[OPE-L:5084] Re: question

Michael Williams (mwilliam@compuserve.com)
Tue, 20 May 1997 15:34:56 -0700 (PDT)

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>I think 1[> >1. The partial truths of human capital theory
> >Labour-power, as an inseparable capacity of all human beings in the
> >bourgeois epoch, is produced, not under capitalist relations of
> >but in the private sphere. What is more it is not 'produced' with a view
> >exchanging it. It is my reading of the 'domestic labour' debates of the
> >1970s that they concluded that whatever goes on in the family, it is not
> >value creation, and certainly not valorisation.] is not relevant *here*;

Michael W:
Hopefully we can come back to why you think this, when the time-pressures
on you ease a little. My point is simply that since L-P is not produced as
a Commodity, its 'production' (in fact 'creation') is not subject to the
social imperative of the Value economy, even though the household
necessities required for its creation are, of course, bought in as
Commodities, using the income generated by its sale as if it were a
Commodity. This is part of the ground for why Labour is sole source of new
Value - that it is the vital force, that enters Commodity circulation from
'outside' the cmp.

>[I] disagree with 2 [> > It has no Value related to the Abstract labour
needed for its
> >reproduction. (This of course is in disagreement with the 'linear
> >production' view that underlying the wage is a bundle of subsistence
> >commodities, that do indeed have a labour value.) Rather it is the
> >of value];

Michael W
This too needs further discussion. It follows from 1., since its
'production' is not subject to the imperatives of the Value economy.

>5 may be interpreted
> differently according to the different solution in 2.

Michael W:
I would be interested to hear you develop this, idc.

> though labour power is not the outcome of a private decision to produce
> it is nevertheless something which the workers are compelled to sell on
> labour market against money (this I call a commodity),

Michael W:
I agree with this - except your parenthetical conclusion. L-P is traded as
if it were a Commodity, but it is not, and cannot (under cmp) be one (eg,
Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World' could not be capitalistic. Once workers
were produced - cloned? - in capitalist factories, there could be no more
free wage labour, the specific difference of the cmp.) More concretely, the
commodification of L-P is an unrealisable ambition of Capital. The last 20
years (of, eg 'Thatcherism' in the UK) has seen dramatic gains by Capital
in the struggle to increase the recommodification of L-P-( and it does not
seem likely that 'New Labour' 'Blairism' has the either the will or the
ability to exert decommodifying pressures.) It would be difficult to
adequately conceptualise this crucial moment of class antagonism were we to
simply assume that L-P is perfectly 'commodified' ab initio.

> they can buy only on the commodity market a share of the real output
> depends by (money and industrial) capital's choices about this latter,
> which are some specific use values.

Whilst it is true that workers can obtain useful objects only as the
use-values of Commodities made available by the capitalist system, and it
is also true that it is possible to theoretically construct a use-value
basket representing an adequate subsistence bundle in any era, this does
not figure in the capital-relation (at any level of abstraction). Capital
'needs' particular kinds of labour, that it can obtain only by buying
labour-power, and seeks to minimize the wage that it must pay. (For ongoing
success, capital must be able to restrict the wage to < the value of the
average product of the labour it mobilises. We can model this using the
'product wage' if you like.) Labour seeks to maximize the wage it receives,
and labour-power will not be reproduced in the medium term unless
w>sufficient to purchase a minimum subsistence bundle of Commodities. (This
can be modelled in terms of the orthodox 'real' wage.) A particular kind of
labour power will only be systematically traded provided that the wage that
enables Capitalists to appropriate surplus-value is adequate to the
reproduction of labour-power. Of course the 'welfare state' modifies this
simple conceptualisation.


> Moreover. If you don't have the labour power as a (very, very,
> very) special commodity, you cannot have the possibility to define and
> measure (potential) surplus value in production. As, I think, you
> consistently maintain.

Michael W:
I think this is connected to your account of the determination of Value in
the macro-circulation of Commodities - is it? I am not sure what it is you
think I 'consistently maintain'. At the micro level, Capital in its
precommensuration calculations (carried out largely in Money terms)
attempts to ascertain that there is indeed a realistic potential for S-V
production, measured in Money terms. The labour employment part of this
calculation can be modelled in terms of the necessity for the expected w to
be < the expected value of the average product of the labour employed.

Another perspective on the non-Commodity nature of L-P is the *complexity*
of w as a price: not only is it the concrete grounding of Value-form
association in labour markets, but it is also the 'income of last resort'
for the labourer, as well as a major macroeconomic factor making aggregate
demand 'effective' in Keynesian terms. I have to admit that my first
thoughts about the 'peculiarity' of L-P as a Commodity emerged as I
struggled to explain (without reverting to simple ethical assertion) to
first year microeconomics students why labour markets are fundamentally
different from 'baked beans' markets - a position not only repeatedly and
explicitly espoused by neo-liberalising politicians, but one implicit (at
least) in orthodox treatments of labour markets. But then, in pursuit of
cognitive dissonance reduction, I was led to develop a consistent
conceptualisation of Labour and Labour-power in my Marxist work.

Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"

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