[OPE-L:2878] Re: Value of labour power and real wage

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Tue, 27 Aug 1996 11:52:18 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

Hi, Hans. I'm glad you've joined us. You write:

>(1) The capitalist class cannot afford to cream off all the benefits
>of rising technology for themselves because capitalism depends
>on the system appearing fair in some way to the workers, and this
>would be considered patently unfair. (Remember, the workers think
>they are paid for their labor, not their labor power).

This statement appears to take as given a premise I find doubly problematic.
First, it's far from obvious that "capitalism depends on the system
appearing fair in some way to the workers," although the latter may be
sufficient to preclude proletarian revolution. To name just three
counter-hypotheses with support from public opinion surveys, workers may
find income distribution unfair but oppose redistributive mechanisms like
highly progressive taxes in the absurd hope that they will "hit the jackpot"
some day; or believe "you can't fight city hall"; or believe the problem is
illegal immigration, imports, or the current administration rather than
capitalism per se.

Second, even granting the necessity of workers perceiving capitalism as
"fair", I don't see that the perception of fairness turns on whether
"workers think they are paid for their labor, not their labor power), and to
suggest otherwise is to reify Marxian theoretical concepts without
justification. For example, even if there were a powerful Public
Broadcasting System, narrated by Walter Cronkite, watched by all workers,
which clearly showed based on Marx's reasoning in Vol. I that workers were
paid for their labor power rather than their labor, I doubt highly that
workers would then rise up in a body to overthrow capitalism.

For example, since the so-called Fundamental Marxian Theorem is *entirely
consistent* with a Smithian conception of profit as a return to risk or the
neoclassical conception of interest as a return to impatient time
preferences, workers hearing the program envisioned above could be pacified
by these justifications for capitalist appropriation of surplus value.
>A related situation was pointed out I think first by Burawoy: The
>capitalist production process has not embraced Taylorism as Marx had
>predicted because Taylorism makes it too obvious to the workers
>that they sell their labor power and not their labor.

Again, this seems to take as gospel an explanation I see as at least
problematic, and in this particular case at least one step removed from what
actually happened. There is a much more direct explanation for why
Taylorism failed: it didn't work, and agency theory provides a direct
explanation why: if workers have superior information about how production
actually works, they can easily circumvent attempts to force them to reveal
this information (especially once they learn from the infamous Schmidt's
negative example). And workers *did* circumvent Taylorist interventions:
they did slowdowns, they broke machines, they created costly political and
industrial unrest, etc. (P.S.: so far as I can tell no workers testifying
before Congress said anything like, "I found to my horror that we were
actually paid for our labor power, not our labor")

This is why Taylorism was supplanted by so-called scientific management and
other technologically and bureaucratically oriented forms of labor extraction.

>But this need to maintain rising real wages with rising technology
>clashes with the immiseration tendency, which I am not willing
>to throw overboard.

Neither am I, as a hypothesis about a sufficiently developed stage of
(globalized) capitalism. But it seems clear that either the immiseration
hypothesis or that of the tendentially falling rate of profit must go.