Financialization and Marx — Pt 2. Can the Capitalists Share Surplus Value with the Working Class?

In the last reply, I explained that skilled workers though they receive higher wages than unskilled workers do not appropriate any surplus value. On the contrary, their higher wages reflect the higher value of their labor power.

A single commodity labor power is actually an abstraction. In the real world, there are different types of labor powers—plumbers, carpenters, jewelers, assemblers, and so on with different values. However, from the viewpoint of the industrial capitalists, these different types of labor powers have the same use value, they all produce surplus value.

If one type of labor power, say that of carpenters, had a lower rate of surplus value than other types of labor power, the demand for the commodity carpenter labor power would drop causing the wages of carpenters to drop and raising the rate of surplus value.

Likewise, if the rate of surplus value was higher for carpenter labor power than average, the demand for the commodity carpenter labor power would rise. This would cause the wages of carpenters to rise, lowering the rate of surplus value on carpenter labor power. Therefore, over time—assuming the absence of monopolies—the rate of surplus value produced by each type of labor power tends towards equality with all other types of labor power.

It is extremely inconvenient to treat each type of the commodity labor power as a different type of commodity. So in order to simplify, we make an abstraction. We view each type of skilled commodity labor power as a collection of simple labor powers. Each individual member of the collection—simple labor power—produces on average in an hour an hour of abstract labor—the very substance of value once it becomes embodied in a commodity.

Similarly, a very unskilled type of labor power would represent a fraction of a simple labor power. It might take a number of these labor powers to add up a single simple labor power.

This situation doesn’t exist in reality—it is an abstraction. However, once we make this abstraction, which is made daily though unconsciously in the market place, we simplify the problem greatly. After all, practical businesspeople often talk about “labor” costs without making a distinction between the particular types of “labor.” When businesspeople talk about “labor,” they—and the vulgar economists as well—mean the costs of labor power, since they buy the workers’ ability to work and not “labor.”

Therefore, instead of using the term simple labor power, we simply have to refer to the commodity labor power. I believe that when Marx used the term labor power without qualification, that is what he meant.

Were the higher values of the labor powers of the skilled workers the underlying cause of the betrayal of August 4, 1914?

Read more …

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