Re: [OPE-L] the global labor force and capital accumulation

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Tue Jan 17 2006 - 09:38:17 EST

> And I am not sure about  this tremendous increase in
> the global labor supply relative to the existing working population
> being  unique in the history of capitalism--of course in absolute
> numbers it is staggering. But in relative terms perhaps not, though
> I am hardly sure.


It's unique at least from the perspective of

a) the history of late capitalism,

b) the standpoint of a dramatic shift in the quantity of new wage-workers
producing commodities for sale primarily on international markets in a
'globalized' economy. (see next to last para. below)

> What about  19th-20th century immigration to the US,
> much larger then in relation  to existing population than immigration
> is today (the absolute number of immigrants is today about the same as
> it was in the years before WWI)?

Well, you'd have to look at the historical statistics to be sure, but
I think most of those immigrants became wage-workers who
primarily produced commodities for sale on _domestic_ markets.

> what about the increase  in working population from colonialism?
> what was the rate of population growth then?

I doubt that the rate of infusion of new wage workers into the
global labor force who produce commodities for sale on
international markets ever took place within such a short
historical period as now.  Also, the international division of
labor is now significantly different than it was in periods when
you had colonialism.  What this means, for instance, is that
workers in the colonial period in colonized nations tended to
be involved in extractive production, i.e.  to the extent that
they produced commodities for sale abroad, they tended to
specialize in the extraction of raw materials and the production
of intermediate goods and in the transportation sector. In the
current period, we are seeing a large percentage of the new
wage-workers that Freeman was referring to producing final
goods for export which have already been assembled.

The question shouldn't be whether this new trend is unique;
the question should be (imo) what are the consequences for
understanding the current period.

In solidarity

PS: I'm not sure how Freeman came up with his estimates for
the  how "the effective supply of capital ... has virtually
remained unchanged".  While his estimates for a change in the
capital-labor ratio have been widely cited on the Net, I
haven't been able to discover the original source for the
estimates.  You could see his NBER page -- <>
-- where many of his papers and his CV are online to
track down the original source.  Or, you could (following
the example of Paul B) ask him:

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