The writings of Karl Marx are quite insightful, notably Marx’s theory of value. Marx emphasized two specific meanings of the word value, that of use value and exchange value. Use value can be defined as ‘the value inherent in the utility of an object’. This is in regards to what an objects intended use is for. As mentioned in class lecture, whether you own an expensive Mercedes Benz, or a simple Honda, the use values of these two vehicles is the same, to get you from point A to point B. Exchange value can be defined as ‘the value an object can attain when sold or exchanged.’ Exchange value can vary depending on the person who is trading, or in need of a particular object. However if we exclude the concept of money and focus solely on a society that operates only in trade, we are able to see a practical application of Marx’s theory of value. With the globalization of the world there are not many cultures and societies left who operate solely on trade. Even the most isolated indigenous cultures would be able to sell, for example, a handmade basket to a neighboring village for money in which to purchase food and supplies for themselves. I will be analyzing Marx’s theory of value on the idea of a ‘post-apocalyptic’ society where Marx’s theory of value will hold true and we will see that what once was valuable, now holds a completely new meaning. I will also analyze something as simple as water, a basic need for human survival, something that is ever present on our planet, but has become a commodity that is now bought and sold in a system of capitalism.
For the first practical application of Marx’s theory of value I will briefly analyze a television show called Jericho. In this show, the small Kansas town of Jericho is completely cut off from the rest of the world after a series of nuclear bombs were detonated in every major city in the United States. Jericho has no radio reception, no television signal, and no way of knowing the terror of what was happening around them. There was no longer a government, no law and justice. This town was essentially sent back to a time where the basic means of survival were all that mattered. The town subsisted on trade. Money no longer had meaning or use and what was once valuable; jewelry, property, and expensive material items no longer had the same value. Now, in a time of crisis, rather than seeing a diamond ring as the most valuable property that one owns, it may be a blanket, shoes, or a generator that holds the most value in this new form of society. By applying Marx’s theory of value, we see that it depends on what is of value to you that determines its use value. In movies that depict decimated societies where people subsist on trade, it is interesting to see people revert back to their most animalistic tendencies, searching only for food, water and shelter. The commodities of value in our present day society no longer hold the same value when the concept of money no longer holds meaning.
I also wish to discuss water from a Marxist perspective. Water is the driving force of life on earth. We are surrounded by water. In industrialized nations, we have an endless supply of water in our own homes. (Granted we do pay a water bill but that is beside my point) So why is it that we spend hundreds of dollars a year on purchasing bottled water? According to Marx, “A thing can be a use value, without having value”. (Marx- Commodities and Money) From this, our sources of water have a ‘use value’, allowing us to quench our thirst, without being a commodity. However in our capitalist society, we have taken water, and turned it into a product of labor which is now owned by major companies such as Nestle, and Coca Cola, who owns Dasani water. According to the Pacific Institute “We estimate that total consumer expenditures for bottled water are approximately $100 billion per year.” (www.pacinst.org) We as consumers spend $100 billion a year on something we can get for free, from the tap. If that’s not an example of a privatized commodity owned by the Bourgeoisie I don’t know what is!