Labor theory of value

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The labor value theory (short form AWT, also labor value theory ) is a line of thought from classical economics . According to this, the economic value of a commodity is determined by the labor time that is socially necessary for its production. In addition, the goods must have a use value. Based on these prerequisites, both the exchange ratios ( exchange value ) and the economic growth and the distribution of income are determined in a labor-based merchandise management system , depending on how it arises among the different classes of income recipients.

The labor value theory is in contrast to the marginal utility theory that emerged later . It is assessed differently by economists. On the one hand, it is declared "false" or "dead". In contrast, almost all Marxists defend labor value theory in the Marxian form, although its conceptual clarification is extremely controversial. Some non-Marxists derive labor value theory in growth models under certain assumptions without seeing this as a confirmation of Marx's theory. In 1927 Gunnar Myrdal , who later won the Swedish Reichsbank Prize in Economics in memory of Alfred Nobel, received his doctorate with his critique of labor theory. In his dissertation in 1988, Eberhard Feess-Dörr sought to put Ricardo in the right light with Marx and to demonstrate the redundancy of the labor theory of values ​​compared to the neo-Ricardian approach. In 2009, Nils Fröhlich again undertook to prove that the AWT, which was well understood, was up to date. In fact, Adam Smith's AWT is used quite inconsistently. Whether and how David Ricardo uses the AWT is controversial. Whatever the outcome of all the related controversies, the AWT will continue to be an important point of reference in comparing theories within political economy and the related scientific disciplines.

The first approaches

Natural Law: John Locke

John Locke attempted to establish the right to property in natural law by deriving it from productive labor . On closer inspection, he justified individual property ownership with the property of every person in his own person and in the exercise of their active powers. Obviously this is a legal argument; it does not include any economic analysis.

To emphasize that it is ethically required and / or economically necessary that every work is (“fairly”) remunerated is logically something completely different than to represent an AWT in economic terms, i. H. as a theoretical explanation of economic processes. This is what Joseph A. Schumpeter says in his History of Economic Analysis about scholastics such as Luis de Molina :

“Even less than a cost theory of value can, as has happened, be subordinated to a labor theory of value. We shall find later that the emotional appeal of the latter has led some historians to interpret as many authors as possible in this sense. It must be remembered, therefore, that the mere emphasis on the importance of labor, effort, or effort in the economic process does not mean an endorsement of the doctrine that labor explains or causes value - and that is what is meant by labor theory of value in this book. "

As Schumpeter notes, modern social science has its origin in natural law, which is particularly clear in Molina's definition of the "nature of the case" ( rei natura ). This term implies that the data of a social situation - in the best case unambiguously - determine a certain sequence of events, a logically related process or state or would do this if they could have an undisturbed effect. Thomas Aquinas defined the Aristotelian concept of justice as “conformity”, from the point of view of social expediency. This results in the ease with which the scholastics switch between what they see as “fair” and “natural”, or “natural” or “normal”. As is sometimes still the case today when considering the competitive equilibrium price, there is a switch back and forth between the analytical and normative level.

An attempt to reduce the AWT completely to a normative question that goes back to Aristotle seems to be a failure in the first place ; because the AWT is by definition restricted to the dimension of economic analysis. Aristotle, however, was the first theoretician who also broached questions of economic analysis as part of his political theory .

First economic analysis: William Petty

One of the founders of the AWT is William Petty . For Karl Marx , therefore, the English economic classic begins with the mercantilist Petty and not with Adam Smith. To prove Petty's insights into labor value theory, Marx cites two passages from his "A Treatise of Taxes, and Contributions", in which the value is recorded as a "natural price":

“'If one can bring an ounce of silver from the interior of Peru to London in the same time it would take to produce a bushel of grain, then one is the natural price of the other [...].' (P.31. ) 'Suppose that the production of a bushel of grain takes as much labor as that of an ounce of silver.' (p.66.) This is first of all the 'real and unimaginative way of calculating the prices of goods.' (p.66.) "

It is not to be confused with the valuation when Petty states:

"Work is the father and the active principle of prosperity, just as the soil is its mother."

Marx agrees with this:

"So work is not the only source of the use values ​​it produces, of material wealth."

Adam Smith

Adam Smith (1723 to 1790)

Adam Smith , in his work The Wealth of Nations , examines how capitalist society develops in the process of capital accumulation. Smith says in his introduction and the plan of his work:

“The annual labor of a people is the source from which it is originally supplied with all the necessary and pleasant things in life that it consumes throughout the year. They always consist either of the proceeds of this labor or of what other countries buy with it. [...] In
the first book I examine the causes of this improvement in the productive forces of work, as well as the order according to which the income from work is naturally distributed among the individual classes and according to the social position of people. "

The tendency to exchange ultimately gives the impetus to the development of the division of labor , which takes advantage of the diversity of human talents and whose limits are determined by the size of the market. If people not only exchange surpluses from their production, but live from the exchangeable, a “commercial society” will emerge.

The word “value” has two different meanings: 1. the usefulness of a thing, ie the “use value”; 2. the ability to acquire other goods in exchange with the help of such an object, ie the “exchange value”. Smith then examines three questions:

  1. what is the right measure for this exchange value;
  2. The individual parts of this real price are composed or formed;
  3. under what circumstances some or all of these components sometimes rise or fall above their natural or normal level, i.e. what causes prevent the market price from exactly coinciding with the natural price.

