Re: The 'cultural and moral' component (was Meillassoux on population and wages)

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Sun Jun 08 2003 - 14:22:58 EDT

Hi Paolo (and anyone else interested),
         Do not buy the first edition of Beyond CAPITAL (assuming Amazon 
could find it)! The new, vastly improved edition (expanded 25%) is due out 
this month from Palgrave Macmillan, and there is a paperback edition coming 
out simultaneously with the hardback. You can check the price on their 
website. I'll post the new preface separately so people who have seen the 
first edition will get a sense of changes.
         As for your specific points, many are addressed directly in the book:

  (1) 'If wages are supposed to allow for the reproduction of labor power 
as a class of individuals', WHY are they supposed to do so? Because capital 
wants new workers 20 years later? We need to look closely at the residue of 
classical economics in Marx here. After all, when you think of the role in 
Marx's theory of both the latent reserve army and that created by the 
increase in the technical composition of capital, some aspects of the 
classical wage theory need to be interrogated. Of course, workers struggle 
to have their wages sufficient to permit them to live in families.

(2)'If this is so and the wage falls bellow the value of labor power and 
supposing this entices other members of the family to work then these other 
members can only get a complementary wage, that is a wage which complements 
the value of labor power, understood as a family value. Couldn´t this serve 
as the basis for understanding wage differentials between man and women? 
This mechanism would have nothing to do with different subsistance 
requirements but rather would be based on the concept of value of labor 
power as it applies to the family unity.' But, what determines who gets the 
'complementary' wage? Also, to what extent is your suggestion based upon 
the implicit assumption that the standard of necessity is given? Eg., let 
us assume that other members of the family enter into wage labour and the 
family gets more than the (family) value of labour-power. What happens 
then? Obviously, they consume more. And then (in your argument)?
         in solidarity,

At 19:04 06/06/2003 -0300, you wrote:
>I would like to reply to Michael that we could interpret differentials in 
>male/female workers in a that diverge from the notion of different 
>subsistence requirements.
>If wages are supposed to allow for the reproduction of labor power as a 
>class of individuals it can only have a family meaning, that is, it has to 
>enough for the reproduction of the family, the social space where the 
>reproduction of that class takes place. If this is so and the wage falls 
>bellow the value of labor power and supposing this entices other members 
>of the family to work then these other members can only get a 
>complementary wage, that is a wage which complements the value of labor 
>power, understood as a family value. Couldn´t this serve as the basis for 
>understanding wage differentials between man and women? This mechanism 
>would have nothing to do with different subistance requirements but rather 
>would be based on the concept of value of labor power as it applies to the 
>family unity.
>(By the way Michael, I am very interested in reading your book. Do you 
>know how much will the new edition cost? Is it presently available at 
>Amazon? Do you recommend waiting for the new edition?)
>"michael a. lebowitz" wrote:
>>  At 03:46 05/06/2003 -0400, Jerry wrote:
>>>What strikes me as missing, though, in the Meillasoux interview,
>>>and in Rakesh's musings on Marx's theory,  is the non-recognition
>>>of the "cultural and moral" component of the wage.  To grasp
>>>the cultural and moral component more concretely, one must:
>>>a) recognize that wage determination is brought about through
>>>class struggle.  One can not simply assert that wages will adjust
>>>to whatever the 'needs' of capital are.
>>>b) recognize how different histories of struggle internationally
>>>have resulted in different national 'standards' (or averages) of
>>>wages -- which are constantly in flux.  These international
>>>disparities in wages -- and the value of labour-power -- must
>>>be comprehended....
>>         Those who have been on the list for a long time will know I 
>> agree completely with Jerry's excellent comment on this point. It is one 
>> of the central themes in my 'Beyond CAPITAL: Marx's Political Economy of 
>> the Working Class' .The new, expanded edition is due out this month, and 
>> I'll send out a note shortly in relation to the changes. Here's an 
>> excerpt from Ch. 8 in the new edition relevant to Jerry's intervention:
>>>         Of course, the wage-labourers who face capital do not only live 
>>> in families. They live in neighbourhoods and communities--- indeed, are 
>>> concentrated by capital in particular neighbourhoods and cities, and 
>>> they live in different nations (Engels, 1845: 344, 394.). They are 
>>> distinguished not only as men and women but also as members of 
>>> different races, ethnic groups, etc. Once we acknowledge that ‘every 
>>> kind of consumption... in one way or another produces human beings in 
>>> some particular aspect,’ then it is not a great leap to extend this 
>>> discussion of differently-produced wage-labourers to differences based 
>>> on age, race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, historical 
>>> circumstances and, indeed, on ‘all human relations and functions, 
>>> however and in whatever form they may appear.’
>>>         Marx did not take this step. He limited his comments to the 
>>> matter immediately at hand--- the question of the value of 
>>> labour-power. Thus, he acknowledged that ‘historical tradition and 
>>> social habitude’ played an important part in generating different 
>>> standards of necessity for different groups of workers (Marx, 1865b: 
>>> 145). Not only do necessary needs vary over time; they also vary among 
>>> individuals and groups of workers at any given time. An obvious example 
>>> was the situation of the Irish worker, for whom ‘the most animal 
>>> minimum of needs and subsistence appears to him as the sole object and 
>>> purpose of his exchange with capital’ (Marx, 1973: 285). Marx argued 
>>> that their low necessary needs (compared to those of the English male 
>>> worker) reflected the historical conditions under which Irish workers 
>>> entered wage-labour, conditions which drove the standard of necessity 
>>> to which they became accustomed to the level of physiological needs 
>>> (Marx, 1977: 854-870).
>>>         Yet, differences in the value of labour-power reflect more than 
>>> differences in ‘the social conditions in which people are placed and 
>>> reared up.’ The latter are merely the ‘historical’ premises; and, on 
>>> this basis, we could never explain changes in relative wages--- e.g., 
>>> the equalisation (upward or downward) of the value of labour-power of 
>>> differing groups of workers. Limited to historical premises as an 
>>> explanation, ‘the more or less favourable conditions’ under which 
>>> various groups of workers ‘emerged from the state of serfdom’ would 
>>> appear as original sin (Marx, 1865b: 145).
>>>         In short, just as in the case of changes in the standard of 
>>> necessity over time, differences in that standard for different groups 
>>> of workers are the result of class struggle--- the result of capitalist 
>>> and worker pressing in opposite directions. The historical premises 
>>> (insofar as they have affected the level of social needs) may explain 
>>> why particular workers do not press very hard against capital; however, 
>>> it is what workers accept in the present rather than the historical 
>>> premises that determines the level of their necessary needs.
>>>         The principle, of course, goes beyond the case of Irish and 
>>> English workers. It encompasses not only workers of differing ethnic 
>>> and national background but also male and female workers. Unless, for 
>>> example, we recognise the central place of class struggle in the 
>>> determination of the value of labour-power, we are left with an 
>>> explanation of male/female wage differentials that rests upon the 
>>> assumption of lower subsistence requirements for women. This would be 
>>> as absurd as to assume that Marx believed that the value of 
>>> labour-power of Irish workers would always be below that of English workers.
>>         in solidarity,
>>         Michael L
>>  ---------------------Michael A. LebowitzProfessor EmeritusEconomics 
>> DepartmentSimon Fraser UniversityBurnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6Office: 
>> Phone (604) 291-4669         Fax   (604) 291-5944Home:   Phone (604) 
>> 689-9510 [NOTE CHANGE]

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: Phone (604) 291-4669
          Fax   (604) 291-5944
Home:   Phone (604) 689-9510 [NOTE CHANGE]

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