Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 58

Marx makes what I think is an important distinction. He sets out the link between those who live purely off revenues, but who do not create value. This is itself different from those unproductive labours which are unproductive because they do not produce surplus value, but which by performing useful labour do produce value.

In this latter category are all those who undertake useful labour in the provision of direct personal services, for example. But, in the former category are not only the rentier capitalists, landlords, and state flunkies, who create no value, but also the paupers, criminals etc.

“A pauper, like a capitalist (rentier), lives on the revenue of the country. He does not enter into the production costs of the product, and consequently Monsieur Ganilh would call him a representative of exchangeable value. Ditto, for a criminal who is fed in prison. A large part of the “unproductive labourers”, holders of State sinecures, etc., are simply respectable paupers.” (p 218) 

The value of labour-power, as set out in Capital I, is based upon the cost of reproducing it over its lifetime. That includes those periods when it cannot work – childhood, old age, the periods of day outside the normal working day – as well as those periods when it can. It must, therefore, comprise an average figure for when workers cannot work due to ill-health or temporary unemployment. Its for these periods that some form of social insurance is required by the worker, whether this is provided individually by the worker via savings, or via private insurance, or provided collectively via workers friendly societies, or other forms of co-operative provision, or else is provided via national insurance schemes run by the state.

In each case, this insurance is a cost of reproducing labour-power that must, therefore, form a part of wages, in just the same way that insurance taken out by businesses forms a legitimate cost of production that has to be recovered.

But, for the permanently unemployed, the paupers, criminals and so on, this cost of their subsistence, however provided, does not form any part of reproducing labour-power. It is simply a cost born out of surplus value, just as the unproductive consumption of the rentier capitalists, landlords and so on represents a deduction from society's product, which otherwise could have gone to accumulation and the expansion of wealth.

Suppose, Marx says, that currently two-thirds of the population are engaged in material production that provides the means of subsistence for society. Its not clear why Marx reverts here to the distinction between material production and immaterial production, rather than retaining Smith's first definition of productive labour as that which produces surplus value. The immaterial production of a teacher, in producing educated labour-power, or of an actor who produces entertainment and culture for workers, goes just as much into their necessary consumption as does food or clothing, and can equally contribute to the creation of surplus value, by exchanging with capital.

Setting that aside, Marx goes on to assume that, as a result of much higher productivity, only a third of society is required to produce all of its requirements for subsistence. In that case, two-thirds of available time could be allocated to leisure or unproductive activity. In a socialist society, that time could be shared out equally, allowing each individual the time for their own free development as a human being. Under capitalism, however, this free time is divided very unequally. On the one hand, the rentiers have all of their time free to use as they wish, whilst an absolutely growing portion of the population finds itself excluded from productive activity, and permanently in the ranks of the paupers etc.

At the same time, some sections of workers, in low paying employment, find themselves overworked, and at periods, most sections of workers find themselves in this position. So, the contradictory nature of capitalism creates a situation whereby indolence and overwork sit side by side.

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