“[It] is the value of a commodity for its owner who does not use or consume it himself but wants to exchange it for others, equal to the amount of work that enables him to buy it or to dispose of it. Work is therefore the true or actual measure of the exchange value of all goods. "

- Adam Smith

In "the lowest stage of development of a country" the entire yield of labor belongs to the worker. Capital has accumulated in more advanced societies. It makes sense that the owners of capital only make raw materials and maintenance available to the workers if they participate in the proceeds of production. They want a part of "what their work [the worker] adds to the material in value". After all, as soon as all land in a country is privately owned, the landowners also want their share, the land rent .

The value of the goods determined by labor is thus divided from the income side into wage income, profit income and basic rent (which the landowners receive).

So although Smith attributes the value of products to labor, he sees it necessary that the various groups involved in production (workers, capital owners and landowners) share this yield. Otherwise they would not make their means of production available.

Smith claims that the total value of goods is divided between the three types of income "basic rent, wages and capital gains". In individual economic terms, the value still contains the value of the preliminary products and the wear and tear of the work equipment used, but since their value can be divided up in exactly the same way, in the macroeconomic context the “total price” is finally “directly or indirectly” broken down into the three types of income. This approach was later rejected by Karl Marx as flawed. In today's national accounts , too , a macroeconomic distinction is made between production value and, after deducting intermediate consumption and depreciation , net national income or national income .

While at the beginning of the sixth chapter Smith still speaks of the fact that labor adds value, part of which then becomes wages, another profit, and all components of the price “are measured by the amount of labor which is measured with each individual Can buy or claim and use part ”, he states towards the end of this chapter that in a developed country there are only a few goods whose exchange value arises exclusively through labor. "Pension and profit are consistently more involved."

Smith's theses: 1. work is originally the source of all wealth, 2. good soils are the decisive cause for the rapid development of colonies, 3. work, soil and capital add value, Horst Claus Recktenwald considers only apparently contradictory. Confusion and distortion would have been avoided if Smith had made his respective evolutionary assumptions clearer. Smith's search for an absolute measure of value is of course completely superfluous.

David Ricardo

David Ricardo

David Ricardo opens his "principles" by stating that the AWT only applies to goods that are manufactured through human diligence and under competition . But these goods make up an ever larger part of the economy. The exchange value of rare books, statues, pictures, special wines and the like is not explained by the AWT. In addition, a prerequisite for a commodity to have any value at all is that it has use value . Goods that are not useful have no value no matter how much labor has gone into their making.

Ricardo, unlike Adam Smith, does not believe that an “original state” can be assumed where goods were only manufactured through work. Rather, the hunters also used bows and arrows, i.e. means of production. The working time that determines the labor value must also proportionately include the working time that is in the means of production. A modification of the AWT, as indicated by Smith, is not necessary for this.

Adam Smith is also imprecise when he says that the value of a commodity is equal to the labor that can be bought with it. First of all, a product with three hours of work can actually be exchanged for another product that also has three hours of work. However, a problem arises when goods are exchanged for “work”, which then creates goods with a higher value. Ricardo concludes that the value of labor equals the value of those commodities that workers need for their lives, including offspring. Ricardo imagines that this “natural price of labor”, from which the market price of labor can temporarily deviate, is established in a Malthusian process through supply and demand.

Ricardo draws the conclusion that higher wages are at the expense of profits, because the value of the goods is determined overall by the working hours, i.e. does not increase when wages rise. Ricardo found different statements in Smith and Malthus.

However, Ricardo recognizes that if the AWT were to apply immediately, a low profit rate would result in capital-intensive industries with little labor input (e.g. breweries) , while in labor-intensive industries, Ricardo calls the shoe trade, a higher profit rate would result. Then why should a capitalist invest in breweries? There must be an equalization of the profit rates between the branches. These prices, later called production prices by Marx , differ in a certain systematic way from labor values. Ricardo also draws the conclusion from these considerations that wage increases in capital-intensive sectors lower prices, but lead to price increases in labor-intensive sectors. The statement that wage changes leave the values ​​of goods unchanged therefore only applies to the macroeconomic average.

Marx's criticism of Ricardo

In The Misery of Philosophy , Marx asserts Ricardo's statements against Pierre-Joseph Proudhon as a fundamentally theoretically and empirically adequate explanation. Schumpeter saw in Marx a student of Ricardo. Strictly speaking, however, when he studied political economy, Marx started out from Ricardo's work as the state of the art.

Karl Marx , Theories of Added Value , 1956

It is only in the theories about surplus value that Marx deals with Ricardo's internal contradictions in more detail. Ricardo mainly examines the changes in the quantitative relationship of exchange values ​​under the premise of work as the basis of exchange value and depending on different, empirically ascertainable factors and conditions of the economy. In doing so, he takes wages, profit and rent abruptly from social reality as fixed and historically unchangeable categories, on which he only makes quantitative considerations. Marx criticizes this approach as ahistorical and contrasts it with the value form analysis.

With Ricardo there is also no distinction between work and labor . The latter is sold by the wage workers like a commodity. The value of the commodity labor power is determined according to the labor theory as the labor time necessary to maintain it. Since the workers work longer, i.e. also unpaid - otherwise they will not even be hired - an added value is created during this overtime.

Neo-Cardian School

More recently, Piero Sraffa and the Neo-Cardian school have continued Ricardo's theoretical approach, but have not adhered to the AWT. Piero Sraffa assumes “production coefficients”: For example, how many wheels do the “wheel production” industry have to deliver to the “car production” industry in order to produce a certain amount of cars? The entire production of an economy is thus determined by these production coefficients. Mathematically, it is possible to calculate the relationship between the various branches of industry so that they can all grow equally. The result is: the more goods are "lost" for wages, the lower the profits with which the production expansion is financed, the lower the economic growth. There is therefore a trade-off between the highest possible economic growth (possibly the fastest possible reduction in unemployment) and the highest possible wages.

Ricardo was already advocating that the rate of profit falls when wages rise, which is why the Sraffa school is also known as the “neo-Cardian school”.

The Sraffa model can be examined more closely with the help of matrix calculations. In particular, the labor values ​​can be calculated, i.e. not only the work that goes directly into the goods in the production process, but also the work that goes indirectly into the end products via the production materials. This made the Sraffa school attractive to the Marxist economy. However, this can be done in exactly the same way with any other means of production, for example "steel values" can also be calculated. The AWT is not simply found wrong by the Sraffa school; there is just no reason to fix the values ​​precisely in terms of working hours instead of any other means of production. The critical argument on the part of the Neoricardians thus boils down to the fact that the AWT is superfluous (redundant).

"The fact that exactly the same data must be available to determine labor values ​​and production prices, regardless of the possibility of a labor value theory, justifies its fundamental irrelevance."

- Eberhard Feess-Dörr

Eberhard Feess-Dörr then argues based on Okishio's theorem that Marx's law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is logically flawed. The ultimate reason for the error lies in Marx's theory of surplus value and in his variant of the AWT, which deviates from Ricardo.

Like Ricardo, the Neo-Cardian school does not recognize the distinction between work and labor , a distinction that critics of the Neo-Cardian school consider essential.

Karl Marx

The classical labor theory of value, according to which a product “has a value” because of the work it embodies, was the dominant view of political economy during Marx's lifetime. Marx criticizes this labor value theory that the simple determination of a product value through labor ultimately remains superficial:

“Political economy has now, albeit imperfectly, analyzed value and value magnitude and discovered the content hidden in these forms. She has never even asked why this content assumes that form, why is labor represented in the value and the measure of labor represented by its duration in the value of the labor product? "

- [Karl Marx]

For Marx it is by no means a matter of course that labor is worth a commodity. Rather, he criticizes the bourgeois economists because formulas such as “labor value” apply “to their bourgeois consciousness of natural necessity” [Marx: Das Kapital. MEW Vol. 23, p. 95]. Marx was not interested in improving classical labor value theory in order to "prove" labor value - according to him, scientific proof of labor value theory is not possible:

"The chatter about the need to prove the concept of value is based only on complete ignorance, both of the matter at hand and of the method of science."

- [Karl Marx]

Instead, Marx was concerned with the questions of why the economic category “value” exists at all, how this value is constituted, and why “work” is value-creating in a capitalist mode of production. In his economic writings Grundrisse der Critique derpolitischen Ökonomie , On the Critique of Political Economy and Das Kapital , Marx showed how, on the one hand, these questions cannot be answered dialectically without clarifying the essence of value, while on the other hand, the essence of value itself only results from the answers to the questions asked.

Marx's answers are partly in direct contradiction to the classical labor value theory, so that his labor value theory is an independent theory:

1. The value of the products is not determined by the work actually expended on them, but by the degree of "abstract work" that it is considered to be objectivizing. This term abstracts from the concrete nature of the work, be it “carpentry work”, “construction work” or “spinning work”. “The work, however, which forms the substance of values, is the same human labor, expenditure of the same human labor power.” ( Das Kapital. MEW 23,53) According to Marx, abstract labor forms the qualitative basis for value, its size (quantity) the socially necessary working time is determined which an average worker needs to manufacture the products under normal production conditions.

2. Since “abstract work” is only a theoretical category, but no producer actually does abstract work, the (work) value based on it is itself a mere thought. In contrast to the representatives of the classical theory of labor value, value according to Marx is therefore not a property that actually belongs to the products, but merely the expression of a relationship:

“A work product, viewed in isolation, is therefore not worth any more than it is a commodity. It only becomes valuable in its unity with other labor products, or in the proportion in which the various labor products, as crystals of the same unity, human labor, are equated with one another. "

- [Karl Marx]

In capital , Marx compares the value with the exchange rate: just as little as z. For example, a euro coin has the property of “having” an exchange rate, but this only expresses an exchange ratio between several currencies, a product in itself has no “value”, regardless of how much work has been put into it.

Accordingly, Marx describes the objectivity of goods as a “phantasmagoric form” ( Das Kapital. Volume I., MEW 23, p. 86) or simply “ghostly objectivity” ( Das Kapital. Volume I., MEW 23, p. 52). The aforementioned ratio is the ratio of a commodity to another commodity with which it is exchanged, or, generally speaking, the ratio of a commodity to a certain amount of money for which it is exchanged. The value is only constituted in the exchange of goods.

3. It follows that the economic category “value” is only valid in a form of society in which goods are exchanged between the isolated producers - in contrast to a direct joint production and distribution of goods from the outset. According to Marx, this value determined in this way therefore has no supra-historical validity for all social epochs, but only for societies that produce and exchange goods. Since a complete exchange of commodities only takes place where the labor power itself has become a commodity, but the latter is precisely the essential characteristic of capitalism, the calculation of values ​​is only generally valid for capitalist societies.

"This calculation of value itself has a given historical level of the social mode of production for its presupposition and is itself a given with the same, thus historical relationship"

- [Karl Marx]

4. The economic category “value” solves the central allocation problem in a capitalist economy , that is, the problem of how the total labor available in society is distributed to the various spheres of production.

"And the form in which this proportional distribution of labor asserts itself in a social condition in which the context of social labor asserts itself as the private exchange of individual labor products is precisely the exchange value of the products."

