Sunday, 9 October 2016

Profit, Rent, Interest and Asset Prices - Part 3 of 19

Wages must be sufficient to sustain the worker during all of their life; it must sustain them when the worker is developing from a child; it must sustain them for all hours of the day, and not just the hours of work; it must sustain them during any periods of holidays, be it at weekends or for longer periods; it must sustain them for the periods during which the worker might be sick or unemployed, on average; and it must sustain them in old age, when they are no longer able to work. That is the very minimum that is required to ensure that labour-power is reproduced from generation to generation.

That means that, if workers' lifespan is reduced, on average, then the value of labour-power will rise. That is not because the price of labour rises as a result of a reduction in the supply of labour-power relative to the demand. It is because, objectively, the value of labour-power rises, if the worker lives for a shorter period, and so has a shorter period during which to earn the wages required to reproduce labour-power during an entire lifetime.  This is a major problem for developing countries with short lifespans, and high infant mortality rates, because large amounts of value is put, proportionally, into the production of new workers, whilst many of those potential workers fail to live long enough to enter the workforce and thereby produce value and surplus value

For example, suppose the average lifespan of a worker is 60 years, and to sustain a worker during all this time requires £12,000. If the worker does not start work until they are 15, they must still be sustained during this period. They will work for 45 years, during which time, they must earn wages sufficient to sustain them for 60 years, or more precisely to also cover the 15 years of childhood of their children who ultimately replace them. So, their wages will need to be £267 a year. However, if the worker's lifespan falls to 45, the value of their labour-power over this period may now fall to £9,000, but they must now earn this £9,000 in wages during just 30 years of work, rather than 45 years as before. In that case, their wages must rise to £300 a year.

Consequently, as Marx describes in Capital I, any measures which act to reduce the average lifespan of workers will bring about a corresponding rise in the value of labour-power, which must be reflected in wages, which then causes a corresponding reduction in surplus value. Moreover, as he also describes, if workers are forced to work longer hours during the working day, or to work more intensively, this will also cause the value of labour-power to rise. For one thing, on a day to day basis, the more workers use up their own vital forces of brain, muscle and sinew, the more those forces need to be renewed, requiring additional commodities for that function. But, beyond a certain level, such draining of the worker will cause them to be worn out quicker, and so have a shorter working life. And, as he goes on to describe, the extensiveness and intensiveness of the working day, are mutually opposing. If workers have to work longer hours, they cannot work so intensively, and if they work more intensively they cannot work for so long.

There is then an objectively determinable optimal working day whose length and intensity ensures that workers lifespan is as long as possible, enabling them to be creating new value for capital for as long as possible, and which maximises the amount of new value created in any working day, relative to the value of labour-power, required for its production. This is the objective basis for the determination of the normal working-day, which maximises the production of surplus value. Of course, in reality, it does not appear that way, because competition between individual capitals leads each to seek to maximise its usage of labour-power at the expense of capital in general, and at a phenomenal level, this then takes the form of an industrial and political struggle between capital and labour, for the regulation of this normal working day.

But, just like wages are not some arbitrary amount that can be raised by workers simply on the basis of more militant struggles, or indeed lowered, in the long-term, by capital, so as to increase profits, so too, this normal working-day is objectively determined by the value of labour-power, and the conditions under which the production of surplus value is maximised. As Marx puts it,

“I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities.”

(Value, Price and Profit)

That does not mean that this does not play out as an advantage, at one time to workers, when the demand for labour-power is high, or to capital, when it creates a relative surplus population, via labour-saving machines, or when the economy is stagnant. As with all market prices, they vary up or down from this pivot point determined by these objective laws. But, capital always has the upper hand. Even when workers obtain a temporary relative advantage, and their wages rise above the value of labour-power, it only amounts to a diminution in the extent of their exploitation, and not the eradication of such exploitation.

No comments: