Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 15 - Part 13

The analysis that Marx makes here he undoubtedly intended to go as part of the excursus to the material contained in Chapter 4 of Capital III, dealing with variations in the rate of profit. He makes the same point here as made there. 

“It is clear that what has been regarded here as a variation within the organic composition of one capital, can apply equally to the difference in the organic composition between different capitals, capitals in different spheres of production.” (p 384) 

The organic composition of any capital can change over time, but, at any one time, the organic composition of different capitals will vary one from another, leading to different rates of profit. In any one capital, the organic composition can change over time, as a result of either the value (market price) of the constant capital changing relative to the value (price) of the variable capital, i.e. a change in its value composition, or else it may change as a result of the quantity of constant capital employed relative to the quantity of labour employed, i.e. a change in the technical composition. But, this applies at any one time, to the capitals employed in different industries. Some industries will employ a large mass of cheap materials, that may be processed by a large quantity of labour, whilst others, such as jewellery production, may employ a small quantity of high value material, processed by a small quantity of skilled labour. 

In addition, some industries may employ a large amount of fixed capital that raises labour productivity, so that the mass of material is processed by a relatively small amount of labour. But, also, some industries such as mining, employ a lot of fixed capital, but process no materials. Marx comments, 

“The difference in the value of different days of labour in different spheres has nothing to do with it. If the labour of a goldsmith is dearer than that of a labourer, then the surplus-time of the goldsmith is proportionately dearer than that of the labourer.” (p 384) 

Its important to understand what Marx means here by “If the labour of a goldsmith is dearer than that of a labourer”. It does not mean that the wages of the goldsmith are more than those of the labourer. That in fact, is the error that Smith makes of confusing the "value of labour" with the quantity of labour, as the determinant of value.  That would have been the case had Marx said “If the labour-power of a goldsmith is dearer than that of a labourer” What Marx is here talking about is the value of the product of a goldsmith's labour, as opposed to the value of the product of a labourer's labour. If the goldsmith's labour is complex labour, so that the value of its product, from a day's labour is equal to 2 day's labour of a labourer, then if the rate of surplus value is the same for both, the goldsmith in a day would produce 1 day of surplus labour. However, there is no necessary correlation between the value of the goldsmith's labour-power, and the value it creates. That was the error made by Smith and Ricardo, who equated labour with labour-power. 

Where social productivity is rising, a labourer, who produces 10 hours of new value, will continue to produce 10 hours of new value, whether their necessary labour amounts to 4, 5, or 6 hours. A goldsmith may produce 20 hours of new value, in a 10 hour day, because their labour is complex labour, but that does not mean that their necessary labour/wages rises to 8 hours rather than 4 hours. As Marx set out in Capital III, Chapter 17, the professional and commercial workers' labour tends to be counted as complex labour, and yet the wages of such workers is often pushed lower than that of the average worker. 

What can be said is that if the labour is complex, and so produces a multiple of the hours worked, as abstract labour, if the value of this labour-power is no different than for the average worker, the rate of surplus value will be higher, and this will result in a higher rate of profit. Capital would then be expected to move into that sphere, increasing the supply of these commodities/services, thereby reducing the market price down to the price of production, so that the excess profit disappears. But, this is merely an example of a commodity being sold below its exchange value, and at its price of production. It is an indication of a lower organic composition, precisely because of the high value of the product of labour, v + s. However, it may be the case that because the labour is complex, its supply cannot be easily increased. The labour of Picasso may be unique, for example. A few forgers may be able to produce passable copies, but not enough to affect the prices of his paintings. The same with actors, singers, footballers, designers, chefs etc. The value of labour-power of all these may be no different than for any other worker, but it is their talent, real or merely perceived, that leads consumers to be prepared to pay high multiples for the product of their labour. 

In these cases, capital may attempt to enter these spheres because of the high rates of profit, but, with a limited supply of this complex labour that simply results in the wages of those workers being pushed up way above the value of their labour-power. In effect, the wage then comprises one part that represents the reproduction of the value of their labour-power, and a second element that constitutes a rent that the worker is able to appropriate, because of their ownership of this property that is in limited supply. Alternatively, it may be viewed that the value of the labour-power itself is high, not in terms of reproducing the labour-power of these existing workers, but of reproducing it on the scale required, because to produce a much larger number of such workers would require the expenditure of large amounts of labour-time, finding and then training suitable workers who would have the same level of ability that these workers have naturally. 

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