- [Karl Marx]

5. An essential part of Marx's theory of values ​​is his analysis of the form of value. Since value is constituted by the exchange of goods, it inevitably appears as exchange value. However, it cannot appear as such on the individual product itself. Exchange value takes its simplest form in an equation such as B. “1 skirt = 20 yards of linen”. Marx criticizes that this equation was only considered quantitative by his predecessors , namely as the statement “a skirt is worth exactly as much as 20 yards of canvas”, which means nothing other than that both quantities of goods count as the expenditure of the same amount of abstract labor. In contrast, the above equation also has a qualitative statement in that it says something about the value of the skirt: "1 skirt is worth 20 yards of canvas". “Canvas” thus becomes the form of existence of the exchange value contained in the skirt, which thereby presents itself as something independent, standing outside the skirt. The specialty is that the abstract exchange value of rock is expressed in the concrete practical value of the canvas. But this also means that the abstract work contained in the skirt presents itself as a concrete work “linen weaving”. The equation is now: abstract work included in the skirt value = linen weaver work. If canvas is not only exchanged for rock, but also for all other products, one can, conversely, ask for each product: "How much canvas is this product worth?" A product that can be exchanged for all other products, as in the example , is general equivalent. Linen weaving is becoming a generally accepted form of abstract work.

“It's different as soon as the canvas becomes a general equivalent . This use-value in its particular determinateness, whereby it distinguishes linen from all other kinds of commodities, coffee, iron, etc., now becomes the general form of value of all other commodities and the general equivalent . The particularly useful type of work presented in it is therefore now regarded as a general form of realization of human work , as general work. "

- [Karl Marx]

Abstract work is on the one hand the basis of the value object, on the other hand it can only be fully derived from the form of value. Historically, it was not canvas but gold that performed this function. This does not change anything in the general provisions. The general equivalent is synonymous with "money". So money can logically be traced back to exchange value:

"The exchange value detached from the commodities themselves and existing alongside them as a commodity is - money ."

- [Karl Marx]

Marx's theory of labor values ​​is therefore essentially an analysis of money. This is not only, as classical economics thinks, a "cleverly thought-out" means to simplify the exchange of goods, but an independent form of existence of value and the basis of all abstract work.

“The product becomes a commodity; the commodity becomes an exchange value; the exchange value of the commodity is its intrinsic monetary property; this property of its money breaks away from it as money, gains a general social existence separate from all particular commodities and their natural mode of existence; the relation of the product to itself as exchange value becomes its relation to a money existing next to it or of all products to the money which exists outside of them all. Just as the real exchange of products creates their exchange value, so their exchange value creates money. "

- [Karl Marx]

6. The further categories of the capitalist mode of production are derived from “value” so understood: surplus value, capital, profit, classes. These categories are logically imperative consequences of the value calculation that cannot be canceled without canceling the value calculation itself:

"It is a pious as well as a stupid wish that exchange value does not develop into capital or that labor that produces exchange value becomes wage labor."

- [Karl Marx]

Marx's theory of labor values ​​is thus a fundamental criticism of a society that needs a sociality conveyed through “value”.

Goods exchange

If one pair of shoes is exchanged for twenty loaves of bread, the equation is 1 pair of shoes = 20 loaves of bread. It is obvious that bread and shoes are by no means the same thing. As Marx observes in Volume 1 of Das Kapital , Aristotle was already racking his brain , albeit in vain, about how two things as different as cushions and houses can be the same, which they are obviously when five cushions are equated with one house in exchange:

5 cushions = 1 house.

According to Marx, what makes these commodities comparable is the fact that all commodities, however different they may be, are products of human labor. However, the specific work involved is completely different. The shoemaker's work, which is presented in a pair of shoes, is a different work than the baker's work, which produces 20 loaves of bread. If a pair of shoes is equated with a value of 20 loaves, then under no circumstances can the work really expended be equated. Marx therefore abstracts from real work by viewing “abstract” work as value-creating. Abstract work is an abstraction: The really concrete work is reduced to "expenditure of muscles, nerves, brain". The “abstract work” category serves the sole purpose of making the goods on the market interchangeable with one another. “Abstract work” is therefore a thought thing, a “ghostly objectivity” or “mere jelly” of human work (Volume 1, page 53). In the first example, a pair of shoes is worth 20 loaves of bread, so just as much abstract, socially necessary work is objectified in a pair of shoes as in 20 loaves of bread (Marx believes that this solution was not yet conceivable in Aristotle's time because it was not yet gave the "abstract work", that is, the idea of ​​the equality of all human labor. This idea is only the product of a society based on general commodity production, while the slave labor prevalent in antiquity was based on the inequality of people and their labor Volume 1, p. 74.)

In contrast to Adam Smith and Ricardo, Marx does not see the law of value as a supra-historical natural law. It is neither a natural characteristic of labor to create value, nor a natural characteristic of products to be a commodity and consequently to have value. Its AWT is therefore only applicable to certain conditions, namely to the capitalist mode of production. According to Marx, this is characterized by the fact that there is general commodity production - all labor products take on the form of commodities - and that labor itself is traded as a commodity. The latter is only possible because one class, the bourgeoisie, owns the means of production (factories, land, materials, money), while the other class, the free wage laborers, has to sell their labor in order to earn their living.

The workers thus exchange their labor like a commodity W for money G, which they then exchange for commodities W that they need to live: WGW

Conversely with the capitalists: They buy goods C (means of production and labor) with money G in order to set a production process in motion that leads to the creation of new goods, which in turn are sold as goods for money G: GWG or GWP (production process ) –WG.

