Thursday, 8 March 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 14 - Part 4

Similarly, taking Smith's example of the Scottish pebble gatherers, in selling pebbles to the stone-cutter, they may sell these pebbles at their full value. If they spend 10 hours collecting pebbles, they may sell them to the stone-cutter at a value equal to 10 hours, and this will appear to be their wages, even though in actual fact, perhaps only 8 hours labour is required to reproduce the value of their labour-power. Whether the 10 hours is equal to their wages or not depends upon the value of their labour-power, i.e. on the labour-time required for its reproduction. In other words, as Marx says,

“Smith should have investigated, whether it is possible that the few commodities which only comprise wages, are sold at their value, or whether the poor people who gather the Scotch pebbles are not in fact the wage-labourers of the stone-cutters, who pay them only the usual wages for the commodity, in other words for a whole working-day, which apparently belongs to them, these people receive only as much as a worker in other trades, where part of the working-day forms profit and belongs not to him but to the capitalist. Smith should have either affirmed this or else asserted that in this case the profit only seems to be confounded with wages.” (p 344-5) 

So, if the value of the labour-power of the pebble gatherers is equal to 8 hours labour, equal to say £8, and the stone cutter pays them £8 for the pebbles they collect in 10 hours, then the collectors have effectively been employed as wage labourers, but without any formal contract of employment. A similar situation could be considered today with all of the people employed in the so called “Gig Economy”. The pebble collectors here sell pebbles with a value of £10 for just £8, and the stone-cutter thereby obtains a surplus value equal to £2. In that case, the value of the pebbles, at £10, does not just comprise wages, but actually comprises £8 wages of the pebble collectors, and £2 profits of the stone-cutter. If the pebble collectors sell the pebbles at their full value of £10 then this value will still be comprised of £8 wages and £2 profit, because the value of the pebble collector's labour-power is equal only to £8. In selling the pebbles for £10 they thereby realise a value £2 greater than the value of their labour-power (wages). 

Whether the pebble collectors are able to sell the pebbles at their value, or whether they sell them below their value, effectively only realising, in their sale, the value of their labour-power, depends on the social relation existing between them and the stonecutters. Where the pebble collectors are able to act really as independent capitals, they may be able to sell the pebbles at their value. However, the fact that very little capital is required to undertake such activity means that very many poor people may seek to undertake such activity. They may be desperate for revenue to live, and so the ready supply of pebbles would act to depress their price to the stone-cutters below their value. This is the same kind of situation that led Smith to believe that because labour was plentiful and capital scarce, the labourers were led to sell labour below its value, but is also why he believed that as capital accumulated, this oversupply of labour would be reduced, pushing wages higher, leading to his theory of the falling rate of profit. 

This is the same kind of situation that today exists for say an Uber driver. They have the semblance of being a self-employed worker, utilising their own capital, and selling a commodity for its value, but, in reality, the ready supply of such drivers reduces the price they obtain for that commodity below its value (price of production) so that, in fact, they are effectively operating only as wage-labourers, and obtaining only the equivalent (at best) of a wage equivalent to the value of their labour-power. The surplus value/profit is thereby appropriated by Uber, even though they do not even have to advance the constant capital (capital value of the driver's car) used in this labour process. 

It is similar to piece-work. A worker employed on piece rates appears to be paid for each piece they produce, giving the semblance that the worker is selling each piece to the employer, in the same way that in the original handicraft factories, what were still essentially independent handicraft producers, sold their output to the factory owner. But, the price paid per piece is not the value of the piece, or even the value added by labour to the piece. The price is determined on the basis of the value of labour-power, translated into a daily wage, and then divided into an average number of pieces per worker per day. 

A similar thing was described by Marx in Capital I, in relation to sweated labour in workshops. The workshop owner appeared to sell their output at its value, but in reality was dependent on other, larger capitalists who provided them with orders. These more powerful capitalists thereby forced the sweated workshop masters to sell to them at prices lower than values. The workshop masters thereby only made a living by sweating the labour in the workshop to a high degree, so that it was in turn paid wages below the value of labour-power. 

No comments: