Thursday, 10 May 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 15 - Part 43

During the Napoleonic Wars, between 1797 and 1815, the price of corn, in Britain, rose sharply. The consequence was to cause nominal wages to rise, as the value of labour-power rose. The result was to cause a squeeze on profits, and so a fall in the rate of profit, as the rate of surplus value fell. It is this fall in the rate of surplus value, as wages are raised, that is the basis of Malthus' and Ricardo's Law of the Falling Rate of Profit. But, as Marx points out, what Ricardo fails to take into account is that the working day is not fixed, so that although wages may rise, reflecting this higher value of labour-power, if the working day is itself extended, the rate of surplus value, and mass of profit may rise, causing the fall in the rate of profit to be stopped. Similarly, when the post-war long wave boom commenced, around 1949, the initial increase in the demand for labour-power could be met by encouraging workers to work overtime, by recruiting married women into the workforce, and by encouraging immigration. So, additional absolute surplus value is then produced by both extending the working-day of the individual worker, and by extending the social working-day, by increasing the size of the employed workforce. A similar thing could be seen as the new long wave boom got under way after 1999, and the demand for labour-power increased. In Britain, it was manifest in the so called Polish plumbers who were recruited as shortages of such labour resulted in high wages for plumbers and other such skilled craftsmen. The UK, saw unemployment fall, despite bringing in 2 million additional workers from the EU, during the period. 

Marx comments, 

“... the daily hours of labour increased greatly in the principal industries, which were then in a phase of ruthless expansion; and I believe that this arrested the fall in the rate of profit, because it arrested the fall in the rate of surplus-value.” (p 408) 

But, Marx reiterates the point made above. 

“In this case, however, whatever the circumstances, the normal working-day is lengthened and the normal span of life of the labourer, hence the normal duration of his labour-power, is correspondingly shortened. This applies where a permanent lengthening of the working-day occurs. If it is only temporary, in order to compensate for a temporary rise in wages, it may (except in the case of children and women) have no other result than to prevent a fall in the rate of profit in those enterprises where the nature of the work makes a prolongation of labour-time possible. (This is least possible in agriculture.)” (p 408) 

In other words this means of halting the decline in the rate of surplus value, by increasing absolute surplus value, runs into objective constraints. Not only are there constraints for each individual worker, but there are constraints on the available labour-force, as the latent reserve is used up, limits to immigration are reached and so on. 

Marx refers to agriculture here, because the potential for extending the working-day is limited by the nature of the industry. Arable production depends on natural processes, and various tasks depend on there being adequate daylight, which is one reason Britain introduced the moving forward of clocks in Spring, and moving them back in the Autumn. Cows have to be milked at specific times of day etc. 

But, Ricardo failed to investigate surplus value, and had no concept of absolute surplus value, considering the working day as a fixed magnitude. 

“For this case, therefore, his law—that surplus-value and wages (he erroneously says profit and wages) in terms of exchange-value can rise or fall only in inverse proportion—is incorrect.” (p 408) 

If necessary labour-time is 10 hours, and 2 hours of surplus labour are undertaken, the rate of surplus value is 20%, and the working-day is 12 hours. But, if the working-day is extended to 14 hours, the necessary labour may remain as 10 hours, whilst surplus labour rises to to 4 hours, with a 40% rate of surplus value. And, as seen earlier, even with the wage remaining constant, the two situations give different values of product, 12 hours in one, and 14 hours in the other. Moreover, as Marx demonstrated in Capital I, where women and children are recruited into the workforce, even if the working-day per worker remains constant, the social working-day, may rise substantially, as a consequence of this increase in the quantity of employed labour, whilst the amount of necessary labour-time, required for the reproduction of the worker and their family remains constant. 

“It is therefore wrong to say that, provided the wage is the same (in terms of value, of necessary labour-time), the surplus-value contained in two commodities is proportionate to the quantities of labour contained in them. This is only correct where the normal working-day is the same.” (p 409) 

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