Re: [OPE-L] GLW review of Frances Wheen's _Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography_

From: ajit sinha (sinha_a99@YAHOO.COM)
Date: Fri Oct 27 2006 - 08:36:07 EDT

--- glevy@PRATT.EDU wrote:

> Green Left - Review: Revisiting Marx's kapital idea
>       25 October 2006
>       Issue #688
>             REVIEW
>             Revisiting Marx's kapital idea
>             Alex Miller
>             20 October 2006
>             Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography
>             By Frances Wheen
>             Allen & Unwin 2006
>             130 pages $22.95
Wheen does a good job of destroying some of the myths
surround the book. An example concerns the familiar
claim that
Marx’s predictions about the progressive
immiseration of the
proletariat under capitalism have been refuted by the
development of capitalism in the late 20th and early
centuries: “Countless pundits have taken this to
mean that
capitalism’s swelling prosperity would be achieved
by an
absolute reduction in the workers’ wages and
standard of
living, and they have found it easy to mock. Look at
working classes of today, with their cars and
microwave ovens:
not very immiserated, are they?”

            Wheen points out that the idea that Marx
has been refuted
this way is based on a complete misreading of chapter
25 of
Das Kapital: Marx in fact argued only that under
there would be a relative — as opposed to absolute
decline in wages, and Wheen shows that this is in fact
“demonstrably true”.
What could a relative decline in wage mean in this
context? Suppose wages were 2 kgs. of corn per hour of
labor and it rose to 3kgs. of corn per hour. Now how
could there be a relative decline in wages? Sounds not
relatively but absolutely ridiculous.

            In addition, Wheen makes the excellent
point that
“immiseration” concerns not just the wages
receive, but how long and how hard they have to work
in order
to get them. And in fact, “The average British
employee now
puts in 80,224 hours over his or her working life, as
69,000 hours in 1981. Far from losing the [capitalist]
ethic, we seem ever more enslaved by it”.
But shouldn't the comparison be from at least 1867?
And in that case, where would Mr. Wheen be? By the
way, it is not clear how to interpret the data on
"working life". One would expect the working life of
today's workers to be much higher than the working
life of 18th or 19th century workers. If the workers
used to work 16 hours a day in a highly poluted
environment and died at the average age of 35 years,
he might work less hours during his life time than a
worker working 8 hours a day in a relatively clean
environment and work till the age of 65 years on the
average. But whose is better off? This kind of
statistics makes no sense to me. It should at least be
in terms of a year and not "a workers working life".
And again what if you look at the same data for
France? Why not think through before making such
arguments? Cheers, ajit sinha

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