Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Capital III, Chapter 17 - Part 11

Of course, capital seeks to minimise its labour costs for productive activity too, but it does so only in a relative sense, i.e. it seeks to minimise the labour employed to produce a given amount of value. For any given technical composition of capital, the larger the quantity of labour employed, the larger the value produced. But, for commercial labour, it is the other way around. The larger the quantity of value and of commodities produced, the more commercial labour required.

“To what extent profit is the precondition for these outlays, is seen, among other things, from the fact that with the increase of commercial salaries, a part of them is frequently paid by a share in the profit. It is in the nature of things that labour consisting merely of intermediate operations connected partly with calculating values, partly with realising them, and partly with reconverting the realised money into means of production, is a labour whose magnitude therefore depends on the quantity of the produced values that have to be realised, and does not act as the cause, like directly productive labour, but rather as an effect, of the respective magnitudes and masses of these values. The same applies to the other costs of circulation. To do much measuring, weighing, packing, and transporting, much must be on hand. The amount of packing, transporting, etc., depends on the quantity of commodities which are the objects of this activity, not vice versa.” (p 299- 300)

The value of the commercial workers labour-power, as with any other worker, is determined by its cost of production.

“His wage, therefore, is not necessarily proportionate to the mass of profit which he helps the capitalist to realise. What he costs the capitalist and what he brings in for him, are two different things. He creates no direct surplus-value, but adds to the capitalist's income by helping him to reduce the cost of realising surplus-value, inasmuch as he performs partly unpaid labour.” (p 300)

In fact, to the extent that the commercial worker is highly skilled and may be able to realise several hours of surplus value with the expenditure of only one hour of their own labour, they are usually classed as being providers of complex rather than simple labour. This in itself can be a source of high profits for their employer, especially as capitalism reduces the value of this labour-power via the creation of welfare states.

“The commercial worker, in the strict sense of the term, belongs to the better-paid class of wage-workers — to those whose labour is classed as skilled and stands above average labour. Yet the wage tends to fall, even in relation to average labour, with the advance of the capitalist mode of production. This is due partly to the division of labour in the office, implying a one-sided development of the labour capacity, the cost of which does not fall entirely on the capitalist, since the labourer's skill develops by itself through the exercise of his function, and all the more rapidly as division of labour makes it more one-sided. Secondly, because the necessary training, knowledge of commercial practices, languages, etc., is more and more rapidly, easily, universally and cheaply reproduced with the progress of science and public education the more the capitalist mode of production directs teaching methods, etc., towards practical purposes. The universality of public education enables capitalists to recruit such labourers from classes that formerly had no access to such trades and were accustomed to a lower standard of living. Moreover, this increases supply, and hence competition. With few exceptions, the labour-power of these people is therefore devaluated with the progress of capitalist production. Their wage falls, while their labour capacity increases. The capitalist increases the number of these labourers whenever he has more value and profits to realise. The increase of this labour is always a result, never a cause of more surplus-value.” (p 300-301)

The extension of this today is the encouragement of large numbers of young people to take on mammoth amounts of debt to obtain higher educational qualifications, thereby providing capital with a large supply of such labour – even when unemployment amongst graduates is high – thereby reducing wages for this type of employment.

The basis of the surplus value extracted from their commercial workers is no different for the merchant capitalist than it is for the industrial capitalist, described above. The difference appears because for the industrial capitalist these expenses appear as deductions from their surplus value, whereas for the merchant capitalist they appear as a source of profit.

“The outlay to be made for these circulation costs is, therefore, a productive investment for mercantile capital. And for this reason, the commercial labour which it buys is likewise immediately productive for it.” (p 301)

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