For the capitalists, however, this only makes sense if in the end they earn more money than they initially invested. So it is a good thing that the workers have to live off something. As wage laborers who are doubly free, they are forced to sell their labor. Doubly free, because they are not under any personal rule and are separated from the means of production with the aim of satisfying their needs.

The special thing about labor as a commodity is that it can produce more value than it is worth itself. This is possible because work has this ability as a use value. The value of labor-power, like that of any other commodity, is determined by the socially necessary labor-time that is necessary for the production of labor-power, that is, by the labor-time that is necessary to produce the commodities which the workers need in order to reproduce their labor-power. What is socially necessary, however, depends on the productive power and on what workers and capitalists negotiate in the class struggle.

In what ratio do the goods exchange (exchange value of the goods)? If a commodity, for example gold, takes on the role of a monetary commodity, the question arises as to the ratio in which the commodities are exchanged for money (price as a special exchange value). Since the capitalists want to maximize the exploitation of the workers and thereby compete with each other, the result (as a first solution) is that the commodities exchange in relation to the labor time, which is normally socially necessary on average to produce these commodities. In fact, it is never exchanged exactly according to the labor values, as they are constantly changing and are not known. Rather, labor values ​​are centers of gravity around which actual prices (values ​​expressed as the exchange value of goods in money) fluctuate.

This gives money a special meaning, because only after payment in money do the exchange partners know what value the commodity had in practice, regardless of whether this value corresponds exactly to its unknown theoretical labor value or not.

The value of the additional product is the added value. The wage is the variable capital v. Together with the added value m, it forms the new value m + v (added value). The value of the commodities which the capitalists buy from one another as means of production (machines, buildings, materials, etc.) is constant capital c.

Marx defines the rate of surplus value as m / v (surplus value in relation to the variable capital), the rate of profit as m / (c + v) = (m / v) / (c / v + 1) (realized surplus value in relation to the total capital invested ).

Marx describes the ratio of constant capital c to variable capital v in Volume I of Das Kapital (MEW 23, p. 640) as the composition of the value of capital.

Socially necessary work

As socially necessary work , Marx describes the amount of work (working time) that has to be expended for the production of a unit of goods with generally available technology. The same goods that were manufactured with greater effort therefore have no higher value. Their producers may not be able to reproduce themselves in the long term and are excluded from the value creation in the long term. Goods that are manufactured with less effort are not (yet) generally available.

The scope of availability may create certain deviations.

The value of 1 pair of shoes is therefore not determined by how much work a specific shoemaker needs to make them, but by how much work an average shoemaker needs with common tools to make a comparable pair of shoes.

The value created or “set” in the production process must first be “realized” in the circulation process on the market, the goods must be sold at their value. The realized value can be smaller than the produced one. So even if it was produced technically correctly, the value produced does not have to be realized on the market.

Abstract and concrete work

Analogous to the dual character of the commodity as use value and exchange value, labor is to be broken down into “concrete labor = producing use value” and into “abstract labor = producing exchange value”.

"While labor that sets exchange value is realized in the equality of commodities as general equivalents, labor is realized as a purposeful productive activity in the infinite variety of its use-values."

Critics of labor theory (e.g. Joan Robinson and Jürgen Habermas ) also see science and technology as a source of value. Marx rejects this as a theoretical error: "In all of these views it is not about abstract labor as it is the source of exchange value, but about concrete labor as a source of material wealth, in short, about labor insofar as it produces use values ​​..."

Simple and complicated work

The fact that the value of a commodity tends to be reduced to the amount of abstract work performed (essentially working time) has paradoxical consequences. For example, it is believed that complicated work produces more value than simple work. If a microscope achieves a value a thousand times higher than a bread, one would like to attribute this higher value to the complexity of the work based on perception. In fact, the reason lies in the thousand times higher amount of work which (including all preliminary products and training costs) is objectified in the microscope. If the microscope could be produced with the same amount of work through automation, it would be worth a piece of bread.

Marx emphasizes that the reduction from complicated work to simple work (value-creating abstract social work) takes place in a very practical way (and behind the backs of those involved).

Exchange value

As an exchange value , Marx introduces the individual relation which the goods each have to one another on the market, "compare themselves". The exchange value assumes the owner of the goods as a private owner who, on the basis of their own account, uses their goods as access to other goods and withdraws them from use until they are exchanged. By generalizing the relation of each to each commodity, that is to say of all exchange values, a general property of all commodities becomes visible, that of being able to relate to all other commodities, to “express oneself” in them. Marx calls this property value, as it were as a generalization of all exchange values. The value is expressed in the relation of all goods to the money equivalent (price). Exchange value is used by Marx to determine the act of exchange (i.e. not labor) as the starting point for value formation.

Capital and labor

Just like goods and money, for Marx's AWT the category “capital” is not simply an empirically found means of production or a “capital good”, but a social relationship. The social category capital is derived from the more original categories of goods and money, as they appear in the simple commodity circulation WGW. The form of money as it has developed here is the first form of capital. The simple circulation can be transformed into GW-G ': buy in order to sell more expensively. The money invested in this becomes capital; the conscious bearer of this mode of circulation to the capitalist. Historically, this is initially trading or usury capital.

The fact that there can be added value at all with GWG 'is particularly in need of explanation, since under the assumption of AWT equivalents are exchanged, i.e. H. none of the traders takes advantage of the other.

Added value is created as soon as capital finds a commodity that has the particular use value of being itself a source of new value. This particular commodity is the labor of the wage laborer.

