The value of Mazzucato



A defense of the economist's work, based on Eleutério Prado's critique.

For Marcos Müller, in memoriam
“It sometimes happens that a criticism applies above all to its author” (Roberto Schwarz, Reply to Gerard Lebrun).(1)

For Eleutério FS Prado, in an article posted on the website the earth is round The work the value of everything by Mariana Mazzucato fatally fails for lacking “a scientific perspective” that accounts for the complexity of the capitalist crisis to the point of favoring “a critical praxis not only reproducing what exists, but truly transforming”.

I evoke, perverting, the critique of the critique presented by Roberto Schwarz to Gerard Lebrun and rescued by Paulo E. Arantes in the recently published collection of essays on the Museum of French Ideology.(2)

These somewhat labyrinthine references are especially opportune since a central aspect of Prado's Marxian reaction to Mazzucato implicates the Italian-American economist at the crossroads of the postmodern labyrinth that reduces the real to a game of mirrors between narratives. At the limit, Prado situates Mazzucato's thought in the North American branch of the French Ideology.

The password for this (dis)qualification of the author is her reference to the “myth of value”, her enunciation (Prado's critical review begins with a sentence) “at first, quite enigmatic” that the book “O Valor de Tudo” turns “to a modern myth: the creation of value in the economy”.

It is enough to identify Mazzucato's thought with a species of the “narratological” genre. The author wants to critically discuss the narratives – “that's the term she uses” – about the creation and appropriation of value in contemporary society, as she believes that what is required now is “a radically different kind of narrative about who originally created wealth – and what who subsequently extracted it”.

By referring the “myth” to Plato, in the second paragraph Prado clarifies (“this should be clear right from the start”) that the author “does not address the issue of economic value in the field of modern science, but from the perspective of a discourse that one makes oneself out of oneself, without being a prisoner of reality and the underlying real as a duty of office”.

The “remembrance of mythology” and its “vocation for transmitting moral lessons” would be a false step, a post-modernity certificate that would supposedly authorize a fearless return to ancient Greece, that is, to “a time when the values ​​were disseminated supposedly by storytellers”. After all, nothing is more postmodern than believing that “everything is resolved as a matter of narratives”. This is the false step of the author who follows the fashion among the “economists of the system”, “disconsolated” with the current course of capitalism. In order to correct the course of the “system”, it would then be mandatory to return to the value narratives and, unforgivably slip, lose yourself in the perspective that leads nowhere, namely, the understanding of value as pure narrative.

Worse, a moralizing, edifying narrative or capable of making judgments about who creates value and who just appropriates it, as if the imbalance between production and distribution revealed the key to the systemic crisis after all.

It would be enough for this postmodern heterodoxy to guide government officials to make a more informed choice about the boundaries between creation/production and appropriation/intermediation in the circuits of the economy to arbitrate a sustainable, humanist and market-purifying trajectory in the process of economic development.

The “scientific” option offered by Prado is the labor theory of value, or at least one of the many Marxist alternatives for the vulgar economy that never crosses the threshold of use value as the foundation of mercantile society.

Although Prado underlines the fine line (which he incorporates into the title of the book without further ado), that is, the distinction between activities that produce value and those that only appropriate it, the title itself must also be underlined. Because by alerting to the “value of everything”, the author also means that everything has or can have value. And there lies what would be the Achilles heel of the non-Marxist argument (centered on use values) which, through this mythological expedient, would shift from work to the spheres of ethical and moral valuation the foundation from which it should be thought (“ scientifically”) the problem of value, its origin, appropriation and destruction.

There would therefore be an incompatibility between the scientific perspective of Marxist political economy and the proposition of reforms within the system, through the State, of economic policies, regulatory frameworks and institutional configurations supported only by the distinction between productive and unproductive activities, between creation and extraction, and even destruction, of value.

Prado refuses this supposedly mystifying and merely rhetorical perspective as a basis for criticizing contemporary capitalism or even for its reorientation to the point of serving “the common good and not the enrichment of a few”. At first, it seems like a radical left-wing critique of heterodox reformism for displacing the question of value and its phantasmatic transfigurations from the reflexive determination in which Labor (in the struggle for recognition and overcoming Capital) is the master key of History to a game of mirrors between narratives that scratch the surface but do not reach the substance of the process of value creation, capital accumulation and crisis.

If the essence of value is the production of use values ​​(goods and services) and not the engendering of a process of expropriation and theft supported by private property, the distinction between creation and appropriation is already committed to the status quo and so it will never be more than one more fable in the service of domination and inequality.

In place of “science”, a tautology: what is useful has value, economic value would be synonymous with use value and, therefore, a fetishistic expression of subjective preferences. What is useful has value, everything that is useful has value – it would only be enough to finally establish a new utilitarian intersubjective perception to overcome the contradictions of the capitalist system without going through the filter of class struggle or the recognition of the revolutionary character of the working class in the gestation of a better future for everyone. The system is what it is, it is necessary to invent more useful, sustainable or “fair” narratives (without being able to effectively anchor the criterion of Justice or the bases of the exchange system, the ballast of equivalences in nothing substantive or essential).

It is in this territory of class struggle that an “effective, material, concrete social practice would appear, which makes things become use values ​​– and not merely stories or narratives”, concludes Prado in his rejection of heterodox reformism. No economic policy will abolish the contradiction between capital and labor, however edifying the intentions of system economists may be. Without Revolution, there is no solution.

To follow the postmodern trail of the new narratives of value would thus amount to a perpetual condemnation of cycles of “difference and repetition”, a comfortable, well-thought-out, morally comforting drift into which the blood, sweat and tears of capitalist exploitation make discourses, narratives from which behaviors would start to dance to the rhythm of new moralities supposedly transgressive but ultimately incapable of changing reality, however creative the heterodox propositions in the symbolic sphere may be. Without a labor theory of value, without the recognition of Labor by Capital in a life and death struggle leading to a materialist overcoming of the conditions of life and production, society is condemned to the eternal return of capitalism itself.

I remember some rather old debates around Antônio Barros de Castro's motto – “capitalism is still that” – but that is another story.

For Prado, the author distances herself from the “tradition of political economy” which, since Adam Smith, has been located “in the field of scientific knowledge when dealing with the question of economic value” because it is a question of investigating “social objectivity without remaining only in the way how it appears”. It is necessary to go to the essence of value, to the processes of real abstraction reflexively determined by the subordination of work. Avoiding this hard work of the Concept, the Author shifts the issue “from the hard ground of social objectivity to the fluid field of moral philosophy”, keeping our attention “inside the socially shared imaginary”.

In this beat, no matter how meritorious or even welcome the attacks on rent seeking and the environmental destruction that threatens life on the planet, we are still narratively subject to concluding that “the gains received by industrial capitalists are legitimate gains, but certain gains received by capitalists financial no”. Without science to support this separation of the productivist wheat from the speculative chaff, the vanishing point is the State, more precisely the “entrepreneurial State”, a gigantic Schumpeterian public machine aimed at rescuing employment, investment, legitimate income and even democracy. through innovation, industrial and even fiscal expansionist policies.

Sweet and accommodating illusion, which shifts the fetish of the commodity to a heterodox sorcery that is imagined (and only in the imaginary would it be possible to manufacture such a proposition) capable of subjecting Capital to the Common, speculation without bottom or end to a new era paradoxically supported in innovation, regulation and purposes.

For Prado, this new heterodox fetish promotes the hypostasis of central power as a “figure” that guides the markets, compensates for inequalities and arbitrates the class struggle, fulfilling the functions of “guardian of progress”.

The error of heterodoxy would be, according to Prado, in the projection of revolutionary desires into a merely discursive sphere, since value is placed “inside the discourse that is generated in society and not in the field of scientific investigation on a historically posited reality”.

The final and fatal blow to the French Ideology that would animate the Author's innocuous heterodoxy comes with Prado's realization of the positive nature of the ideology itself. After all, if “reality is already always symbolic, it was posited through a material praxis and, therefore, contains within itself not only its objective truth but also its own ideology”. This reality, with its essence and appearance, “must be investigated and exposed with the utmost conceptual rigor”. But since Mazzucato does not think so and “refuses positive thinking”, she is condemned to fall into a “supposed constructivist autonomy of language”.

In this (post-Keynesian?) delirium, even the State would be capable of creating value and injecting into society the foundations of a new productivist reality that would have the gift of subsuming the speculative and predatory anarchy that is the essence of capitalism as it really is. – compromised in its origin by misappropriation, perceived only by the scientific analysis of production as a factory of surplus value, not of use values.

For the author, however, it is enough to change the narrative about value creation, correcting behaviors and moral judgments, for the system to change in the direction of sustainability, social inclusion and continuous and eternally differentiating creativity, encouraging progress in the capitalist order .

the value of meadow

Was it postmodern heterodoxy? Does the approximation between value theory and Platonic myth validate the thesis that by defending economic policies or reforms in capitalism we would be re-editing idealism transfigured into narratology? Or would perhaps the criticism of the Author in these terms be applicable above all to the critic himself?

