[OPE-L:2307] Living on Air

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Tue, 21 May 1996 12:46:04 -0700

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I owe Jerry a proper reply (to the assumptions, assumptions, assumptions
thread discussion), but I thought I'd post separately the following
passages, in which Marx assumes that wages are zero:

Two workers working for 12 hours a day could not supply the
same surplus-value as 24 workers each working 2 hours, even
if they were able to live on air and hence scarcely needed
to work at all for themselves. In this connection, therefore,
the compensation for the reduced number of workers provided
by a rise in the level of exploitation of labour has certain
limits that cannot be overstepped; this can certainly check
the fall in the profit rate, but it cannot cancel it out.
(_Capital_ III, Ch. 13. p. 356, Vintage)

In order to produce the same rate of profit, therefore, if
the constant capital set in motion by a worker increases ten-
fold, the surplus labour-time would have to increase ten-fold
as well, and very soon the total labour-time, or even the
full twenty-four hours of the day, would not be sufficient,
even if it were entirely appropriated by capital. Price's
[compound interest] progression depends on the idea that the
rate of profit does not decline ....
(ibid., p. 523)

It is noteworthy, I think, that both passages make this assumption in
connection with the FRP, and that both make it in order to show that
the mass of surplus-value has a finite limit determined by the total
labor extracted, whatever the *rate* of surplus-value may be.

The basic idea is first laid out in Vol. I, as one of the laws relating
to the rate and mass of surplus-value, in the chapter of the same name.

This issue has been much debated. Opponents of the FRP have shown that
if valuation is simultaneous, Marx is wrong. Okishio, e.g., shows
that the zero-wage (or maximum) rate of profit falls as Marx says, but
the stationary-price equalized rate rises, if the actual real wage is
constant and tech change is viable. The TSS refutations of the Okishio
theorem show that Marx is right, if total price is determined by labor
time and thus unit prices, instead of being stationary, change with
changes in productivity.

Andrew Kliman