It is time to take back value. For many, value has long been dismissed
as a concept so thoroughly compromised, so soaked in
normative strictures and stained by complicity with capitalist
power, as to be unredeemable. This has only abandoned value to
purveyors of normativity and apologists of economic oppression.
Value is too valuable to be left in those hands.
In the absence of a strong alternative conception of value, it is all
too easy for normative gestures to slip back in. Priorities are still
weighed, orientations favored, directions followed. Without a concept
of value, by what standards are these choices made? Usually
none that are enunciated. Standards of judgment are simply allowed
to operate implicitly. Normativity is not avoided. It becomes
a sneak. This can prove to be just as oppressive.
To take back value is not to reimpose standards of judgment providing
a normative yardstick. That would do little other than to
make the oppressiveness explicit again.
To take back value is to revalue value, beyond normativity and
standard judgment. More radically, it is to move beyond the reign
of judgment itself.
The first task of the revaluation of value is to uncouple value from
quantification. Value must be recognized for what it is: irreducibly
The revaluation of value as irreducibly qualitative must be insistently
Appealing to transcendent values, styled as
moral qualities, only raises the strictures of normativity to the
The revaluation of value is ethical by definition.
That is why it cannot be moral.
Scholium. In an ethics, the transcendent moral opposition
(Good/Evil) and its attenuated democratic offspring (normal/
pathological) are “supplanted by the qualitative difference of
modes of existence” (Deleuze 1988, 23). Ethics bears on what,
qualitatively, a process can do, and in what direction that capacitation
leads. It evaluates the singular how of “an immanent
power’s” (25) mode of operation, as it consequentially unfolds.
The project of a revaluation of values to give value its qualitative
due takes the path of a processual ethics. Processual ethics
is thoroughly relational. The immanently self-powering
of existence it concerns come in multiples and mutually inflect.
This qualifies it as an ecology, in the broadest sense.
The revaluation of values overspills the narrowly
economic domain, into an ecology of powers (T49–T68).
To uncouple value from quantification in a way that affirms an
ecology of qualitatively different powers means engaging head-on
with the economic logic of the market. Value is too valuable to be
left to capital.
The dominant notion of value in our epoch is economic. The domain
of economic value is conceived of as the market. Market-based
thinking deploys a consensus definition of money. That
definition is threefold: unit of account, medium of exchange, and
store of value.
Scholium. This definition actually skirts the issue of value.
Since the “store of value” is nothing other than a quantity of
units of account held in reserve, poised to enter exchange, the
definition is circular. The circularity spreads the quantitative
notion of value across the three roles, equating value with the
ability of money to phase between them. The result is an obfuscation
of value, both of how it actually functions in capitalism—which
cannot be reduced to classical market mechanisms and
the market’s central concept of exchange—and
of what it might
become in a revalued postcapitalist future.
The threefold market definition of money assumes that value is
by nature quantifiable and posits money as the measure of value.
These assumptions must be questioned in order to open the way
to the revaluation of value.
The classical concept of the market assumes not only the quantifiability
of value but the myth of equal exchange, as judged by
the measure of money. This is the idea that one can get “value for
money,” guaranteeing fair exchange. This fairness principle is seen
to be the engine of the capitalist market.
The ideas of equal exchange and getting value
for money are supported by the notion of money as measure of
value. Money can be treated as the measure of value because it
is used as a general equivalent: a yardstick for comparison. With
this yardstick, incommensurable things can be commensurated.
A “fair” exchange is when the use-value
of a commodity
object is judged commensurate with its price. Price provides a
standardized third term enabling qualitatively different commodity
objects to be compared. This, in theory, enables “rational”
consumer choice. The value of a present sum of money can
also be compared to a sum in the future, enabling “rational”
life choices. The myth of fair exchange is undermined, however,
by the concurrent market logic of getting a “good deal.”
In consumer behavior, the allure of getting more value for your
money is actually a stronger engine. This points to the fact that
if you scratch the shiny surface of the market idea, the specter
of unequal exchange immediately appears. Qualitative understandings
of value then return, to shake the foundation of the
quantitative vision of value. It takes little reflection to realize
that the “goodness” of the good deal is only partially reflected in
the price. The “calculation” of what constitutes a good deal does
not only involve “rational” considerations. The sense that more
value for money is obtained is strongly inflected by the subjective
factors of the buyer’s dispositions, desires, and idiosyncrasies.
(T91 Schol. b) is relative, and it is impossible
to separate from more subjective values such as prestige-value.
These subjective factors cannot be commensurated from one consumer to another, or from one purchase to another. They
are singularly qualitative “calculations.” They are also object
lessons in the plasticity of value.
The myth of the commensurability of a present
sum of money and a future value is also undermined, this time
by the tendency of the market itself to exemplify the plasticity of
value. This is called volatility. Volatility is two-headed.
It arises from factors endogenous to the market, such as cycles, and
crises arising as complexity effects of the market’s very mode
of operation (speculative bubbles). It also arises from externalities,
which include such things as wars, natural disasters, and
weather (or more radically, climate change). Externalities are
qualitative changes in the market’s outside environment that are
secondarily reflected in price changes in the market (Hardt and
Negri 2009, 155). Also included are price movements linked to
valuations that are not exactly outside the market but are not
fundamentally “calculated” in money terms either. The classic
example is the added value of location as reflected in real estate
prices. Location is valued as an indicator of quality of life.
Quality of life is not in itself measurable. Higher prices in a
desirable neighborhood are a way of putting a number on the
immeasurable. They numerically express an incommensurability.
This suggests a connection between value and vitality that
is reflected in pricing but is irreducible to that quantitative expression
because, in itself, it is directly qualitative.
Actual market dynamics assume unequal exchange.
The way the market operates in practice is predicated
more on excess than on commensuration. More-than
is more equal than equal-to.
unbalancing exchange is due to
qualitative factors. Although reflected in price, these qualitative
factors are and remain externalities to the market.
They are of another nature than their quantitative reflection,presenting a nonnumerical excess. They remain subjective,
vital: equal to qualities of experience; pertaining to quality
A revaluation of value must contrive to develop
this connection between value and vitality that is presupposed
by the market but disavowed by it. It must make qualitative
excess a postcapitalist virtue—beyond
the myth of
equal exchange, the fairness of the market, and the rhetoric