Marx & The Myth of Surplus Value

Marx & The Myth of Surplus Value


The Marxist’s vision of the world rests upon a myth, a fable of excess value. This tall tale is founded on flawed suppositions and logic, which in turn lead the Marxist down an irrational path, compelling a loathing of the market economy, rather than awe for the astounding affluence it generates.  


Marxism, a socio-economic and political philosophy developed by Karl Marx, posits that the capitalist system is inherently exploitative, with the ruling class exploiting the labor of the working class for their own financial gain. Central to Marx’s critique of capitalism is the concept of surplus value, which refers to the difference between the value of goods produced by workers and the wages paid to those workers. According to Marx, surplus value represents the profit extracted by capitalists at the expense of the labor of the workers.


The Marxist worldview has been widely criticized, with many economists and scholars arguing that it is based on flawed assumptions about the nature of labor and value in a market economy. In particular, the Marxist view that all value from products sold belongs to labor and that capitalists are exploiting workers has been challenged by empirical evidence and theoretical critiques. 


This essay aims to expound upon the invalidity of the Marxist notion of surplus value by providing novel perspectives and compelling evidence.



What is surplus value?  


In Marxist economics, surplus value refers to the difference between the value that a worker produces through their labor and the wages they receive in return. According to Marx, the capitalist system is built on the exploitation of the working class, who create value through their labor but are paid only a fraction of the value they create.


Marx argued that the value of a product is determined by the amount of labor required to produce it. This value includes not only the cost of raw materials and machinery but also the value created by the worker’s labor. The capitalist, however, pays the worker only a portion of the value of their labor, which is equal to the cost of reproducing their labor power (i.e. their wages, including food, shelter, and other necessities). The remaining value is surplus value, which the capitalist appropriates as profit.

Marx believed that this exploitation of workers was the primary source of wealth for the capitalist class and that it led to a fundamental conflict between the interests of workers and capitalists. He argued that the only way to eliminate this exploitation was to abolish the capitalist system and replace it with a socialist one, in which workers would control the means of production and would receive the full value of their labor.


The concept of surplus value, a central tenet of Marxist theory, has given rise to a fallacious idea that workers are not receiving the full value of their labor, and are therefore being exploited by profit-seeking capitalists. This notion, in turn, posits that capitalists are merely profiting off the labor of others.


However, we assert that the Marxist notion of surplus value is misguided, and the very concept of worker exploitation is a flawed construct. To support this assertion, we present three thought experiments that effectively counter the Marxist myth of surplus value and worker exploitation.





The worker has no value but for the value the capitalist gives them.  The consumer does not care about labor.  The consumer is there to purchase the brand name.  The brand name is all that the consumer cares about, not the goods created by the worker.


Consider the following thought experiment: the Marxist claim that the worker is being exploited by the capitalist is built on the idea of surplus value, the notion that the value of a product sold belongs entirely to labor. However, this assumption ignores the importance of branding and the fact that the consumer does not necessarily care about labor.


Suppose there are two car brands: Tesla Auto, which consumers are willing to pay $50,000 for, and Besla Auto, an identical car made by the same workers who left Tesla to start their own company. In theory, if the workers were to sell the Besla at $50,000, they would receive 100% of the final sales price and eliminate the exploitation of labor. However, they would quickly discover that the market does not value the labor itself, but the brand. Even if the Besla is identical to the Tesla, the market will not pay the same price for it. In fact, the market may not value it at all, rendering the workers’ efforts futile.

The importance of branding is not limited to luxury goods like Tesla, but extends to everyday consumer products as well. Walmart and Amazon, for instance, have built their brand on the notion of providing affordable goods of decent quality, and consumers are drawn to these brands for their reliability. If one were to create a brand called WorkerMart, selling the same goods as Walmart, it is unlikely that consumers would choose the unknown brand over the established one, even if they knew the workers received higher pay.


Brands are not just a sign of quality or reputation, but also carry cultural and social values. Consumers often associate themselves with certain brands as a way of expressing their identity, values, and aspirations. This emotional connection with brands is not easily replicable by labor alone, making it difficult for workers to create their own brand that can compete with established ones.


The power of branding is not just in its ability to attract consumers, but also in its ability to control the market. Established brands have the advantage of economies of scale, access to distribution channels, and exclusive agreements with suppliers, which make it harder for new brands to enter the market. Thus, the capitalist system creates barriers to entry that prevent labor from gaining a fair share of the value created.


The focus on branding over labor also perpetuates inequalities within society. The workers who create the goods and services that are branded and sold at a premium are often underpaid, overworked, and lacking job security, while the owners and executives who control the brand reap most of the profits. This creates a class divide between those who have the resources to build and maintain brands and those who rely on selling their labor to survive.


Thus, we argue that the Marxist notion of surplus value and worker exploitation is flawed because it ignores the role of branding in the consumer market. In the following thought experiments, we will further illustrate why labor does not necessarily have inherent value, and why the Marxist worldview is misguided.




What if Elon Musk & his capitalists replaced the entire workforce with robots to increase their profit margin?   How do you suppose the consumer would react to such a scenario?


In thought experiment B, all workers are replaced by robots.   And yet, the consumer would not care.  The consumer does not care if human labor is making the product or machines are making a product. The consumer does not care about labor. 

