[OPE-L:8523] Re: Re: A possible reason why profit rates do not equalise--belated comment

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Date: Fri Feb 28 2003 - 14:55:02 EST

         In 8504, I proposed that the formula for the transformation of 
values to prices (and thus discussion of the "transformation problem') is 
predicated on the equalisation of rates of surplus value. Theoretically, 
however, there is little reason to expect the latter to occur in practice 
because it requires complete fluidity of wage-labourers to enable them to 
move from position to position as well as sufficient power on the part of 
workers to ensure that real wages rise in accordance with productivity in 
sectors where productivity is rising. (In short, a specific assumption 
about class struggle, about the respective powers of the combatants, 
underlies the discussion of transformation.)
         In 8507, Jerry responded:

>'Free labor' notwithstanding,  the movements of wage-labourers among
>sectors or within sectors are constrained by the demand for labour-power.
>In periods of time when the demand for labour-power is growing and the
>industrial reserve army is minimal,  workers have more of  a possibility
>to successfully hunt for other jobs than they do when the demand for
>labour-power is declining and the IRA is expanding.  A corollary might
>be that during the expansionary phase of the business cycle we might expect
>less disparity in rates of surplus value than during the contractionary
>phase of the business cycle.  Whether this hypothesis about  the
>equalization of rates of surplus value is actualized in this manner
>requires empirical verification, of course.

         I think this point is quite consistent--- all other things equal, 
the probability of equalisation of rates of exploitation varies inversely 
with the size of the reserve army. (We should note, though, the size of the 
reserve army itself is not the only thing that would affect the respective 
powers of the combatants--- the degree of separation of workers is affected 
by other factors, eg., the conscious employment of racism, sexism, etc to 
divide workers.) Implicit, though, is that as long as there is a positive 
reserve army, there is no equalisation of rates of surplus value.
         I can't recall any discussion of the transformation problem along 
these lines. Can someone direct me to one and to any empirical support or 
rejection for the proposition of equalisation of rates of surplus value?
         in solidarity,

>Skills also limit the mobility of wage-laborers.  Even when workers are able
>to 're-tool' with new skills, there is typically a significant time lag.
>The time required for re-training might also constitute a temporary 'barrier
>to entry and exit' for different sections of the working-class.
>In solidarity, Jerry
> > Thus, the movements of
> > wage-labourers as such would be based on their search for a 'fair day's
> > wages for a fair day's work'. Logically, then, insofar as workers move
> > from
> > sectors where wages are low and the workday high, this would be a basis
> > for
> > a tendency for equalisation of rates of surplus value. On the other hand,
> > for rates of surplus value (rather than only wages and workdays) to be
> > equalised, it appears necessary that the organised worker in a sector of
> > high productivity not only 'measures his demands against the capitalist's
> > profit and demands a certain share of the surplus value created by
> > him'  but is also successful in having wages move in accordance with
> > productivity.
> >          Now, if these are the theoretical requirements for a 'law' of the
> > equalisation of the rate of surplus value, what is the likelihood that
> > they
> > will be realised in practice? Even in the best case scenario, we must
> > acknowledge that movements of workers from sector to sector, given the
> > particular skills and training fixated in particular workers, are likely
> > to
> > be more rigid than the movements of capital; i.e., (in the absence of the
> > homogenisation of workers) it will be especially the new generations of
> > workers who will migrate to sectors of high wages, etc. Thus, even if this
> > were the only rigidity, the tendency would operate mainly in the long
> > term.
> > Yet, add to this, among other things, the difficulty of workers moving
> > from
> > community to community--- not to mention across national boundaries in an
> > age of global capital, the availability of new reserve armies (eg.
> > peasants
> > for whom low wages available represent substantial increases in income),
> > the difficulties not only in organising trade unions in new workplaces but
> > also in keeping wages moving in accordance with productivity in sectors
> > already organised.

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6

Currently in Cuba. Can be reached at:

Michael Lebowitz
Calle 13 No. 504 ent. D y E, Vedado, La Habana, Cuba
Codigo Postal 10 4000
(537) 33 30 75 or 832  21 54

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