Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Capital III, Chapter 15 - Part 42

4) Supplementary Remarks

The rise in social productivity does not proceed uniformly. As Marx says, this is not just a matter that productivity rises faster in some areas than in others. It rises in some areas whilst it declines in others.

“Consider the mere influence of the seasons, for instance, on which the bulk of raw materials depends for its mass, the exhaustion of forest lands, coal and iron mines, etc.” (p 260)

Moreover, whilst the mass of materials used in production tends to continually rise, because the rise in productivity means that fewer, better machines, operated by relatively fewer workers process a larger quantity of material, the same is not true of the fixed capital, precisely because it is relatively fewer, better machines that are employed. In fact, as I've shown elsewhere, the rise in productivity, via technological developments, also means that less materials may also be used. Improvements in energy generation mean that less fuel is required, improvements in design etc. mean that less material goes into a range of commodities and so on.

“While the circulating part of constant capital, such as raw materials, etc., continually increases its mass in proportion to the productivity of labour, this is not the case with fixed capital, such as buildings, machinery, and lighting and heating facilities, etc. Although in absolute terms a machine becomes dearer with the growth of its bodily mass, it becomes relatively cheaper. If five labourers produce ten times as much of a commodity as before, this does not increase the outlay for fixed capital ten-fold; although the value of this part of constant capital increases with the development of the productiveness, it does not by any means increase in the same proportion.” (p 260)

Marx's example of buildings is illustrative here. A very large building may be required to house 1,000 workers using hand tools for production. But, if the same quantity of output can be produced by just 10 machines, operated by 10 workers, then a much smaller building is required, using much less materials, and representing a much smaller capital-value.

The next few paragraphs of the section are provided by Engels, and in part sit oddly with the above comments by Marx, and Marx’s comments previously about the way the value of the fixed capital must fall relative to the value of the circulating constant capital. It is precisely because these new machines raise productivity, and thereby make possible a huge rise in the quantity of units produced, that this is manifest by the reduction in the amount of value it transfers to each commodity unit. The total value of the fixed capital may, therefore, rise, because the total capital is increased, and the mass of value transferred into the final production as a result of wear and tear will rise, but its proportion, as with the variable capital must fall relative to the rise in the value of the circulating capital.

If 1,000 workers work with hand tools, with a value of £500, and produce 10,000 units, then if each tool is worn out at the end of the process, each transfers £0.05 per unit in wear and tear. But, if these workers are replaced by 10 machine minders operating 10 machines with a value of £500, but which produce 50,000 units, then these machines transfer only £0.01 in wear and tear to each unit of production.

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