Manifest and Latent: Beanie Babies Revisited

In this blog post, we will be re-examining our initial understanding of manifest and latent qualities of the commodity as presented through the structure of capital. Instead of drawing connections to alternative articles, we would like to clarify and deepen our analysis of the concepts we raised in the first blog post. Previously, we only unpacked the two most manifest qualities of the commodity, use- and exchange-value, but now given our deeper and more thorough understanding of its latent qualities we will discuss how they are altered in the production of capital.

In the real world, the consumer is most interested in the use-value of an object when engaging in the capitalist market, thus the use-value is manifest to the consumer through consumption of a good or service. However, from the perspective of the capitalist, the exchange-value acts as the driving force for the production of a given commodity. In order to participate in the circulation and augmentation of capital, the capitalist employs the M-C-M’ cycle.

“Now in the circulation M-C-M, or the circulation of capital, suddenly presents itself as an independent substance, endowed with a motion of its own, in which money and commodities are mere forms which it assumes” (335).

Here, Marx states that money and commodities are simply forms of appearance for capital. If the capitalist is interested in the increase of his capital, he makes use of these forms to do so. In the M-C-M process described by Marx, the capitalist employs his money to purchase and subsequently change a commodity in order to augment his capital. To understand how he is able to alter the commodity to produce more capital from materials which have a set value, we must understand the latent qualities of the commodity:

  • Use-Value is the form of appearance for Exchange-Value (which we examined in depth in our initial post)
  • Exchange-Value is the form of appearance of the expenditure of Abstract Human Labor
  • Abstract Human Labor is the crystallized form Value
  • Value is then determined and regulated by what is considered the average Socially Necessary Labor Time

Having already understood how use-value and exchange-value are connected in our previous post, we now turn to the deeper connections. Exchange-value is a form of appearance for something which Marx dubs “Abstract Human Labor”. We turn to Marx in order to understand what this concept is and how it is further employed in his analysis of the commodity:

“It consists of the same unsubstantial reality in each, a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour, of labour-power expended without regard to the mode of its expenditure… When looked at as crystals of this social subsistence, common to them all, they are — Values” (305).

From this, we can draw two important points about this new idea of Abstract Human Labor. First, it is described as a “congelation of homogeneous human labour”–that is to say, it is some common quality inherent in the production of any commodity without regard to the quality or type of labor. This allows for equal exchange of commodities of different qualities–thus allowing us to use exchange-value in the market. Second, this abstract human labor is crystallized in the concept of “Value.” Value itself, as the crystallization of this labor, has a magnitude, which is determined by Marx’s final piece of the puzzle of the commodity: Socially Necessary Labor Time. In Marx’s theory, society has determined an average labor time that is necessary for the production of any particular commodity. The amount of time spent laboring on a commodity is used as the magnitude of this value.

These qualities–particularly how value is derived from labor–are especially important for the capitalist in his quest to augment his capital through the production of surplus-value.The capitalist has purchased labor-power and other raw materials (we assume from here on that a laborer has sold his labor-power as a commodity in the market). He must first produce commodities that equal the cost it takes for the worker to reproduce himself, or to expend his labor-power. For example, he purchases the labor-power of one laborer in order to make shirts. The laborer must produce enough shirts that can be sold to equal the amount it cost the capitalist to purchase his labor-power. Let us assume that the laborer can do this in six hours. That implies that six hours is sufficient for the production of shirts for the laborer. However, his labor-power has been purchased by the capitalist, who can use the worker’s time however he pleases. So, the capitalist requires the worker to work for longer than six hours, and thus produces surplus-value to increase his profit. In summation, he uses his money to purchase commodities such as raw materials like cotton in order to increase the value by applying labor upon it, and resell this commodity in the form of shirts at a higher price than what the cotton originally cost. By purchasing labor-power, he uses labor-time to increase the value of the initial commodity–and thus the capitalist has changed the “C” (a commodity) in order to produce “M’.”

The process of M-C-M’ has a quantitative end goal of producing surplus value, during which the commodity acts as a mediator for the augmentation of money. The process first requires the creation of a surplus value and then its endless movement: M’, which is the original money plus the newly added surplus value, is thrown back into the market to create M’’, and so on, for the continuous growth of money. The form that money and commodities take during this process is “capital”, and the circulation of M-C-M is the equivalent of “the circulation of capital…endowed with a motion of its own”, that is, there is capital only when surplus value is being continuously created (335).

