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Speaking to the Political Economy Society at St Olave’s School in Orpington

at St Olave's2

I took a train to Orpington at the invitation of St Olave’s School’s Political Economy Society.  This is a student-run society that holds regular meetings, often with outside speakers.  The school itself is a state grammar school with an excellent and well-deserved reputation.  In 2011 it came fourth in the table of best-performing state schools, and was ranked 17th in the Financial Times table of the best schools of all types.  It is heavily over-subscribed, with about a thousand students, mostly boys but with mixed sixth forms.

The meeting seemed to go well, with no shortage of lively and intelligent questions afterwards.  Among the points I made was that the value of something does not derive from the labour it took to assemble it, as Marx thought.  Indeed, the value does not reside in the object at all, but in the mind of someone who beholds it.  Value is not a property of the object itself, but an expression of how much someone values the item.  If it were the labour value, it could be calculated objectively and we’d all agree on it.  There would be no trade since we’d all attribute the same value to things.  It is because we are all different that we value different things,  When we trade, each of us exchanges what we value less for what we value more, and thus gains greater value.  This is how wealth is created by trade.  Fortunately Marx was wrong, and the world is a great deal better off than it would have been had he been right.

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