[OPE-L:3394] Zero wages

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Sun, 13 Oct 1996 17:18:54 -0700 (PDT)

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Andrew asks, appropos his examples using zero wages:

"Paul, wouldn't it just have been simpler, and more to the point, to
acknowledge that you were wrong and I was right?"

No, because I consider that your entire posting is so detatched
from economic reality that I have difficulty crediting you with
being serious.

My first point was that if wages were zero there would be no incentive
to accumulate constant capital, free handicraft labour would always
out compete it. More generally, the cheaper labour is to be had, the
less likely there is to be accumulation of capital in the form of
more machinery per worker.

It is difficult to imagine any situation where labour could be had
for free, the only one I could think of at the time being the working
of capitives to death. Andrew argued that this would still involve
accumulation of constant capital in the form of guards, guns and barbed wire.

This point falls to two objection, one of which has already been made
by Jerry:

a) it involves treating the costs of supervision as capital, whereas
in Marx they are treated as an unproductive overhead deducted
from surplus value.

b) it assumed that costs of supervision were a constant fraction of the
amount of labour employed. The history of mass forced labour indicates
that this is not the case, that as the number of forced labourers
rises, the cost of supervision falls. It is not 1000 times as difficult
to guard 1000 slaves as it is to guard 1. Thus under conditions of
forced labour an increase in the scale of production leads to lower
costs of supervision so that even if we accept Andrews doubtful accounting
whereby costs of supervision/repression count as capital, then
we would expect the organic composition of such 'capital' to fall
as the scale of production rose.

When Andrew says:
>Machines are used to
>bring an ahuman, "objective" discipline to the labor process, and the
>subjection of the worker to this discipline.

he takes a side effect of some machines and makes it the main purpose
of machinery in general. Machines are employed to cheapen the cost of
production, generally by enabling tasks to be achieved with less living
labour, but sometimes to enable raw materials and other inputs to be
saved. It is to this, rather than the intensification of labour, that
the great progress of capitalist civilization is largely due.

If labour is dirt cheap, there are much older and cruder ways of forcing people
to work than using machines. The child labourers of Pakistahn are
about as cheap as labour comes, and their labour is performed with
the minimum of machinery. Machinery only becomes profitable to use
when wages are high.

Why does the labour theory of value apply to capitalism, why is human
labour the source of exchange value under capitalism?

It is because wages are the single most prevalent cost of production.
It is only through the representation of labour inputs as wages that
the labour expended to produce things can enter into capitalist calculation
and affect prices. That is why to assume that wages are zero, and
yet to hold to a labour theory of value is so absurd. You have detached
any means by which labour input can affect prices or profits,
and any calculations based upon labour values become beside the point.

I will repeat the question, why, in capitalism is human labour rather
than something else, such as equine labour or sunlight, the source
of value?

To reply as Andrew does :"Because in Marx's value
theory, human labor, not horse labor, is the source of value."
is surely to avoid the point. Sure we know Marx said that,
but it is not true just because Marx said it, there has to be some
underlying real cause.

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)