brendanmcooney on Nov 15, 2011
One of the more common objections raised to Marx’s theory of value, at least here in the theoretical void of cyberspace, is the objection posed by subjective value theory. Though these modern objections often take quite a crude, simplistic tone, they are echoes of a rather old debate, one that dates back to debates between Marxists and Austrian economists that took place in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s.
Austrian thinkers like Bohn-Bawerk and Mises were staunch defenders of free markets and private property, seeing capitalism as the ultimate expression of human freedom. In response to the revolutionary challenge of Marx’s economic ideas they advanced an alternative view of economics in which economic value was not determined by human labor but by the subjective valuations of individuals.
The Austrians called their theory Subjective Value Theory (STV), also known as marginal utility theory, and they called Marx’s theory an Objective value theory. Marx himself never used this sort of language to describe his theory because such a simplistic dichotomy would have robbed his theory of much of its nuance and depth. Nevertheless, Marx’s defenders often accepted this dichotomy, advancing a staunch defense of Marx’s supposed “objective” theory of value. If we really want to understand Marx’s theory of value we need to dig a little deeper than this.