“To transform money into capital, the money owner must find the free worker on the commodity market, free in the double sense that he as a free person has his labor as his commodity, that on the other hand he has no other commodities to sell, loose and single , is free from all things necessary for the realization of his labor power. "

- Karl Marx

Manpower alone is a source of value

Joan Robinson argues in her Essay on Marxian Economics (1942) that a value theory can circumvent the index number problem (see an analogous measurement problem in: Capital Controversy ). She believes, however, that a theory that forces one to say that capital is unproductive can only obscure the problem.

Robinson evaluates Marx's value form analysis as “purely dogmatic”.

In addition to philosophical and political reasons, Marx also asserts compelling economic-theoretical reasons to limit economic value to the expenditure of labor. In Marx's concept of capital , the double character of labor is essential: 1. Producing use value, 2. Producing values. The productive potencies of the means of production (here too Robinson overlooks the difference between capital as an accumulation of use-values ​​and that as a sum of values) belong for Marx on the side of use-values. In the latter sense, even Marx does not see work as the only “spring of all wealth”.

The justification for considering only the expenditure of labor as the source of the value presented in exchange values ​​is taken from Marx's consideration of the cycle of the economic process. Just as François Quesnay looked at the distribution of the products of agricultural labor in the economic cycle in his Tableau économique , so Marx in his reproduction scheme in Volume II, Capital , looks at the distribution of generally productive labor through the individual acts of exchange in society. The socially used dimension of value, with which abstract labor is judged, is obtained from Marx's analysis of the form of value: value is the most abstract form of money as the intermediary of exchange. The central function in the circulatory and accumulation processes has the same value.

In the Grundrisse Marx explains that the only use value that can form a contrast to capital is “labor (namely, value-creating, ie productive labor)”. Capital is objectified labor, which is opposed to non-objectified labor, “labor as subjectivity”. The value of the goods is then determined by the “quantum of objectified labor”.

In addition to labor, other means of production are necessary to manufacture the products, but the social peculiarity of the commodity labor is that, unlike other means of production , it is sold by the wage workers . The wage laborers have to make a living by selling their labor, the only commodity they have, to the capitalists. As a result, wages can be forced upon them, the amount of which depends on what they need to support themselves. What they produce beyond that is appropriated by the capitalists as surplus value.

If workers were not employed as free wage laborers but as slaves, similar to robots or workhorses, the extra work would not be appropriated as profit, but directly like slave labor, regardless of whether values ​​are measured by working hours or not. Albert Einstein on this: "It is important to understand that ... the pay of the worker is not determined by the value of his product." Like workhorses or machines, slaves are part of constant capital . In Marx it says: "In the slave system, money capital, which is invested in the purchase of labor, plays the role of the money form of fixed capital, which is only gradually replaced after the slave's active life period has expired."

Transformation of values ​​into prices

See article Production Price and Transformation Problem

The "classic controversy": Böhm-Bawerk / Hilferding

Eugen Böhm von Bawerk did not last long after the publication of III. Volume of Capital , which was edited and published by Friedrich Engels after Marx's death , the complete works of Marx, insofar as this was published, subjected to extensive criticism.

On the part of contemporary Marxists, Rudolf Hilferding responded to Böhm-Bawerk's criticism.

For details see the Böhm-Bawerk / Hilferding controversy

Comparison of theory

“Modern economics, as practiced by professional scholars, embodies confusions that are fundamental methodological. These have their historical foundations in the failure of economists to establish an effective synthesis between the objective and the subjective theories of value. "

- James M. Buchanan

The "objective" value theory is opposed to the "subjective" value theory. In order to judge their respective advantages or disadvantages, a comparison of theories is necessary . At the end of such an approach, there could be an attempt at integration.

You have to see, however, that completely disparate theoretical perspectives and terminologies collide. Unlike other marginal utility theorists, Schumpeter did not consider the AWT to be absolutely wrong, but only to be a special case. Marx, however, already speaks of production factors for vulgar economics ; because economics is not about an “astronomy of the movement of goods”, but about social relationships and exchange processes between people. With these reservations, one must read an attempt that attempts to relate both value theories to one another.

Full utilization of the scarce production factor

Assuming full utilization of the production factor labor, the result is “labor values”. If one subtracts work from the production of one good in order to produce more of another good with this work, then these two quantities of goods “swap” according to the labor time required for their production. If one assumes that markets lead to full utilization of the production factor labor, then the exchange ratios of the markets or these “labor values ” can be represented by a transformation curve.

Other factors of production

However, in addition to work, other production factors can also constitute the scarce factor, e.g. B. the production factor soil. Then "soil values" would result according to a transformation curve. It is different again when several production factors work together in production and one factor can be substituted by another , e.g. B. less work, but more machines are used.

Marginal principle

If, for example, the production of good 1 is reduced from 100 to 99 products, then (exemplary assumption) 10 working minutes less are required for the production factor labor and 8 decimeters less for the production factor soil. These released capacities can now be used to produce more of good 2, for example instead of 140 products now 147 products of good 2.

One product from good 1 is "exchanged" for 7 products from good 2. For a product of good 1 as well as for 7 products of good 2, 10 working minutes and 8 decimeters of soil are required. So to speak, two laws of value apply simultaneously. The goods are exchanged both according to the labor time required for production and according to the soil required for production. The production factor labor does not have any special priority, which is an objection to the labor theory.

