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Value in Motion: Beverley Best & Aaron Benanav

Beverley Best and Aaron Benanav join Eleanor Penny to talk value, automation, and the changing nature of work.

16 May 2024

Value in Motion: Beverley Best & Aaron Benanav


VersoBooks · Value In Motion | Beverley Best & Aaron Benanav


This week on The Verso Podcast we’re taking a deep dive on the labour theory of value. From David Ricardo, to Adam Smith, to Karl Marx, it's a topic that economists have been fighting over for hundreds of years - and it's high time The Verso Podcast joined the fray. Our host, Eleanor Penny, sat down with Beverley Best and Aaron Benanav to discuss AI, surplus population, and the relationship between the concept of value and commodity fetishism.

In the 1840s the young Karl Marx and his friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels witnessed the horrors of industrial England - the so-called ‘workshop of the world’. They saw people working long hours for low pay in appalling conditions, with no rest in sight and little freedom to speak of. Marx came to believe that the key mechanism of exploitation at the heart of this unjust system was the fact that workers would produce far more value for their employer than the value of the wages they were paid as recompense for their work.

But what is this thing we call “value”? Where does it come from? Where does a dining chair or a fur hat or a tin of tomatoes get its value? For that matter, where do more abstract commodities derive their value - whether it be a share in a corporation, or a piece of land, or an hour’s work? What is this measure by which things can be bought, sold, speculated upon, and made legible to capitalism’s global markets? This is a crucial question in economics - and what’s more it's a crucial question in Marxism, and the way it diagnoses the ills of capitalism. 

Picking up on the work of the liberal economists that came before him - such as Ricardo and Smith - Marx’s answer to this question was that the value of things comes ultimately from the labour that it takes to make them - an idea known as the labour theory of value.

Aaron Benanav is a sociologist and economic historian. He is an assistant professor of sociology at Syracuse University, and a researcher at Humboldt University of Berlin. He’s written for various outlets including the Guardian and New Left Review. He’s the author of Automation and the Future of Work, published by Verso Books.

Beverley Best is an associate professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Concordia University, Montréal, and she is the vice-president of the Marxist Literary Group. She is the author of Marx and the Dynamic of the Capital Formation: An Aesthetics of Political Economy, and she’s co-editor of The Sage Handbook of Frankfurt School Critical Theory. Her latest book is The Automatic Fetish: The Law of Value in Marx’s Capital -  published later this month by Verso Books

Be sure to tune in next time for an episode about Mike Davis - his life, his work and his legacy - with Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

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The Automatic Fetish
The Automatic Fetish traces Marx’s analysis of capital, step by step, through the material compiled posthumously as the third volume of Capital. Identifying the critique of value as the central thr...
Automation and the Future of Work
Silicon Valley titans, politicians, techno-futurists and social critics have united in arguing that we are living on the cusp of an era of rapid technological automation, heralding the end of work ...

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