Thursday, 1 November 2018

Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter 18 - Part 35

Barton comments that if profits rise, capitalists will employ more workers. For the reasons set out above, this does not necessarily immediately follow. They will only do so if they believe that this additional employment results in additional profits. In this regard, Marx also comments, 

“for the same reason, the rate of wages can remain below the average for long periods, because of all commodities, labour is the most difficult to withdraw from the market and thus to bring down to the level of the actual demand”. (p 581-2) 

On the other hand, Barton says, 

““If on the other hand, wages should rise in proportion to commodities” [the] “master’ […] would […] keep as few hands as possible.— He would aim at performing every thing by machinery” (l.c., pp. 17–18).” (p 581) 

But, Barton says, labour requires “the greatest length of time for its production.” (p 581) 

Indeed, again, we might expect that it requires around 13 years for the production of a new generation of workers, although the natural increase in population adds workers to the supply each year. The point here being the delay between a rise in demand, as a new upswing starts and the consequent increase in labour supply, over and above the natural annual population increase. 

Marx summarises the proposition made by Barton. 

First: It is not the rise of wages in itself which increases the labouring population, but a fall in wages may very easily and rapidly make it rise. Proof: First half of the eighteenth century, gradual rise in wages, slow movement in population; in the second half of the eighteenth century, on the other hand, sharp fall in real wages, rapid increase in the labouring population. Reason: It is not the insufficient rate of wages which prevents marriages, but the difficulty of finding employment.” (p 582) 

Barton also argues, however, that wages move inversely to the potential to find employment. When workers find it easy to find employment, i.e. the demand for labour-power is high, then wages will tend to rise, and vice versa. But, the converse applies. If wages are high, capitalists will seek to replace labour with machines, thereby reducing the demand for labour-power. 

Thirdly: The accumulation of capital by itself raises the demand for labour only slowly, because each increase in this demand, if [labour is] scarce, causes [the wages] of labour to rise rapidly and brings about a fall of profit which is ten times greater than the rise in wages. Accumulation can have a rapid effect on the demand for labour only if accumulation was preceded by a large increase in the labouring population, and wages are therefore very low so that even a rise of wages still leaves them low because the demand mainly absorbs unemployed workers rather than competing for those fully employed.” (p 582) 

Marx says that all this is correct, as far as it goes, 

“But it does not explain this development itself.” (p 582) 

Moreover, Barton's historical proof contradicts the propositions it is supposed to prove. 

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