These required input quantities are generally also assumed to be dependent on the production quantity. For example, if the production of good 1 is reduced from 50 to 49 products, then z. For example, six minutes of working time and five decimeters of ground free, with which the production of good 2 can perhaps be increased from 90 to 100. Strictly speaking, a “work” or “land value theory” only applies marginally to the products that were just recently produced (see marginal productivity ).

Utility function or subjective value theory

In microeconomics, the amount of work available is not simply given, but is itself the result of a subjective household decision-making process. The households divide the total time available to them (24 hours a day) into leisure and working time. Free time creates direct benefit, working time creates indirect benefit because it is used to earn money with which consumer goods can be bought at given prices, which then increase the household's level of utility.

The optimization task for households is to divide their total time between leisure and working time according to their utility function in such a way that the utility level is maximized by the quantities of leisure and consumer goods selected in this way.

The objective function that has to be maximized is the subjective utility function of households or a common utility function of the community (determined democratically or dictatorially). In this case too, however, the efficient use of the production factor work results in “exchange” ratios according to the required working hours (more precisely the required marginal working hours) or “labor values”. The decisive objective function , however, is the benefit. Michael Heinrich describes the interaction of subjective benefit and labor value theory as "subjective labor value theory".

Intermediate result

If one were to observe that goods were exchanged in the markets in relation to the working time necessary for their production, this would not contradict orthodox doctrine with the following restrictions:

  1. According to the marginal principle, it is not the average working time that is to be taken as a basis, but the marginal or marginal working time, i.e. the working time that is necessary to just be able to produce the last piece. It is assumed that ceteris paribus this working time becomes longer and longer from a certain production volume.
  2. In the microeconomic total equilibrium, in the Pareto optimum , this applies not only to the production factor labor, but simultaneously to all production factors. So work is not particularly emphasized.
  3. In addition, in the case of utility maximization, exchanges are made in such a way that the lost utility by giving away a good corresponds precisely to the increase in utility of the good exchanged in this way.

Particularities with Marx

Marx introduces the distinction between labor and labor power . The latter is sold as a commodity by the wage workers . The value of the commodity labor power is determined according to the labor theory as the labor time necessary to maintain it. Since the workers work longer, i.e. also unpaid - otherwise they will not even be hired - the added value is created during this overtime .

Capitalist action is now aimed at gaining added value. The focus is on added value, not utility functions. In particular, the division of time into working time and leisure time is not the result of a free decision by the workers themselves, who thus maximize their utility function (subjective value theory), but the result of a class struggle between capitalists, who are interested in the longest possible working hours, and workers, who want to keep the working hours as short as possible in favor of leisure time.

The surplus value is still redistributed between the capitalists, so that what the individual capitalist receives does not have to correspond to the surplus value that arises in his factory. This is the difference between value and profit .

This is due to the fact that surplus value as such is of little use to the capitalist if it requires a huge outlay of capital to buy labor (variable capital) and means of production (constant capital). So it depends on the ratio between profit and capital employed, on the rate of profit .

The competition leads to an equalization of the profit rate between the various branches, since capital is withdrawn from branches with low profit rates, which decreases the supply there, which increases the prices according to the law of supply and demand. Conversely, capital flows into industries with a high rate of profit, which increases supply there, which, according to the law of supply and demand, reduces prices. This tends to lead to an equalization of the profit rates between the branches and thus to an average profit rate. The prices, which are calculated by the producers in such a way that the average rate of profit is added to the production costs, are referred to by Marx as production prices .

It would be a coincidence if the prices of the goods, as determined by working hours (AWT), were the same as the prices of production. Marx therefore assumes that the AWT does not directly regulate prices. Rather, there is a redistribution of labor values, some commodities have prices that are higher than the labor values ​​they contain, while the opposite is true for others. In the individual industries, the production prices apply; in terms of the economy as a whole, the AWT applies in the sense that the relationship between the aggregate aggregates, in particular the total wages and profits, is determined by the working hours behind them.

Marx claims for himself the theoretical explanation of how the AWT does not directly explain the prices of the various commodities, but that due to the tendency of the profit rates to be aligned between the industries, the prices, the so-called production prices, deviate in a certain way from the labor values. The question of how labor values ​​are to be converted into production prices is also known as the transformation problem.


Under certain assumptions, the labor values ​​can generally be calculated, for example based on an input-output analysis .

The following matrices and vectors

be the

  • Vector of labor values ​​w, where w (i) is the labor value of the product x (i) (piece value vector),
  • the vector of the immediate labor input ("living labor") l,
  • the identity matrix E and
  • the input-output matrix A. The coefficients of the input-output matrix a (i, j) indicate how much of input x (i) is needed to produce a unit of x (j). These coefficients are assumed to be constant here, i.e. they do not change over time, for example due to technical progress .
  • Let w T and l T be the transformed vectors of w and l. Then:

provided (I - O) can be inverted .

The Neumann series applies :

The value w is thus composed of the immediate workload (first summand on the right-hand side), the work that was expended in the previous period for the necessary preliminary products (second summand), the work that was required to produce these preliminary products in the period was necessary before (third summand) etc.

Numerical example

In a model of simple goods production , 3 shoemakers, 4 tailors and 2 farmers (3 sectors) supply each other with shoes, clothes and food according to the following table:

Table 1
From On
Sector 1
Sector 2
Sector 3
Cobbler 3 4th 4th 11 shoes
cutter 6th 4th 6th 16 dresses
farmers 0 0 0 0
Number (= consumption of food) 3 4th 2 9

According to the first line z. B. the three shoemakers deliver three shoes to themselves, four to the four tailors and also four shoes to the two farmers. The farmers supply a total of nine items of food as a macroeconomic end product, i.e. one item for each worker. But they deliver this as an end product and not as a preliminary product, which is why the table shows zero values ​​in the farmers' row.

