It’s generally awesome, but I do have the sense that DeLong is unfair in his trashing of Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism. He derides Marx’s claim that a commodity is a “mysterious thing” because in it “the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product.” Nobody, DeLong says, thinks this way; “Nobody I talk to believes that ‘values’ are objective quantities inherent in goods by virtue of the time it took to produce them.” But it seems to me that this is sort of Marx’s point: nobody does think that way. Instead we imagine the commodities to just exist in pure exchange relation to each other, paying no attention to the social web of activity that brings them into existence for exchange and use, which is the real human story. Basically Marx is taking a humanist stance here and trying to posit that the really compelling thing we ought to be looking at in our little fleeting lives here on earth is human beings and how they spend their time with each other, rather than the things they are employed to make. And I think at some basic moral and aesthetic level, that’s true. The problem, as DeLong says, is that the labor theory of value is completely useless as an economic yardstick, and leads one off into absurdity. And DeLong is also right to find here the roots of Marx’s sense that markets are fundamentally tools of unfreedom rather than of freedom, with all the needless suffering and poverty that misconception would entail through the next century-plus. But I still think the insight of “commodity fetishism” is a powerful one and that Marx’s move, of disassembling people’s reified sense of the naturalness of commodities and their worth, is a powerful one that often comes in handy.
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