[OPE-L:220] Duncan Foley/ wages

jones/bhandari (djones@uclink.berkeley.edu)
Sun, 8 Oct 1995 20:07:01 -0700

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I agree with Duncan Foley's assessment:

> I think we need to identify
>areas of dialogue and overlap with mainstream social science, where
>Marxian insights and results can help solve outstanding problems.

Of course we may want to solve outstanding problems unrecognized by
mainstream social science as well. Right now I am particularly interested
in the changes in trade flows in the last two decades, as documented by
Adrian Wood, 1994. North-South Trade, Employment and Inequality. Oxford.
But here I will throw in my two cents about rising real wages. Duncan

>To put my 2 cents in, I'd like to know from a Marxist/Classical point of
>view why the real wage in capitalist economies tends to rise roughly at
>the same rate as the productivity of labor, so that the labor share
>remains roughly constant.

Does the share of *productive* labor remain roughly constant? Without
disaggregation of wage income, it becomes impossible to recognize the
barbarity that results from capital's attempt to expand through the
intensification of the exploitation of fewer productive workers, instead of
hiring more workers as this would engender the costs of more space,
equipment and benefits. In other words, only after we isolate productive
labor can we ascertain whether the rate of exploitation has increased--even
if labor's share as a whole has remained roughly constant.

>From the Classical point of view, the real wage rate should remain at
physical subsistence (right?); does Foley mean in terms of the marginal
productivity theory of wages, the real wage rises roughly at the same rate
as the productivity of labor?

The marxist explanation for rising real wages would have to include a
dynamic account of the rising reproduction costs of labor power, right?

Michael L has brought to our attention the dynamics of need in the
formation of the reproduction costs of labor power. I think that I tend to
see those growing needs as more rooted in the production process than
Michael does.

Two examples: there is a a need for more use values to compensate the
proletariat for the intensification of the labor process (Grossmann); and
the wages of parents must be sufficient to keep their children in school
long enough to gain the basic skills required for not only the operation
of the complicated equipment by which relative surplus value is produced
(e.g. a UPS driver requires at least basic literacy for the driver's
license and the keeping of records) but also for further technological
improvements through research and development.

In other words, the real wage has had to rise because of the increased
reproduction costs of the *higher quality of labor* required for the
production of relative surplus value (Sydney Coontz). In short, the rise
in the real wage is not compensation for higher productivity but its
prerequisite: it enables the reproduction of labor power after intensified
exploitation and the rearing of sufficiently trained labor to operate,
repair and improve upon the machines and technologies required for the
production of relative surplus value.


Sydney Coontz, 1957. Population Theories and the Economic Interpretation.
London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.