For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"John Locke and the labor theory of value"

by Vaughn, Karen I (1978)


It is taken for granted by most economists and political philosophers that John Locke was in some sense a precursor of the labor theories of value of the nineteenth century British Classical School and of Karl Marx, yet there is a wide divergence of opinion on how Locke's work anticipated and influenced the work of later political economists. In large part this difference of opinion stems from a disagreement among historians of economic thought over how to interpret Locke himself on the subject of labor and economic value. The only point of agreement is that, in his major political essay, the Second Treatise of Government,[" Locke developed a theory of property which showed some relationship between labor and economic value. Historians of economic thought cannot agree on the significance of this relationship or on how Locke's ideas on labor and value are related to his supply and demand theory of market price in his economic writings. It has been argued, for example, that Locke had the beginnings of a theory of the exploitation of labor, that he provided a labor theory of value in the long run to supplement his supply and demand theory of price in the short run, that he presented the "metaphysical justification" for the nineteenth century labor theory of value, and that he had no labor theory of value at all.

Key Passage

Those who have interpreted Locke's labor theory of property as implying some kind of labor theory of value usually support their interpretation by citing Locke's many statements about the relative unimportance of land compared to labor in the production of valuable goods. Locke's basic premise is that nature by itself provides very little that is of value to mankind unless it is combined with labor. (p.313)


Locke. Early Modern, History, Political Economy, Labor Theories Of Value, Marx


On Locke

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