Marx’s scientific retelling of use-value and exchange-value was, at times, dragged down by helpful yet antiquated examples of commodities. But the strengths of the concepts themselves elicited a powerful, hopefully accurate, contemporary example of use-values and exchange values. Every teenager who inherited a broken, decrypt, or altogether questionable mode of transportation is already acquainted with the differences between the two types of values inherent within all commodities.
Officially and legally, a car, bus, motorcycle, or truck’s value is recorded by Kelly’s Blue Book. Their formula for value appraisal reads something like an evasive teenager, as their website explains. “it is derived from actual new vehicle sales and extensive knowledge of the marketplace,”(KBB.com). Despite being unwilling to make their exact calculations known, the general logic follows that every year after its production vehicles begin to lose value as represented by currency. The vehicle’s general condition further detracts from its already deflating price.
The Marxian explanation of de-valuing of a commodity would be an interesting and thoughtful enterprise, but it is not one that I concern myself with here. Instead, I turn to Rhonda. A recent claimant on Judge Judy’s television show. Rhonda was the unfortunate victim of a particular vicious car accident that rendered her older Ford totaled(totaled being an interesting economic term in itself as it refers to the value being completely extinguished from the car as a commodity). Upon hearing her case, and finding the defendant legally responsible for the damages Judge Judy awarded Rhonda a measly $400. Rhonda’s functional yet elderly car’s appraisal value meant that even after winning her case, she would still be unable to purchase a functional dependable car like the one that was ruined by the irresponsible defendant.
Rhonda’s case reflects the dialectical nature of commodities specifically as related to use-value and exchange value. The use-value of Rhonda’s car is potentially not measurable as easily in currency given that it is not mediated by labor. It is inherently extrinsic. However, one might imagine the vehicle’s use in transporting Rhonda to work, picking up children, delivering meals to elderly grandparents meant that the car had real use to Rhonda. In this case, the exchange-value of the car as elaborated by Kelly’s Blue Book meant that Rhonda’s car had an asymmetrical use to exchange-value. Under California law, even though the defendant effectively destroyed Rhonda’s working car. Rhonda is only entitled to the exchange-value of the car but not in fact to another working car. As the focus on currency by capitalists removes the true focus from labor as value, such a focus values as expressed exclusively monetarily potentially marginalizes use-value. Marx’s explanation of commodities gives us language to question where we might find a commodities worth. Such language also affords us the opportunity to question the legal privileging of a certain type of value over another.