[OPE-L] empirical measurement of changes in the value of labour-power

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Dec 10 2007 - 16:24:52 EST


What I was referring to is a decline in the VLP if a rise in food prices occurs other things remaining equal. 

The VLP has often been defined as a "bundle of commodities" or the "real wage", but this is not really what Marx had in mind. The VLP is essentially a quantity of social labour-time, the average socially necessary labour-time which reflects the normal or average total reproduction costs of the worker in an accounting interval. Probably, this should be measured as the modal average, a modal total average cost of living.

"Value" in the economic sense of bourgeois society that Marx has in mind, can be measured as: 

- a quantity of abstract labour-time (assuming a MELT)
- a quantity of money
- a trading (exchange) ratio
- a stock of commodities with a monetary value or a certain labour-content (assuming a MELT)

What we can empirically measure, is such things as:

- the (total) costs to capital of labour employed (not just the gross wage, but also various levies)
- the (total, i.e. current disposable income + deferred income) of the worker
- the expenditure of the worker's labour income on goods and services
- the goods and services purchased by the worker
- the difference between direct and indirect taxes and levies charged, and social security benefits received
- the costs of replacing the worker (including the costs of raising children)
- the paid and unpaid labourtime involved in reproducing the worker to arrive each day fit to work
- the realised income differential of skilled labour resulting from education & training, or seniority 
- the financial benefit deriving from skill monopolisation
- the economic rent that ensues from labour scarcity

Insofar as the VLP includes, as Marx says, a "moral-historical element", no complete measurement of the VLP is ever possible which is incontestable, anymore than a class-neutral definition of "productive labour" is possible. 

In traditional Marxist theory, the worker is exploited at the point of production, insofar as he or she produces more value than he or she costs in value. Feminists have pointed out that the labour market couldn't even function without a large amount of unpaid household and voluntary labour ( see e.g. http://www.newint.org/issue181/facts.htm ). I have personally also added a third dimension that Marx didn't mention, namely that in consumption, there is also a profit impost on the commodities a workers buys with his wage. This makes the VLP more complex than it seems at first sight. The fourth dimension is, naturally, time.

The general, global historical trend is that, in real terms, labour-power becomes ever cheaper to buy and use (what Harry Braverman called "the degradation of labour"). This has contradictory effects however: If the value of labour-power falls, this raises the rate of profit ceteris paribus, but it also restricts additional consumer demand, which depresses the potential rate of profit. This contradiction is mediated by growing socio-economic inequality among income earners, some of whom can earn and buy a lot, others little. What you are worth, is what you can earn for the corporation, that is more or less the story. The priorities of capitalist production consequently switch to "who can buy the stuff" - those who can buy the stuff, are those who have the money to buy it.

The current capitalist "problem" in OECD countries is, essentially, that the workers invested mainly in housing, rather than stocks, to defend their savings. However, if house prices fall in real terms (a petty-bourgeois drama) a good portion of these savings will also be destroyed. 

In the end, obviously all that workers can do with regard to their self-interest, is to defend their wages against the encroaches of capital, regardless of anything. The promise is always there, that you can better your lot over time, but the statistical reality is that for a growing number of people, they can't. The wealthy have already creamed off most beauty and wealth. The rest have to fight, simply to keep what they have and not become worse off. 

That is why bourgeois ideology hovers vaguely and uncertainly between holding out the promise of life-improvement (sexual and love ideology), and the idea that you ought to be satisfied with your lot, and shouldn't demand more, or make do with less (Green ideology). As Frank Furedi http://www.frankfuredi.com/ has noted many times, in reality, the political class of bourgeois society is profoundly uncertain about what its purposes ought to be, giving rise to profound moral ambiguity and nihilism. But I like to add, that this uncertainty is itself rooted in the contradictions of capitalism itself. It is rather obvious, that the deregulation and privatisation of capital assets will give rise to an obsession with risk, and that the capacity to take risks depends on how strong you are. Of course, if you own a large chunk of capital, risk is only an option among others. It's just a game. If you own ten million dollars, and you lose one million, tough shit. You still have 9 million dollars.

The SNA accounting concept of "compensation of employees" makes it look like as though employees (in contrast to business) do not have all sorts of costs of their own with respect to their work, whereas in reality they do. For example, research showed that simply the costs associated with turning up for work each day reduce the average annual wage among British workers by 2,300 pounds; The official average 2005 salary fell from 22,248 pounds to 19,970 pounds when the typical costs associated with having a job - such as transport, snacks and clothes - have been deducted. A poll by YouGov, sponsored by debit card group Maestro, showed workers typically spent 120 pounds extra a month on food, 50 pounds on travel and 35 pounds on work clothes. The research found that the average worker spent 16 days a year getting ready for and travelling to work. (source: The Guardian, 28 November 2005). 

Meantime, "A culture of working long hours is on the rise once more in the UK after a decade of gradual decline, according to figures today. More than one in eight of the British workforce now work more than 48 hours a week, the maximum allowed under the law unless workers agree to waive that limit. The proportion rises to one in six in London. The figures, highlighted by the TUC and extracted from the latest Labour Force Survey, prompted warnings from campaigners that children and family life risk being squeezed further. The UK's working hours are among the longest in Europe. But there has been a steady if slow fall in long-hours working since 1997. The latest figures reverse that trend for the first time under the Labour government, with 93,000 more people now working more than 48 hours a week compared with 2006, taking the total to almost three and a quarter million (3,242,000). The increase represents a rise from 12.8% to 13.1% of the workforce." (Guardian, 28 November 2007). 


Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day 
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

And you run and you run, to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death

Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation, is the English way
The time has gone, the song is over, thought I'd something more to say

- Pink Floyd, "Time"

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