[OPE-L] workers' consumption and capitalists' consumption

From: Hans G. Ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Mon Jun 05 2006 - 12:35:23 EDT

I had written on Saturday:

>> Marx considers the creation and transfer of value to be
>> real processes happening right there in the production
>> process, not something which the theoretician allocates
>> afterwards to selected activities.  If the worker sits
>> down for dinner, this activity clearly does not add value
>> to the product which is at this moment far away from him
>> or her in the factory.

Therefore Jerry asked me:

> Marx considered labour-power to _itself_ be a commodity
> and to represent value, though.  If that is true then
> labour-power constitutes one portion of the commodity
> product. Where is the production process for the creation
> of that commodity located?

That was a difficult question.  The best answer I could
come up with is the following:

Here it is tempting to say that labor-power is congealed
labor in the body of the laborer, and the laborer's dinner
transfers the value of the food consumed to the value
of that commodity.  I don't think it is the right way to
look at this.  If you wanted to go down this road, then
it would be difficult to explain why the value of the food
consumed enters the value of labor-power, but the cooking labor
does not contribute to the value of labor-power.

Labor-power is traded as a commodity, but it is in many
respects different from ordinary commodities.  It is not
produced in order to be sold, but the worker must sell it in
order to continue to live.  Therefore I do not consider
labor-power to be "one portion of the commodity product" as
you say, and the national income and wealth accounts do not
consider it that way either.  When the worker sells his
labor-power, he does not hand over congealed labor in the
form of his body to the capitalist, but he simply obligates
himself to work for the capitalist and in exchange gets
enough money so that he can buy the things he needs in order
to survive and which he cannot provide for himself.  I would
consider it a transfer payment which is subject to economic
laws similar to those governing the exchange of commodities,
but it nevertheless different from ordinary commodity exchange.

This is my own thinking; Marx himself is vague about this point.
Whereas he makes detailed arguments in chapter 8 why the value
of the means of production is transferred to the end product,
he does not make such arguments regarding labor-power
but simply says in chapter 6 that

> the labor-time necessary for the production of labor-power
> resolves itself into that necessary for the production of
> those means of subsistence; in other words, the value of
> labor-power is the value of the means of subsistence
> necessary for the maintenance of its owner.

(my own translation).  "Resolves" is a very vague formulation
which can mean many things.

Hans G. Ehrbar.

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