Law of Value - Origins of The Concept

Origins of The Concept

According to Marx, the knowledge that the law of value existed, expressed in one form or another, sometimes more clearly and sometimes less, was very ancient - it reached right back to the first nomadic traders in food, crafts, services and minerals. People knew very well that there was a definite relationship between time worked and the value of products traded; in itself that was not a very difficult insight to grasp. In fact, three hundred years before the Scottish and English political economists, Ibn Khaldun had already formally presented a fairly sophisticated understanding of the law of value. The economic effects of the availability or lack of labour - already reckoned with some precision in ancient Sumer more than four thousand years ago - were rather self-evident in practical life. Nevertheless, different thinkers in history failed to conceptualize the law of value with any adequacy.

In part, Marx believed that the reason was that unrestricted trade of almost everything (including all kinds of labour) purely according to their exchange-value, was a comparatively recent phenomenon in human history. In pre-capitalist societies, there were far more restrictions on trade, the scope of trade was much less, and trade was influenced much more strongly by local custom, religion and cultural tradition. Labour was normally not a distinct and independent factor of production. It was therefore difficult for philosophers to reach the theoretical conclusion, that only human work effort is the real substance of economic value; it seemed to contradict all kinds of other influences at work.

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