliant on land, Reits obviously or simply the land acquisitions of what might otherwise be ostensibly productive companies, lands role cannot be underestimated.
    https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-01-02/land-is-underrated-as-a-source-of-wealth

    Reply

  4. Does Environmental value fit into the scope of that question? For example, exploiting a community’s forrest to produce a good… and the value added may be because it’s a rare type of wood and supply is limited.
    Am I getting off subject?

    Reply

  5. When/if robots replace all labor, the Capitalists will exploit the "costumer". I'm guessing woman will be exploited the most, if you know what I mean!

    Reply

  6. I think the question was asking whether value can exist without labour being expended on it.. Many people will point to natural resources as an intuitive example of something have value without any labor involved

    But realize in order to harness and use natural resources, labor must be applied

    Reply

  7. So if 10 clueless workers build one shitty chair in one day, and a skilled craftsmen builds the best chair the world has ever seen in one day, the shitty chair is 10 times as valuable?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *