(OPE-L) SNLT and labour intensity internationally

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Fri Jan 16 2004 - 20:14:40 EST

Paul C wrote:

> Firstly, I am not sure that the rate of surplus value will be
> determined at the macro level in the sense that you imply.
> But even if that is the case in an autarchic economy, I doubt
> it will be the case when we start to deal with considerations
> of foreign trade. The issue here is that the amounts of labour required
> to produce things differ between countries so at the level of
> the world economy the concept of socially necessary labour
> is ill defined.

This is a good point.   'Normal conditions'  for the
functioning of labour-power vary internationally.  Similarly,
the 'average skill, dexterity, and speed prevalent' in a trade
vary internationally.  What is the 'average amount of
exertion and the usual degree of intensity' vary internationally.
Etc. (References are to _Capital_, Volume 1, Penguin
ed., p. 303).

The question of  international differences in labor intensity
is discussed briefly in _Capital_, Volume 1, Chapter 22
("National Differences in Wages").  In this chapter, Marx
notes that "The average intensity of labour changes from
country to country; here it is greater, there less.  These
national averages form a scale whose unit of measurement
is the average unit of universal labour. The more intense
national labour, therefore, as compared with the less intense,
produces in the same time more value, which expresses
itself in more money" (Ibid, p. 702).

Marx then claims (I apologize for the long quote but it is a
very interesting passage, imo):

   "But the law of value is yet more modified in its international
    application by the fact that, on the world market, national
    labour which is more productive counts as more intensive, as
    long as the more productive nation is not compelled by
    competition to lower the selling price of its commodities to
    the level of their value.

    In proportion as capitalist production is developed in a
    country, so, in the same proportion, do the national intensity
    and productivity of labour there rise above the international
    level. The different quantities of commodities of the same kind,
    produced in different countries in the same working time, have,
    therefore unequal international values, which are expressed in
    different prices,  i.e. the sums of money varying according to
    international values.  The relative value of money will therefore
    be less in the nation with the more developed capitalist mode
    of production than in the nation with the less developed
    capitalism.  It follows then that nominal wages, the equivalent
    of labour-power expressed in money, will also be higher in the
    first nation than in the second; but this by no means proves that
    the same can be said of real wages, i.e. the means of
    subsistence placed at the disposal of the worker." (Ibid)

The claim then, in part, is that the more developed capitalist economy
will tend to have a higher national intensity of labour compared to
the 'less developed' capitalist social formation.  Has that, though --
from a historical/empirical perspective -- been the case?

Since there is no reliable way of measuring labor intensity where
different production methods are used and where there is a different
product mix (perhaps changes in physiological responses like the
pulse rate and blood pressure could be used as a proxy for changes
in intensity.  However, different cultures for reasons quite apart from
different traditions of labor intensity can have different blood pressure
rates, etc....), one can only note different historical trends.  On the
one hand, the advent of 'modern industry' and Taylorism would tend to
raise labor intensity in the manner Marx claimed, i.e. it would
tend to be higher in the more developed capitalist economies.
Yet, Marx was writing in a different historical period.  "Modern
Industry" and Taylorism have spread around the capitalist world
and there is no reason therefore to assume *today* that this
trend would continue to cause a higher than average intensity of
labour in the more developed capitalist economies.

A contrary trend -- which I think has become a more dominant
trend as it relates to international variations in labor intensity -- is
that the prevalence of mass poverty in the less developed
capitalist nations  -- as evident from the higher than average rate of
the labour force which is either part of the industrial reserve
army or part of the petty commodity sector -- has strengthened
the hand of capital and has made it more possible to not only
offer lower wages and benefits but also increase the intensity of
labour for the productive wage-workers employed by capital.
This would tend to mean that workers in the 'less developed'
capitalist social formations will experience a higher than average
intensity of labour.  (btw to Paul Z:  I recall reading some studies
which claimed that workers employed in factories in the North
of Mexico experience a higher intensity of labour than their
worker counter-parts in the USA.  So, btw, to Alejandro, this
may be part of the 'puzzle' relating to the differences in the
rate of surplus value.)

> Factories in Mexico producing for export
> to the USA are part of the US system of exchange value
> with respect to the valuation of their output in dollars
> but part of the Mexican system of valuation with respect
> to their purchase of labour power. This undermines the
> assumption of a uniform rate of surplus value.

Re the last sentence:
Yes, but why assume a uniform rate of surplus value internationally?

In solidarity, Jerry

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