The input-output matrix is ​​obtained by dividing the delivery quantity by the total production of the supplied sector:

For the labor values ​​w - working time per product - the following applies if l is the vector of the immediate labor inputs per end product of the various products shoes, clothes, food:

For the vector of direct labor inputs, assuming that every worker (craftsman and farmer) has to work eight hours to enable this production:

In addition, the invertible matrix is ​​calculated as follows:


So a shoe has a labor value of 6.67 working hours, a dress of 4.89 working hours and a food one of 8.00 working hours. If you put these labor values ​​in the above delivery table, you get the deliveries valued at labor values. It is assumed that every working person receives a food. The sums show that, calculated in terms of labor, each sector delivers as much as it receives itself. So it is exchanged according to the labor values.

Table 2
From On
Sector 1
Sector 2
Sector 3
Cobbler 20.00 26.67 26.67 73.33
cutter 29.33 19.55 29.33 78.22
farmers 24.00 32.00 16.00 72.00
total 73.33 78.22 72.00 223.55

Every working person (craftsmen and farmers) can receive food according to the value of their work. 3 shoemakers work a total of 24 hours and receive food worth 24 hours from the farmers, 4 tailors work a total of 32 hours and receive food worth 32 hours from the farmers and 2 farmers work a total of 16 hours and receive food worth 16 hours .

Input-output analysis

The associated input-output analysis should be mentioned here , which is necessary for further calculations:

So filled in with numbers:



Technical progress

Labor-saving technical progress

When technical progress is introduced, the model has to be adapted. Technical progress is to be introduced in such a way that no longer 3 shoemakers are required to produce 11 shoes, but only two. In total there are no longer 9, but 8 working people. If the consumption of food per worker remains 1, the final production is reduced from 9 food to 8 food. This means that fewer advance payments (here shoes, clothes) are required.

Input-output analysis

Since technical progress only reduces the required labor input, the input-output matrix A and thus (EA) −1 remains unchanged.

The new production quantities are:


In order to produce 8 foods for 8 workers, 9.78 shoes and 14.22 clothes must be produced according to the technically applicable input-output coefficients.

Calculation of the new work values

The direct labor input has changed for cobblers. Originally 3 shoemakers of 8 hours each, i.e. a total of 24 hours were necessary to produce 11 shoes, now it is only 16 hours. The direct work input per shoe is no longer 2.18 hours, but 1.45 hours. The labor values ​​are now recalculated:

The labor value of a food has therefore decreased from 8.00 to 7.11. To produce 1 food for a worker, only 7.11 hours are now required instead of 8.00 hours. If the consumption per capita is not increased, the daily working hours will decrease from 8.00 to 7.11.

Delivery table

The table of mutual delivery is now if the input-output matrix A continues to apply, taking into account that 2 instead of 3 shoemakers are active:

Table 3
From On
Sector 1
Sector 2
Sector 3
Cobbler 2.67 3.56 3.56 9.78 shoes
cutter 5.33 3.56 5.33 14.22 dresses
farmers 0 0 0 0
Number (= consumption of food) 2 4th 2 8th

If you insert the new labor values ​​in this table, you get:

Table 4
From On
Sector 1
Sector 2
Sector 3
Cobbler 14.22 18.96 18.96 52.14
cutter 23.70 15.80 23.70 63.21
farmers 14.22 28.44 14.22 56.89
total 52.14 63.21 59.89 172.24

The 2 shoemakers again receive food worth 14.22 according to their new work performance according to the shorter working day of 7.11 hours, the 4 tailors receive 4 times 7.11 equal to 28.44 and the two farmers like the two shoemakers receive food in Value of 14.22, which also corresponds to the daily work performance of 2 farmers.

If there is labor-saving technical progress, either the consumption per worker must be increased or the working time per worker must be reduced. A representation with the old working day of 8 hours and the same consumption of 1 food per worker is no longer possible.

In this illustration, it remains open how the transition to the new situation, as described in Tables 3 and 4, occurs after technical progress.

Primary literature

Secondary literature

  • Joseph Schumpeter : History of Economic Analysis. Volume 1. Göttingen 1965 (first: 1952).
  • Friedrich Eberle (Ed.): Aspects of Marx's theory 1. On the methodological significance of the third volume of 'Capital'. Frankfurt 1973.
  • Hans G. Nutzinger / Elmar Wolfstetter : The Marxian theory and its criticism. A collection of texts on the critique of political economy. 2 volumes. Herder & Herder, Frankfurt / M. / New York 1974. New edition in one volume: Metropolis, Marburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-89518-702-5 .
  • Pierangelo Garegnani : Capital, Income Distribution and Effective Demand. Contributions to the renaissance of the classical approach in political economy. Marburg 1989.
  • Luigi L. Pasinetti : Lectures on the theory of production. Metropolis, Marburg 1988, (first 1975, Italian). ISBN 3-926570-05-9 .
  • Krishna Bharadwaj : Themes in Value and Distribution. Classical Theory Reappraised. London 1989.
  • Fritz Helmedag : Goods production by means of work - For the rehabilitation of the law of value . Metropolis Verlag, Marburg 1992.
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  • Alan Freeman: Price, value and profit - a continuous, general, treatment . In: Alan Freeman, Guglielmo Carchedi (Ed.): Marx and non-equilibrium economics. Edward Elgar, Cheltenham UK / Brookfield USA 1996.
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Web links

Individual evidence

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