Despite this potential for mass displacement, the consumer’s priorities remain unchanged. To the consumer, it matters not whether the product is made by human labor or machine. Indeed, the consumer remains indifferent to labor altogether.

Despite this potential for mass displacement, the consumer’s priorities remain unchanged. To the consumer, it matters not whether the product is made by human labor or machine. Indeed, the consumer remains indifferent to labor altogether.


The premise of thought experiment B is that consumers do not care about whether human labor or machines are involved in the production process, and therefore labor does not have value in the eyes of the consumer. This argument is based on the idea that consumers are primarily concerned with the quality and price of the products they purchase, rather than the methods used to produce those products.

From this perspective, the value of labor is not determined by the effort or skill required to perform the work, but rather by the market forces of supply and demand. In a world where machines can perform many tasks more efficiently and cost-effectively than human labor, the value of labor may be diminished in the eyes of consumers.




We consider cloned products in thought experiment C.


Cloned or knock off products are items that are designed and manufactured to look identical or very similar to an original or branded product, but are produced by a different company. These products are often marketed and sold at a lower price than the original product, and may have a similar name or logo to deceive consumers into thinking they are buying the original product. Cloned or knock off products can be found in a variety of industries, including fashion, electronics, and consumer goods.


The discerning consumer, despite the products being crafted by the same artisans with an identical standard of excellence, often refrains from paying a commensurate amount for cloned commodities. Across the globe, various factories manufacture wares for renowned brands. Regrettably, these factories occasionally engage in clandestine production of extraneous items, unsolicited by the brand. These items are then surreptitiously offered for sale in the shadowy recesses of the market, at a reduced price. However, a marked reduction in price is always evident. The rationale? The consumer’s reluctance to partake in subpar imitations underscores the paramount importance of the brand and the singular experience it engenders.




Commodities and brands are two different concepts in marketing and economics. A commodity is a basic, standardized product that is widely available and interchangeable with other similar products. A brand, on the other hand, is a distinctive product or service that is associated with a particular company and has a unique identity that sets it apart from other products in the market.


The main difference between commodities and brands is that commodities are usually priced based on supply and demand, while brands are priced based on their perceived value and reputation. A commodity is often sold at market price and may not have any distinguishing features or qualities that differentiate it from other products in the same category. A brand, on the other hand, is priced based on the perceived value it offers to consumers, which is often influenced by factors such as brand reputation, quality, design, and marketing.


Here are some examples of commodities and brands:




Rice: Rice is a commodity that is widely available and is often sold at a standard price. Consumers may not distinguish between different brands of rice as they all serve the same basic purpose.


Crude oil: Crude oil is another example of a commodity that is traded on global markets and is priced based on supply and demand.




Apple: Apple is a brand that is associated with high-quality technology products such as iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Apple products are priced higher than their competitors due to their reputation for quality and design.


Nike: Nike is a brand that is associated with athletic footwear and apparel. Nike products are priced higher than their competitors due to their reputation for quality and innovation.


Brands Over Commodities: 

The Key to Generating Profit in a Hyper-Competitive World


The consumer cares only about brands and not about labor – whether the Marxist likes it or not.  


Because consumers care only about brands and not about labor, there are significant implications for how we understand the market economy and the role of workers in it.  This notion challenges the Marxist view that labor is the sole source of value in production and that workers are being exploited by capitalists who appropriate the surplus value of their labor.


In reality, the market operates on a complex set of factors that influence consumer behavior and preferences. While the quality and price of a product are certainly important, they are not the only things that matter to the consumer. Brands play a crucial role in shaping how consumers perceive and value products, as well as how they identify themselves and interact with others in society.


Brands are more than just logos and slogans; they represent a set of cultural and social meanings that consumers associate with certain products and companies. Brands can evoke feelings of trust, loyalty, prestige, and status, among other things. They can also reflect broader trends and values in society, such as sustainability, social responsibility, or individualism.


Consumers are drawn to brands not just for the products they offer, but also for the values and aspirations they represent. Brands can offer a sense of belonging, social identity, and personal expression that goes beyond the functional benefits of a product. In this sense, brands have become a cultural currency that consumers use to navigate the complexities of modern life and express their identity and values.


This focus on branding over labor has significant implications for workers who are trying to gain a fair share of the value created. Workers who rely solely on the value of their labor to create products are at a disadvantage in the market, as they are not able to capture the same level of cultural and social value that brands can. This means that workers are often underpaid and undervalued, while owners and executives who control the brand reap most of the profits.


In conclusion, the idea that the consumer cares only about brands and not about labor challenges traditional Marxist views of the market economy and the role of workers in it. This notion underscores the importance of branding in shaping consumer behavior and preferences, as well as the need to address the inequities that exist within the current system.




As we forge ahead into an era of fiercely competitive global capitalism, with the advent of AI, robots, and 3D printing rendering production a breeze, the indispensability of brands for financial gain has never been more evident. Should everything be reduced to a mere commodity, surpluses and profits would evaporate like mist in the sun.


Labor, alas, is but a commodity that people begrudgingly invest in, hesitant to shell out more. A brand, on the other hand, is a precious commodity that people are willing to splurge on, lavish with great expense. Thus, the realm of surplus value belongs to brands, not to pedestrian commodities. As long as capitalists persist in propelling their brands to the heights of popularity, consumers shall persist in forking out a premium for said brands, assuring that capitalists continue to reap the benefits.