Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Capital I, Chapter 17 - Part 1

Changes of Magnitude in the Price of Labour-Power and in Surplus Value

Marx begins by reducing things to their basic level, and imposing a number of simplifying constraints. As previously established, the Value of Labour Power, as with any other commodity, is determined by the socially necessary labour-time required for its production. In the case of labour-power, this is the labour-time required to ensure the reproduction of the labourers themselves – including the new generation of workers. That is the time required to produce their food, clothing, shelter etc.

The quantity of these necessaries is known for “any given epoch”, Marx argues, and so can be treated as constant.

What changes, is the value of this quantity.” (p 486)

Actually, we might want to challenge the term “epoch” here, which suggests a rather long period of time. The quantity of necessaries changed little over centuries during feudalism, and little more, perhaps, during the 19th century, but that can hardly be said about the 20th century. In fact, Fordism was based on the principle that real wages would rise each year i.e. the quantity of necessaries would rise. This was achievable provided workers productivity rose each year by a greater amount. This does not undermine Marx’s thesis, it simply introduces more complexity.

Part of the Value of a brain surgeon's Labour-Power
is the cost of their education and training, which will be
a lot more than that of say a joiner.  It is probably more than
is required to produce a footballer like David Beckham, but
that is different from the fact that the value of the product
of an hour of Beckham's labour may be many times that of a
brain surgeon.  Marx says that multiple is only determined
in the market by what consumers are prepared to pay
for the product of one compared to the other.
There are two other factors involved in determining the value of labour-power, Marx argues. Firstly, the cost of developing the labour-power. That is the cost of providing education and training, so that it meets the needs of capital. Obviously, this too varies over time, as well as across different types of concrete labour. More expense is involved in educating and training a brain surgeon than a joiner, for example. This also illustrates the difference between the value created by concrete labour, and the value of that labour-power. In other words, the difference between the multiple of one hour of complex labour to one hour of abstract labour, and the value of the labour-power of the former compared to the latter.

For example, one hour of David Beckham's labour might equal 1000 hours of abstract labour-time. At the same time, one hour of a brain surgeon's labour might only equal 100 hours of abstract labour-time. Those different multiples, Marx says, are determined, concretely, in the market, by how much consumers are prepared to pay for the product of one hour of Beckham's labour compared to that of the brain surgeon. But, the value of the labour-power of each could see that situation reversed! The value of the brain surgeon's labour-power might be £10,000 p.a., whilst that of Beckham only £5,000, because although both require essentially the same amount of food, clothing and shelter, the brain surgeon requires much more education and training.

Capital is introducing surgical robots to undermine
the leverage that surgeons have to negotiate wages
above the value of their labour power.  In the same way
it has digitised the product of the labour
 of footballers, so that these digitised
copies can be sold over and over again across the globe.
In both cases, however, its likely as seen in previous chapters, that the specific nature of both these types of labour, enables their sellers to obtain wages above that value, thereby sharing in some of the higher Value of their product, that would otherwise be appropriated by the capitalist that employs them. As with other types of such labour, it provides a powerful incentive for those capitalists to try to replace that labour, or undermine its specific characteristics that give the worker leverage. So, for example, Capital is introducing surgical robots, whilst it is now able via the Internet and Satellite TV to sell an hour of Beckham's labour, not just to 40,000 people on a Saturday afternoon, but to millions of people worldwide, 24 hours a day. Essentially, Beckham's labour then becomes replaced by a digitised copy of it.

The second additional factor, determining the value of labour power is this natural diversity, including that between man and woman, adults and children.

For the purpose of simplicity, in developing his analysis, Marx excludes both these factors, as well as the situation referred to earlier, where some specific labour is raised to a higher power, as a result of the introduction of machinery in a single factory. Marx, obviously does not diminish the importance of these factors, writing,

The employment of these different sorts of labour-power, an employment which is, in its turn, made necessary by the mode of production, makes a great difference in the cost of maintaining the family of the labourer, and in the value of the labour-power of the adult male.” (p 486)

It is just a preliminary, simplifying assumption, as are his further constraints.

I assume (1) that commodities are sold at their value; (2) that the price of labour-power rises occasionally above its value, but never sinks below it.” (p 486)

On the basis of these assumptions, the previous analysis has provided a number of conclusions. The quantity of surplus value, and of wages, and the relation of one to the other is determined by:
  1. The length of the working day. With a given intensity of labour, the quantity of surplus value will rise absolutely and relative to wages, the longer the working day.
  2. With a fixed length of working day, the amount of surplus value will rise absolutely, and relative to wages, the more intensively labour is worked i.e. the more labour is expended in a given period. This is achieved by speeding up the pace of work, reducing the periods when labour is not being expended etc. There are limits to 1) and 2), which establish a normal working day, and mean that increases in 1) have to be compensated by reductions in 2) and vice versa.
  3. Surplus value increases relative to wages as a consequence of an increased productivity of labour arising from the more developed condition of the instruments of labour. It may increase absolutely too, but this depends upon the effects of the introduction of this machinery on the quantity of living labour then employed. If a lot of living labour is displaced by the machinery, then even with a higher rate of surplus value, the amount of surplus value created may fall.

All of these interact to provide a range of consequences, which Marx then analyses.

Back To Chapter 16

Forward To Part 2

No comments: