[OPE-L:4801] Re: the determination of real wages--query to Michael

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Wed, 16 Apr 1997 15:07:47 -0700 (PDT)

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In message Mon, 14 Apr 1997 20:50:05 -0700 (PDT),
Paul Zarembka <zarembka@acsu.buffalo.edu> writes:

> Michael L., is this correct about you?:
> On Mon, 14 Apr 1997, Ajit Sinha wrote:
>> ... The slogan that wages are determined by
>> "class-struggle" usually means that wages are determined by a
>> bargaining process over the net output between the workers and the
>> capitalists. This completely does away with the historical and
>> cultural aspect of wages and its prior determination in the context of
>> production of surplus as streatching of the labor-time beyond the
>> necessary labor-time. All these ideas are extremely important to Marx.
>> You will find that people who raise the slogan that wages are
>> determined in the "class-struggle" are always in favour of the *given*
>> money wages over the idea of *given* real wages....
> Paul

  My answer as to whether Ajit has described my position accurately is no,
but there is nevertheless a real difference in our positions (and he may
think he is describing my position).
  Ajit said in 4786, responding to Patrick:
 " My point is that in the long term perspective money wages
adjust to real wages. Even when the class-struggle has influence (ie. upward
influence), it must be on real wages and not just money wages. When you take
real wages as determined in a socio-historical process, ie. independent of
the determination of the prices of other commodities, then you can work out
an objective measure of exploitation. Because the necessary labor is given,
and any amount of labor beyond that is surplus labor, which is the
streaching of labor-time beyond the necessary labor. So you can define
exploitation at the level of production."
   With one exception, I agree with this. It is Marx's basic point-- in
order to grasp the nature of exploitation, we have to begin by treating the
standard of necessity, the real wage, as a given magnitude. Marx argued that
the Physiocrats, in doing this, laid the foundation for the analysis of
capital. And, he noted, that if they made the mistake of treating this
standard as "an unchangeable magnitude," this in no way affected "the
abstract correctness of their conclusions." Ie. if you want to understand
the nature of capital, this is the way to proceed--- and, it is the way that
Marx proceeded in Capital.
   However, to ask how real wages are determined and how they change is a
quite different question. (It is one that Marx explicitly assigned to the
book on wage labour.) To limit one's self to the statement that money wages
adjust to real wages (which Ajit makes above) leaves one without an
explanation of how real wages change. The argument I made in my book (the
*other* Beyond Capital) is that once we relax the assumption of the given
level of real wages, then we find that movements in money wages, insofar as
they are not transient, will lead to changes in the standard of necessity;
ie., as Marx noted, the increase in wages will allow workers to satisfy
social needs "that previously did not enter the area of their consumption"
and, as Engels commented that without trade unions, "the work-people
gradually get accustomed to a lower and lower standard of life." (Seems
pretty straight-forward to me.)
  One implication, then, that I pointed out is that for this "peculiar"
commodity which contains a "historical or social element" which can be
expanded or contracted, the tendency is for the value of labour-power to
adjust to its price--- rather than the reverse. Perhaps this type of
heretical statement (heretical in that it is the opposite of Marx's in
Value, Price and Profit) is what Ajit has in mind.
    in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 872-0494; Home fax: (604) 872-0485
Lasqueti Island: (250) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca