Monday, 13 February 2017

The Normal Working Day - Part 7 of 7

By raising the level of social productivity, by introducing more efficient machines, providing improved communications systems, etc., it becomes possible to reduce the length of the necessary labour, and thereby to increase the amount of surplus labour without any change in the length of the working-day.

This is most apparent when considering the situation in relation to the collective working-day as previously considered in relation to the working day of the family unit. If there are 1 million workers working a 10 hour day, of which 8 hours is necessary labour, the collective working day is 10 million hours of which 8 million hours is necessary labour and 2 million hours surplus labour. The rate of surplus value is then 25%. However, the lower limit for the amount of necessary labour in this collective working-day is theoretically zero, whilst there is no theoretical upper bound to the collective working-day. If the working population rises to 2 million, for example, then the collective working-day rises to 20 million hours, and if the necessary working day remains 8 million hours, because of higher productivity, surplus labour then rises to 12 million hours, and the rate of surplus value rises from 25% to 150%. There is then no theoretical limit to the expansion of this rate of surplus value (and incidentally, therefore, of the rate of profit either.)

An economy, therefore, which is able to continually increase the duration of the collective working-day, as a result, for example, of continual increases in its population, due to additional births or immigration, whilst simultaneously reducing the amount of necessary labour, as a result of rising social productivity, will be able to continually increase its surplus labour and its rate of surplus value.

Moreover, the duration of the collective working-day is not solely a function of the quantity of workers employed, but also of the type of labour undertaken. Any particular type of concrete labour is limited to a theoretical maximum of 24 hours in one day, but in terms of value, it is abstract labour not concrete labour that is the measure of labour-time.

If the labour of some particular type of worker is complex rather than simple labour, then there is no reason that 10 hours of this labour may not represent 20, 100, 1,000 or even 10,000 hours of abstract labour. Take a small island with 1,000 people. They work for 15 hours per day producing potatoes. They exchange these potatoes for a range of other commodities, with people from the nearby mainland, required to reproduce their labour-power. The people on the mainland have also worked a total of 15,000 hours producing these commodities.

By contrast, there is another island inhabited by a people that have specialised, over centuries, in prostitution and the provision of sexual gratification. The services of the 1,000 people on this island are in great demand. As a result, they are able to obtain all of the commodities from the mainland they require for the reproduction of their labour-power, in exchange for each providing, on average, only 5 hours of their labour, in providing sexual gratification. In other words, because their labour is complex labour, one hour of it is equal to three hours of simple labour. If they each worked for 10 hours, they would produce the equivalent of 15,000 hours of surplus labour, whereas the first group of workers would produce no surplus labour even in their 15 hour day.

That is also why some small economies have been able to prosper, because they have been able to make a large proportion of their workers into providers of high value, complex labour. A small economy that has a high proportion of highly educated and skilled workers, working developing innovative and high value technologies, for example, will be able to exchange a small amount of this concrete labour for a much larger quantity of lower value, concrete labour from some other economy.

For example 90% of the value of an iPhone comes from the relatively small amount of complex, concrete labour undertaken by high value labour involved in software and hardware design in the US, rather than the much greater quantity of low value concrete labour involved in its assembly work in China. In the North Staffordshire Potteries, a similar thing can now also be seen. A relatively small amount of higher value labour is involved in the work of design and research and development of materials etc., whilst the work of production, which involves larger quantities of lower value concrete labour, has been relocated to Asia.

This, however, returns us to the point made at the beginning, which is that the nature of this complex labour may then affect the value of the labour-power itself, by influencing the basket of commodities required for its reproduction. In order to produce workers with the high level of education and skill required for this high value, complex labour, the society must also devote resources to such education and training, and that implies also, resources has to be put into healthcare so that the workers are fit enough, and live long enough that their education is not wasted. It requires also, therefore, that they have good food and living conditions etc.

The regulator for capital is that surplus value is maximised, and that means that the mass of abstract labour-time required for the reproduction of the collective worker (necessary labour) should fall relative to the mass of abstract labour-time provided by the collective worker.

Back To Part 6

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