[OPE-L:1651] wages, productivity and climate

Subject: [OPE-L:1651] wages, productivity and climate
From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Tue Nov 09 1999 - 07:10:00 EST

Re Jurriaan's [OPE-L:1647]:

This discussion has taken an unusual, and unanticipated, shift in

It began with the insertion of [?!, JL] in the following quote from KIII:
> "The actual value of his labour-power diverges from this physical
> minimum; it differs according to climate [?!, JL]

To which Jurriaan replied:
> By "climate" Marx refers among other things to the fact that climate can
> affect the productivity of labour achievable within a given time-period.

Very unsure of what he meant, I asked:
> By increasing or decreasing the intensity of work? Perhaps, but how
> would that change the VLP? I.e. if the intensity of work changed, that
> would change the rate of surplus value, everything else remaining
> constant. Yet a change in the rate of surplus value does not
> necessarily cause a change in the VLP.

JB then responded, in part:

> Agreed. But climate (and geographical circumstances more generally) can
> and do have important effects on economic life. <snip>

This raises two distinct questions:

1) is there a change in the value of labour-power (over and above the
   physical minimum required for subsistence) that can be attributable
   to "climate"?

   This seems to be what Marx is suggesting above ("The actual value of
   his labour-power diverges from this physical minimum; it differs
   according to climate ....").

   I think, therefore, that JB's comment which concerns the possible
   impact of climate on the productivity of labor confuses this question
   with the next (see below). This is because the issue above concerns the
   effect of climate on the VLP rather than on the productivity of labor.

   Nonetheless - I suppose - one could make the claim that laboring in
   different climates might require a different minimum of "physical
   needs". E.g. additional, heavier-weight clothing and more caloric
   and fat intake in colder climates. Then -- so the argument could go --
   these necessary commodities enter into the VLP.

   I don't recall such an argument being made before -- and certainly not
   by Marxists. And, I do not care to make that argument myself. Indeed, I
   am very suspicious of such a claim even if there is a kernel - and only
   a kernel - of truth to it. Such a claim would seem to suggest that
   wages would tend to be higher in the low latitudes (i.e. near the
   poles) and would tend to be lower in the high latitudes (i.e. near the
   equator). Yet, I don't think there is any necessary reason to link
   the VLP in different parts of the world to climate.

   btw, I think we are walking on very shaky ground here. In particular, I
   fear any theory of wages which is based on different physiological
   needs of people. I question whether it is the case scientifically,
   historically, and/or culturally.
3) does the productivity of labor differ by virtue of differing climates
   (and geographies)?

   This is what JB goes on to suggest:

>. In a certain climate, you can for instance produce means of
> subsistence more cheaply with less expenditure of labour than elsewhere.

   This might be the case in certain branches of agricultural production
   (and it could be related to the subject of rent).

> Further, a certain climate simply requires a certain minimum lifestyle
> or living standard as a prerequisite, in order to be able to work
> efficiently and productively.
  When we look at different cultures we may be able to identify differing
  needs (socially understood) in terms of shelter, clothing, food, heat,
  etc. Even these, which *seem* to be physiological needs, are
  socially/historically created needs. That is because what we understand
  to be necessary from a physiological/health perspective is influenced by
  the culture that we are in and varying social understandings and
  histories of struggle.

> The bigger your total social product, the more space
> there is for the development of the "moral-historical" component.
> relates back to our earlier discussion on productive labour.

  An increase in the productivity of labor *only* creates the *formal,
  abstract possibility* of an increase in "moral-cultural" needs and,
  consequently, an increase in the VLP and wages. There is no *necessary*
  link between an increase in the productivity of labor and an increase in
  wages. This seems to be a recurrent difference between our perspectives
  on wages.

> We could experimentally demonstrate all this in detail by taking
> equally qualified workers raised and working in different countries and
> asking them to perform a set labour task in a set time, with a certain
> number of trials, under varying conditions such as climate. I'll wager
> that you will find that workers from some countries will complete that
> task consistently quicker and more efficiently than others, simply
> because of the way their labour-power was formed and the circumstances
> in which they normally work. Take a different task, and other ethnic
> groups will score better.

  I think this would be a meaningless "experiment". The "way their
  labour-power was formed and the circumstances in which they normally
  work" are results not of nature and climate but of training, experience,
  culture, and historical struggles.

  Thus, you could look at how quickly and hard workers work in different
  industrial settings internationally (e.g. auto assembly plants). There
  would be differences, to be sure, with the intensity of labor varying to
  a great extent internationally. Yet, these differences can not be
  attributable to climatic differences or alleged physiological
  differences. Rather, the intensity and efficiency of labor are the
  result of *struggle* by workers and the trade union and class
  consciousness of workers and their history of struggle varies -
  obviously - to a great degree in different nations and regions.
  Btw, in the international auto industry I think one can show that
  workers from different nations who work with the highest average
  intensity of labor often receive the *lowest wages* and vice versa.

  On the other hand, there may be certain kinds of activities like
  mountain-climbing and pearl-diving where the *training* (including
  acquired experience and skill), sometimes beginning from birth, results
  in increased efficiency. Yet, given sufficient time and training others
  could be able to climb mountains as efficiently as Sherpa mountain
  guides or dive for pearls as efficiently as pearl divers from
  some South Pacific islands. In any even, these are not significant from
  a macroeconomic perspective.

In solidarity, Jerry

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