Sunday, 12 March 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 6

“It is, however, in any case clear: the greater the part of the revenue (wages and profit) that is spent on commodities produced by capital, the less the part that can be spent on the services of unproductive labourers, and vice versa.” (p 158)

The majority of those exchanging their labour against revenue rather than against capital, and consequently unproductive rather than productive labourers will be providers of personal services, and only a small minority such as “cooks, seamstresses, jobbing tailors and so on” will produce material use values. This is the basis of Smith's confusion, and a further confusion to be dealt with later, where he makes a distinction between such material production and production which disappears immediately.

“This does not prevent, as Adam Smith remarks, the value of the services of these unproductive labourers being determined and determinable in the same (or an analogous) way as that of the productive labourers: that is, by the production costs involved in maintaining or producing them.” (p 159)

The labour-power of both the productive and unproductive labourer is a use value whose value is equal to the labour-time required for its production. But, the productive labourer produces commodities for the buyer of their labour-power, and those commodities contain a surplus value, precisely because they contain a quantity of labour-time greater than that for which the capitalist has paid. The unproductive labourer does not produce a commodity for the buyer of their labour, but produces a use value, i.e. something which the buyer requires for their own consumption.

The difference is that the productive labourer sells their labour-power, as a commodity to the capitalist.  They sell this commodity, labour-power, at its value.  But, the labourer then works for the capitalist producing commodities, and by providing additional surplus labour, thereby create new value in excess of the value of their labour-power, for which the capitalist has paid.  The unproductive labourer, by contrast, does not sell their labour-power to a capitalist, but sells the product of their labour itself to a buyer, as a use value, and thereby sells this use value at its value.

Moreover, even if the buyer of the product of this labour were to sell this use value as a commodity, it would not realise for them a surplus value, because they could only obtain for it, the same value which they have given for it.

“For example, the workman employed by a piano maker is a productive labourer. His labour not only replaces the wages that he consumes, but in the product, the piano, the commodity which the piano maker sells, there is a surplus-value over and above the value of the wages. But assume on the contrary that I buy all the materials required for a piano (or for all it matters the labourer himself may possess them), and that instead of buying the piano in a shop I have it made for me in my house. The workman who makes the piano is now an unproductive labourer, because his labour is exchanged directly against my revenue.” (p 160)

But, if I then sell the piano I will not realise a surplus value, as a consequence. If the materials cost £100, and the worker spends ten hours in its construction, with each hour creating £10 of new value, the piano will have a value of £200, which is what I will have paid for it, and what I would get for it, if I sold it.

In other words, the buyer of the materials, and the concrete piano-making labour here would be in exactly the same position as any other buyer of commodities.  In Chapter 14, Marx makes a further observation in this connection, in respect of Adam Smith's example of Scottish pebble collectors.  Smith should have asked whether the self-employed pebble collectors sold their pebbles to the stone cutters at or below their value.  It is a similar situation as today with Uber drivers, and others employed in the "Gig economy".  The poor pebble collectors were in such supply, and so in need of selling their product that they were forced to sell pebbles to the stone cutters below their value.

In effect, therefore, although the pebble collectors had the appearance, as with Uber drivers, of being self-employed sellers of commodities, they were really wage workers, and the surplus value they produced was appropriated by the buyer of their commodities.  The advantage in these cases is also that the capitalist buyer of these commodities not only appropriates the surplus value produced by the variable capital of the self-employed worker, but they do so without having themselves to advance constant capital, for example with an Uber driver that represented by a car.  It means the rate of profit is thereby increased.

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