While the collector of any rare commodity (i.e. Beanie Babies) is not a direct replication of Marx’s capitalist, modern-day collectors do engage in the M-C-M’ model. Unlike the Marxist capitalist who exploits human labor to generate profit by transforming raw materials into a new commodity, when collectors reach the C phase of M-C-M’ they apply the passage of time to their collectible to increase its value. Whereas a capitalist invests his funds in raw materials and human labor, a collector makes an initial investment in a commodity and once that commodity is purchased, he invests time into the commodity, which grows increasingly valuable as the quality of the collectible remains intact despite the extended passage of time. Collectors can also invest in human labor like a capitalist, by purchasing the labor of restoration and preservation, thus acting upon the commodity which should produce surplus value for the collector once the collectible returns to market. Another reason the collector is an indirect comparison to the capitalist is that collectors can often engage in the C-M-C process because the driving force in desiring a collectible can be the act of owning it, rather than generating profit by reselling the collectible.

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5 thoughts on “Manifest and Latent: Beanie Babies Revisited

  1. I like the connection that you all drew hear between the Beanie Baby collector and the M-C-M’ / C-M-C processes. To me, I see collectors as solely involved in the C-M-C process. Isn’t the point of collecting something, to keep it? So I do understand selling something to gain more of something else, but only with the end goal of keeping the commodity, not selling it again.

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  2. I like how you kept the comparison of Beanie Babies to Marx’s concepts! I do have to say though that I somewhat disagree with the capitalist comparison to someone who sells a collectible BB to gain a profit. I see your point that as time passes, it acts on the exchange-value of the commodity and adds value to it in the market, so that it can be sold for surplus-value, or M’. The collector engaging in the C-M-C process makes sense to me, but the seller of the collectible only engages in M-C-M’ if they continually purchase, wait, and sell collectibles, which doesn’t seem like a never-ending process, which is what I interpret M-C-M’ as being. Especially since there is a limited quantity of Beanie Babies in the world, and one would likely have to wait years for the value to increase, it just doesn’t seem like a constant enough process to be considered M-C-M’ and to unceasingly produce and circulate capital. But you raised great ideas about collectibles that I never thought about before!

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  3. I enjoyed the fact that the authors continued with their evaluation of Beanie Babies in relation to Marxian theory. As pointed out by others, I do agree that collectors are more concerned with the C-M-C process than they are the M-C-M’. The latter would make sense in cases where the collector sells a beanie baby in the hopes of purchasing one with a more desiring use value. I don’t necessarily agree that a capitalist and a collector are similar because the capitalist concerns himself with the creation of surplus value (through the M-C-M’ process) while a collector concerns himself with the discovery and acquiring of more commodities (through the C-M-C process). Both the capitalist and the collector may work inside both processes, but what makes them different is what their end goals are: surplus value and use value, respectively. But overall, I enjoyed the article and it has allowed me to consider the possibilities of everyday items in relation to Marxian theory.

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  4. I really liked how you kept Beanie Babies as an example and how you compared collectors to capitalists. I agree that collectors engage in the same M-C-M cycle that capitalists engage in; unless you are an artist yourself, you probably have to have money to own the piece of art that you desire, and so you start at the M side I guess, though it is also fair to say that a collector sometimes aspires to own the art rather than sell it. I feel like this blog has a really good analogy and really helps one understand Marx’s commodity!
    -Jason

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  5. After reading your post and the comments that were made I would like to point out that your claims are sound and completely make sense to me. Drawing from my own experience and my observations on the sneaker game. Nowadays there are a lot of collectors who like to make a profit out of the sneakers that they collect. Upon reading your description of how the beanie babies go through the M-C-M cycle to generate revenue for the collector, I immediately understand where your reasoning is coming from. The collectors do enjoy collecting shoes but that doesn’t mean they don’t do it for the profit as well. A lot of my friends and resellers that I have read about enjoy the process instead of the goods they possess. They might enjoy the possession of a particular shoe for a short while, but it is so much more adventurous to allow someone experience that by selling it and go on to finding other new and unique shoes out there. Same goes for the beanie babies.

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