Beyoncé & Beanie Babies: An Examination of the Manifest and Latent

Price, says Smith, is an expression of value based on the component parts of price. Smith defines a separate market and natural price, in which the market price is dependent on its natural price. Natural price is latent in that it controls the market price, because “the market price of any particular commodity, though it may continue long above, can seldom continue long below, its natural price” (Smith, 70). Therefore the market price is the manifest expression of the natural price specifically in the market.

[Beyoncé for H&M campaign & sweatshop scandal]

A real world example of this is the 2013 H&M scandal involving the production of Beyoncé’s clothing line in Bangladeshi sweatshops. Within the global market, H&M is the largest buyer of Bangladeshi clothing, importing roughly $1.5 billion worth of garments annually. In 2012, the garment industry comprised $19 billion in Bangladeshi exports, out of a total $24 billion. Profit acts as the byproduct of producers’ attempt to generate as many products as possible with the lowest wages possible. This is why the model of sweatshops works so well for both the Bangladesh economy and H&M, because it maximizes profit by minimizing wages, thus allowing for low price points on H&M products in America. According to Smith, “the natural price itself varies with the natural rate of each of its component parts, of wages, profit, and rent” (Smith, 71). Because the market price cannot drop below the natural price of any given commodity and be sustainable, H&M manipulates the natural price through the use of sweatshops in order to effectively lower the market price. This proves that the market price can be manipulated by the latent natural price by altering the conditions of labor and, therefore, wages. As much as it benefits a capitalist society, this undermines the laborer.

To explore further the concept of manifest and latent, let us turn to Marx’s perspective on these topics. We understand that value and use-value are entirely different entities, in that “[a] thing can be a use-value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labor” (Tucker, 307). However, Smith and Marx acknowledge the role of both use and exchange in determining the nature of the commodity in relation to a capitalist society.


Marx suggests that use-value is a form of appearance for exchange-value, as in exchange-value exists only in relation to the exchange of two or more use-values. Exchange-value is only possible if you make a total abstraction from use-value. “Of commodities, use-value is the difference in qualities,” and it is relative to man and the utility it provides him (Tucker, 305). In contrast, exchange-value is the difference in quantities relative to other commodities. “Then one use-value is just as good as another, provided only it be present in sufficient quantity” (Tucker, 305). If there is no difference in quality between commodities derived from their use-values, then an exchange cannot occur–therefore, exchange-value never manifests because it is only a mode of expression for equivalence. This is all to say, that use-value is a determinant in exchange-value, because it is not immediately apparent: it maintains a latent characteristic. Use-value, therefore, makes exchange-value manifest, specifically in the market.


Use-value and exchange-value constitute a notable part of the method through which we can analyze a commodity. What is a commodity?


First, let us look at Marx’s definition:


To become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use-value, by means of an exchange. Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value. (Tucker, 308)


We found collectibles to be an interesting example in discussing commodities within the scope of Marx’s definition. Beanie Babies, for instance, are one of the most iconic examples of the collectibles industry. A simple Google search will yield thousands of results for what seem to be overpriced eBay listings, despite the Beanie Baby bubble having burst decades ago.


[Princess, one of the highest-selling Beanie Babies on eBay]

Based on Marx’s definition, these objects are not commodities because they have no apparent use-value, other than serving the purpose of being owned and being a part of a larger collection. But Beanie Babies seem to have high exchange-value, as it is constantly “transferred [from one owner] to another”, which could classify it as a commodity (Tucker, 308). This begs the question, could we define a Beanie Baby, or any other collectible, as a commodity, since they have a manifestation of value through exchange yet have no obvious use?


9 thoughts on “Beyoncé & Beanie Babies: An Examination of the Manifest and Latent

  1. “If there is no difference in quality between commodities derived from their use-values, then an exchange cannot occur–therefore, exchange-value never manifests because it is only a mode of expression for equivalence.”

    I am a little confused by this statement. What is meant by quality derived from use-values? and why cannot exchange occur?

    -Pamela Sorrells


    1. Use-values have qualities–like the quality of keeping you warm, or the quality of satisfying hunger–as opposed to exchange-values, which are only quantities ($20, $35). If the qualities of two objects’ use-values are the same (for example, they are both wooden chairs that provide an equally comfortable place to sit), then there would be no exchange because there would be no point in exchanging them.

      As a very interesting side-note, this relates to Adam Smith’s theory that we have “a propensity to truck, barter, and exchange.” If this were true, then you might expect the above situation to lead to exchange even though there is no material benefit for either side, just for the joy of exchanging. But it doesn’t. In fact, it goes even farther than that, and it seems that we actually have a propensity to *not* exchange. It’s called the endowment effect, and describes our predisposition to place greater value on things that we own than on identical things that other people own. This tendency discourages trade. I highly recommend this article, or at the very least the introduction, which is about half a page and summarizes the interesting parts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Considering what we talked about today, I would define a Beany Baby as a commodity. This is because they are produced (in a factory somewhere) for the consumption and enjoyment of other people, not those producing it. It has a use value in that it has social value (i.e. being a status symbol for a collector, a toy for a child, etc.) and is made specifically for sale on the market and sale to others than the producer. Therefore I would see it as a commodity. This was a super interesting post!


  3. In reply to my own comment, I think I get it a little more now. It seems to me that it says that exchange-value does not exist if two things are equivalent, because no more value is gained from one item or the other? I’m still a little confused but maybe I’m understanding what you are saying a little more.


  4. I think that Beanie Babies, though they have exchange-value, would not be considered commodities by Marx’s definition because today, like the post stated, they have no use-value that the exchange-value manifested from other than possible joy or satisfaction from being possessed. This doesn’t seem enough, but I would argue that when Beanie Babies were first created and exchanged in the market, back in the early nineties, they indeed would have been considered a commodity because their use-value was that they were toys to be played with.

    I find the nature of Beanie Babies’ collectibility really interesting because I read about their original supply and demand: “The company’s strategy of deliberate scarcity, producing each new design in limited quantity, restricting individual store shipments to limited numbers of each design and regularly retiring designs, created a huge secondary market for the toys and increased their popularity and value as a collectible,” ( Beanie Babies were originally not very popular and some stores refused to buy them in bulk or at all because they were not well in demand. In the mid to late nineties, they became more in demand but only because the supply was low. Instead of Ty Inc. accommodating the larger supply that arose years after they were created, Beanie Babies became collectible because they were rare which inflated the exchange-value in the market, even though their use-value arguably had decreased.

    -Elizabeth Myles


  5. While Beanie-Babies don’t seem to have any immediate use-value, I think we acknowledged in class that things might not seem to have use-value, but actually do, with the diamonds on wedding rings as an example. They have high exchange-value, and for some also have use-value in holding together their marriage, etc. So I would still consider the Beanie-Baby a commodity as it probably has some use-value to some person out there, though I can’t imagine any off the top of my head. I really liked this post!


  6. “This begs the question, could we define a Beanie Baby, or any other collectible, as a commodity, since they have a manifestation of value through exchange yet have no obvious use?”

    I find this question interesting because what do you consider an “obvious use” of a product? There does not only have to be a physical use of a product (a diamond used in manufacture) for said product to be a commodity. A product may also have societal uses behind it (a diamond ring as a status symbol for wealth or marriage). A use value can be purely from a representational standpoint. I agree with Caitlin: the use-value of a beanie baby lies in its ability to become a status symbol for a collector. The collector may not physically play with the toy like a child would, but the beanie babies ability to allow the collector to be known as a collector is a use.


  7. Reply to drsmith28: While agree that we can include social “uses” under the category of use values, I wonder whether by doing so we risk conflating value and use value. Consider a painting by a famous artist. An exact replica of the painting will command a price orders of magnitude less than the original, usually vastly out of proportion with the difference in labor time required to produce the copy relative to the original. The difference in price is presumably attributable to a difference in the status ownership of the painting confers. If this status constitutes use value rather than value, then we have use value dictating exchange value, which Marx argues is not possible.


  8. To the original poster: I think your assertion that sweatshop labor was good for the Bangladeshi economy points to a fundamental difference between what Marx considers a good economy and what Weber considers a good economy – or, to put it in broader terms, what the fiscal left considers a good economy and what the fiscal right considers a good economy. Smith sees high productivity and low prices as the barometer of a successful economy, whereas Marx’s picture of a good economy has more to do with the human well-being of the worker. Sweat shops clearly further the former objective but detriment the latter.


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