It's been quite a few years since I read key portions of Das Kapital, and I had hoped I would never need to slog through Marx's prose again. But I decided to refresh my memory on his "labor theory of value." I did, and below is a synopsis (not a critique) of what I think I read.
If you're a Marx expert (Karl, not Groucho or Harpo), let me know if my synopsis is off the mark in any respect. Here goes:
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Karl Marx’s labor theory of value is his attempt to lay the economic foundation and justification for his broad assertion about the dark social implications of the capitalist economic system. Capitalism, according to Marx, exploits an industrial society’s working class by appropriating a portion of the value of the workers’ output. The capitalists, driven by greed for money, use money to get more money—and their engine for money growth is fueled by surplus value stolen from the working class.
Labor theory of value
Commodities bought and sold (exchanged) in the marketplace have a “use value” that is intrinsic, but impossible to quantify relative to other, very different commodities. Therefore, the marketplace assigns an “exchange value” defined in terms of money. Although the labor theory of value originated with British economist David Ricardo, Marx used it as an economic springboard for launching his social theory about the oppressive, exploitive nature of the capitalist economic system.
How capitalists exploit and oppress workers
The “market” is the subliminal tool employed by greedy capitalists to keep the workers in their proper, subordinate place in society. The market is where oppressed workers purchase commodities they’ve been led to think they need, at prices they can barely afford. Capitalists, driven by greed for money, keep the hapless workers living just barely at a subsistence level through constant downward pressure on wages, and constant upward pressure on working hours and required output levels. The capitalists finance the political and economic engines that maintain their social power over the working class by extracting a portion of the value produced by the workers.
The hapless, near-powerless working class is ignorant of the secret, subliminal tool employed expertly by the greedy capitalists: “fetishism,” the mistaking of “want” for “need” in the commodity exchange markets. That ignorance perpetuates the evil, exploitive capitalist system.
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That's it. Did I get it right?
[My critique, by the way, is extremely brief. Maybe I'll post it someday.]