Re: (OPE-L) [Jurriaan on] Unproductive consumption

From: Paul C (clyder@GN.APC.ORG)
Date: Mon May 03 2004 - 16:43:58 EDT

michael a. lebowitz wrote

Paul C wrote

>> I accept your argument that the actual wage is determined
>> by conditions of class struggle, but this allows it to be
>> raised above what is strictly necessary for reproduction.
> I think your 'strictly necessary for reproduction' has a hint of a
> standard
> based upon physiological requirements. Once we treat that standard,
> however, as variable, then it can rise with victories of the working
> class.
Physiological requirements are one thing, and certainly provide a lower
limit that became evident in Europe during wartime, but in addition
one has to include the cost of education and training. That however
leaves a huge margin in the level of consumption between what is
necessary to reproduce labour and what is actually consumed.

What we have in the theory of labour power is part scientific and
part ideological.

The ideological component comes from Marx's desire to argue
that exploitation came about because of  rather than despite the
exchange of commodities at their equivalent. To do this he had
to assert that it was not labour that was purchased but labour
power. This was essentially an ideological imperative in arguing
with the Proudhonists, since he wanted to say that exploitation
was inevitable in any market system with free labourers.

The scientific content is the proposition that in an economy
with a surplus, whichever basic commodity  is used as the standard
of value - be it labour, oil, coal, steel etc, will have a value
measured in itself  of less than 1. If you are producing a surplus
then the amount of  the numeraire required to produce directly
and indirectly one unit of the numeraire will be less than one unit.

The intersection of  science and ideology occurs when the
value of labour power is taken to have a historical and moral
element. As soon as you say that, you are deducing the value
of  labour power from its long term price, not from its conditions
of production. At this point the theory becomes scientifically vacous
since it no longer makes and predictions. Contrast this with saying
that the price of commodities in general will be determined by the
labour socially
necessary to produce them. The latter is a testable proposition, one
totals up the time used and looks at how well it predicts prices.

If one says that the value of labour power is determined by morality
and history, then one has  no procedure to check if the proposition is
true. Any long term average wage is then by definition equal to the
value of labour power, and the theory is vacuous.

The notion of a minimum reproduction cost of labour is not
vacuous on the other hand, since it predicts that when the real
wage falls below this, the supply of labour power will falter.
We know that modern skilled labour can be reproduced in India
at a consumption level that is significantly below that in the USA.
So the theory would predict that the Indian standard of living, fo
say telephone operators, is above the reproduction level. On the
other hand, the wage levels for foreign workers in German factories
in the early 1940s were probably significantly below reproduction
levels - given the high mortality of the workers.  So the concept
of there being a minimum reproduction cost of labour powerf
has some reality.

It is questionable whether this minimum reproduction cost is
for labour power or labour. The energy consumption of a person
goes up whilst working, so the reproduction cost is a function
of the work done, contra Marx, who argues that labour power
has a value prior to and independent of the amount of labour
actually extracted from it.

>> >
>> > >It is only a commitment to the working class interest that
>> > >inhibits Marxists from admiting this.
>> >
>> > You mean we are dishonest?
>> We want to defend the actual real wage from being reduced
>> so we say that it is no more than the value of labour power.
>> I suspect that it is well above the value of labour power, but
>> of course workers are still exploited.
> Again, I think Marx recognised that the set of necessaries that underlie
> the value of labour could rise. As long as productivity rises more
> rapidly,
> though, the value of labour-power would fall (and the social gulf-- the
> rate of exploitation-- would rise).
>         michael
> Michael A. Lebowitz
> Professor Emeritus
> Economics Department
> Simon Fraser University
> Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
> Currently based in Venezuela. Can be reached at
> Residencias Anauco Suites
> Departamento 601
> Parque Central, Zona Postal 1010, Oficina 1
> Caracas, Venezuela
> (58-212) 573-4111
> fax: (58-212) 573-7724

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