Reading Marx

I am reading a couple of chapters from “Capital” for Tarleton’s “foundations” class. This is actually the first time i am dealing with the original (well translated) version of Marx’s writing after hearing and studying so many references. So far I got some comments just for the first chapter of vol. 1, which deals with the concept of value.

If my reading of Marx is correct it all boils down to human labor. Commodities are exchangeable at a ratio based on the amount of work put in their production. He is using an example of X amount of linen equal to 1 coat, and the mechanism that enables this equation is that there was a certain amount of work put in producing the coat compared to that of production of linen. In other words there are some natural resources out there and it takes a certain amount of labor to access them, and then another amount of labor to give them a physical shape. Thus this final shape is what denotes their value.

Assuming that my reading is correct, it raises interesting questions about the value of information. How do we value information? Or maybe in the case of information we are paying for the shape of it, i.e. for the format? Also, how can we compare for example political news, scifi series and credit data? All of them are types of information with a different amount of work put in them, and yet i am not sure that this is the only criterion they are valued upon.

Here is probably a good moment to mention that surprisingly demand is absent from the mechanism described by Marx. In the world he presents producers exchange commodities with producers. Of course, by the virtue of our social system we all are producers in one way or another, but the approach he presents seems very utilitarian and rational, which i am not sure covering the entire range of possible interactions.

Another thing that strikes me is that Marx addresses commodities as having agency. Maybe it is the same invisible hand of Adams, but here he is talking about commodities communicating among themselves, expressing values, etc. This interesting because it gives the commodities life of their own, unrelatd to personal preferences of the consumers. Moreover, it suggests that the relative value of commodities is defined through this interaction between commodities. This again strikes me as puzzling for the lack of attention to human factors. At the same time it makes sense if we again are thinking about information as a commodity and the value created through assembly of pieces of information.

Recently i started reading Dan Schiller’s “How to think about information” and the first argument he is making is about commoditization of information. I am trying to place information as a commodity in Marx’s scheme, and i find it confusing. Any ideas?

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One Response to “Reading Marx”

  1. lisa Says:

    Sounds to me like Marx’ thought processes are absolutely typical of traditional/old-style rational scientific thought, especially in economics, where you try to remove all the unpredictable/human elements from discussion for the purpose of being able to think about it more easily. (Demand, as you mentioned, is one of these missing factors and a pretty important one; culture-specific values is another).

    So my answer, is ‘why bother?’

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