After all, to maintain that a scientific theory of value is the requirement of a truly radical critique is more reminiscent of the Althusserian procedures of theoretical practice that leave structures intact in the name of a Marxist, scientific and radical structuralism than the mere reference to myths and narratives. .

If Prado recognizes that Capital produces not only the materiality of the general laws of accumulation, but also establishes a realm of subjective phantasmagorias and regulatory fetishes as an integral part of its structural dynamics, how to separate the wheat from the chaff and go in search of the essence “by back” of appearance?

By fixating on the presentation (presentation), that is, in the order of exposure of The capital, making chapter 1, “The merchandise”, the master key for interpreting the concrete, historical reality, marked by historically determined practices, would not the critic himself be transforming Marx’s “science” into a rhetorical, linguistic and idealist application that, at the limit, is it as or more dogmatic, moralistic and ideological as the heterodoxy supposedly alien to the “scientific” discoveries of political economy since Adam Smith?

Judging by texts by Prado himself and even by his familiarity with the proper use of the “dialectical method” in “O Capital”, one would expect a less essentialist critique of Mazzucato's non-theory of value (the reference is indispensable to Marcos Müller , published by Prado himself).(3)

Let us pursue the lucid and up-to-date presentation of the limits of the theory of value as formulated by Marx in the face of the transformations of contemporary capitalism published by the critic himself on his virtual page.(4)

In its competentupdating” of the Hegelian logic revived in the theory of value in Marx, Prado recognizes that the limits of the original narrative are set in itself insofar as overcoming the vulgar economy requires a search for the general equivalent, a reflexive determination in the production process that is inseparable from an abstraction as real as the most concrete and useful of works.

The fetishistic or mythological figuration is produced by the most essential process of value creation and, as objectivity, is inseparable from an intersubjectivity (which is quite different from the idealist, subjectivist or “ultra-enlightenment” relapse characteristic of the French Ideology as presented in the already cited work by Paulo Eduardo Arantes and in the fundamental “Logic of Disintegration” by Peter Dews).(5)

Let us return to the applied Marxism of Prado and Guedes Pinto, apparently more open to the recognition of the State and politics as structural elements determining value circuits in post-industrial capitalism.

Although detaching from Commodity as an elementary form of wealth, that is, basing its historical analysis of real capitalism on a Hegelian-Marxist perspective that is not limited to confusing value with price, use value or goods and services, the narrative evolves to verify that even even in Aristotle's Greece (following Ruy Fausto), that is, before industrial capitalism and therefore when work was slave and there was no surplus value, value both is and is not, at the same time.

The point is that at that time there was no way to project in society the socially necessary working time, an indispensable qualitative condition for the materialization of capital and the universalization of its logic of reproduction, monetization, accumulation, centralization and crisis.

That is, there is work and there is value, but value is not posited by capital and, in this condition, it cannot participate in the dialectic of recognition that is the figure without which there is no self-consciousness in the slave (Hegelian phenomenological figure that inspires Marx as much as the leaders of French Ideology and Critical Theory, as taught by Arantes and Dews).

So there is, in fact, a common point to celebrate in post-Keynesian and Schumpeterian mythology, in French Ideology and in Critical Theory. It is in the monetary transfiguration of capitalist accumulation that the speculative schizophrenias equally pointed out by Marx, Keynes, Schumpeter and even Kalecki are projected.

The possibility of crisis is a sister of the possibility of the State, the public sphere, intersubjectivity and the transformation of capitalism. To get to that point and be more tolerant of Mariana Mazzucato, Prado just needs to read more… Prado.

*Gilson Schwartz He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) and at the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program Humanities, Rights and Other Legitimacies at FFLCH at the University of São Paulo (USP).


(1) Schwarz, R., Reply to Gerard Lebrun, Revista Discurso, USP, available at

(2) Arantes, PE, Ideas at random: a digression regarding The Reverse of the Dialectic, pp.181-203, in Formation and Deconstruction, A Visit to the Museum of French Ideology, Two Cities/Editora 34, São Paulo, 2021.

(3) Müller, M., Exposition and Dialectical Method in “The capital”, mimeo, available at

(4) Prado, EFS, Guedes Pinto, JP, Limits of the value and capitalism, mimeo, available at

(5) Dews, P., Logics of Disintegration, Post-Structuralist Thought and the Claims of Critical Theory, Version, London, 1987.


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