Socially Necessary Labor-Time In Capital Volume One, By Karl Marx

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Beginning with Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, bourgeois political economists have theorized that the value is a function of a worker’s labor. In Capital Volume One, Karl Marx illuminates this idea and adds nuances to it, explaining underlying relationships between labor and value. Namely, Marx introduces the concept of socially necessary labor-time and uses it as a point of departure for considering the links between labor, value, and material wealth. In Capital, Marx elucidates the intrinsic role of socially necessary labor-time in a commodity’s value, then uses his analysis of this role to fully define material wealth.
In the very first chapter of his work, Marx explains that socially necessary labor-time is derived from the mass of
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Marx explains that socially necessary labor time is an important metric because it regulates the market values of specific goods. A commodity “has value only because abstract human labour is objectified” in it (p. 129). This value, which Marx terms the exchange-value of a commodity x, is a measurement of the quantities of other commodities for which this commodity can be exchanged. Since the exchange-value of a commodity is a function of the labor-power expended in its creation, it can be calculated from the duration of labor. Moreover, if this duration of labor is measured in social units, it can be compared from one commodity to another. Socially necessary labor-time allows for precisely this comparison by standardizing the “value-forming substance”, labor (p. 129). Marx deems socially necessary-labor time a “regulative law of nature”; despite its lack of obviousness, it is an underlying force that determines value (p. 168). A commodity’s socially necessary labor-time is the mechanism that regulates and explains its often-shifting market value: it establishes value “independently of the will, foreknowledge, and actions of the exchangers” themselves (p. 167). Values are only the final forms of commodities, concealing the social labor relationships between

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