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The labor theory of value in cartoon form

That's it. Common sense, right?

NOTE Helpfully, not a word about "passion." Or flair.

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CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

He who shall remain nameless says:

[CMike: Labor-power is the capacity, or potential, of an individual to do work. Labor is the work that gets done]

...Labour-power was not always a commodity (merchandise). Labour was not always wage-labour, i.e., free labour. The slave did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner, any more than the ox sells his labour to the farmer. The slave, together with his labour-power, was sold to his owner once for all. He is a commodity that can pass from the hand of one owner to that of another. He himself is a commodity, but his labour-power is not his commodity.

The serf sells only a portion of his labour-power. It is not he who receives wages from the owner of the land; it is rather the owner of the land who receives a tribute from him. The serf belongs to the soil, and to the lord of the soil he brings its fruit.

The free labourer, on the other hand, sells his very self, and that by fractions. He auctions off eight, 10, 12, 15 hours of his life, one day like the next, to the highest bidder, to the owner of raw materials, tools, and the means of life – i.e., to the capitalist. The labourer belongs neither to an owner nor to the soil, but eight, 10, 12, 15 hours of his daily life belong to whomsoever buys them.

The worker leaves the capitalist, to whom he has sold himself, as often as he chooses, and the capitalist discharges him as often as he sees fit, as soon as he no longer gets any use, or not the required use, out of him. But the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labour-power, cannot leave the whole class of buyers, i.e., the capitalist class, unless he gives up his own existence. He does not belong to this or that capitalist, but to the capitalist class; and it is for him to find his man – i.e., to find a buyer in this capitalist class.

[in the original text these paragraphs below lead into those pasted above]

...Consequently, labour-power is a commodity which its possessor, the wage-worker, sells to the capitalist. Why does he sell it? It is in order to live.

But the putting of labour-power into action – i.e., the work – is the active expression of the labourer's own life. And this life activity he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. His life-activity, therefore, is but a means of securing his own existence. He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labour itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another. The product of his activity, therefore, is not the aim of his activity.

What he produces for himself is not the silk that he weaves, not the gold that he draws up the mining shaft, not the palace that he builds. What he produces for himself is wages; and the silk, the gold, and the palace are resolved for him into a certain quantity of necessaries of life, perhaps into a cotton jacket, into copper coins, and into a basement dwelling. And the labourer who for 12 hours long, weaves, spins, bores, turns, builds, shovels, breaks stone, carries hods, and so on – is this 12 hours' weaving, spinning, boring, turning, building, shovelling, stone-breaking, regarded by him as a manifestation of life, as life? Quite the contrary.

Life for him begins where this activity ceases, at the table, at the tavern, in bed. The 12 hours' work, on the other hand, has no meaning for him as weaving, spinning, boring, and so on, but only as earnings, which enable him to sit down at a table, to take his seat in the tavern, and to lie down in a bed....

Submitted by lambert on

This is almost mathematical in its precision and inevitability:

But the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labour-power, cannot leave the whole class of buyers.

Except, I would imagine, by becoming a buyer of labor power themselves, or perhaps by moving to Galt's Gulch, where everybody is a buyer of labor, and yet nobody sells it, because freedom.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

That would undermine the Marxian analysis and go along way toward re-establishing the economic model Adam Smith envisioned. Smith was really writing about pre-industrial capitalism even though he opened Wealth of Nations with that discussion of the pin factory. He envisioned a full employment economy, one in which its sectors were not controlled by guilds or crown charters, an economy in which anyone could choose to enter most any trade, if not profession, when they came of age. Our industrial economy has evolved into one in which the most undesirable work is the poorest paid and while the various professions "workers" do not want to retire from or be forced out of are the highest paid which raises a red flag that something's amiss. Here's Smith on how he saw a fair and efficient market working:

Book I, Chapter 10

The whole of the advantages and disadvantages of the different employments of labour and stock must, in the same neighbourhood, be either perfectly equal or continually tending to equality. If in the same neighbourhood, there was any employment evidently either more or less advantageous than the rest, so many people would crowd into it in the one case, and so many would desert it in the other, that its advantages would soon return to the level of other employments.

This at least would be the case in a society where things were left to follow their natural course, where there was perfect liberty, and where every man was perfectly free both to chuse what occupation he thought proper, and to change it as often as he thought proper. Every man's interest would prompt him to seek the advantageous, and to shun the disadvantageous employment....

The five following are the principal circumstances which, so far as I have been able to observe, make up for a small pecuniary gain in some employments, and counter-balance a great one in others: first, the agreeableness or disagreeableness of the employments themselves; secondly, the easiness and cheapness, or the difficulty and expence of learning them; thirdly, the constancy or inconstancy of employment in them; fourthly, the small or great trust which must be reposed in those who exercise them; and fiftly, the probability or improbability of success in them.

First, The wages of labour vary with the ease or hardship, the cleanliness or dirtiness, the honourableness or dishonourableness of the employment. Thus in most places, take the year round, a journeyman taylor earns less than a journeyman weaver. His work is much easier. A journeyman weaver earns less than a journeyman smith. His work is not always easier, but it is much cleanlier. A journeyman blacksmith, though an artificer, seldom earns so much in twelve hours as a collier, who is only a labourer, does in eight. His work is not quite so dirty, is less dangerous, and is carried on in day-light, and above ground.

Honour makes a great part of the reward of all honourable professions. In point of pecuniary gain, all things considered, they are generally under-recompensed, as I shall endeavour to show by and by. Disgrace has the contrary effect. The trade of a butcher is a brutal and an odious business; but it is in most places more profitable than the greater part of common trades. The most detestable of all employments, that of public executioner, is, in proportion to the quantity of work done, better paid than any common trade whatever....

[There's more, of course.]

I myself am a bit hostile to the MMT related guaranteed make work employment proposals but I think a guaranteed subsistence income along with single-payer healthcare and lifetime free primary, secondary, and higher educational opportunities for everyone would go along way to setting things right in this economy. For starters, people with a guaranteed subsistence income would have to be fairly compensated to perform unpleasant work and wouldn't have to accept unfair labor conditions.

Submitted by lambert on

... or to put it more politlely, a typical misconceptualization. See here starting at "* * *" for context, ending with Mitchell's bulleted list:

One key point is that “the concept of work itself can be broadened to include activities that many would currently dismiss as being leisure”; FDR’s Federal Writers Project (I wish!) would be an example of this, as could almost any form of citizen engagement, from gathering weather data through doing research on public policy (say, landfills). And the second key point is that, for good or ill, work has dignity in a way that cashing a check does not.

Why not redefine the nature of "work"?

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

It's rare to hear an inheritance criticized as something that robs the heir of dignity, "Euro trash," with its comforting misdirection built in, and "trust fund junkie" being two of the few discordant terms the normal conversational flow encounters and rushes past every now and then.

The idea of having as a last resort, of course, first the few and then the many being told by The Man what to do and when to do it for their supper and for the sake of their dignity does not sound very appealing to me. This gets back to your question of "where, then, to look for the edges of edges of capitalism?" Those edges can be sighted in the past bit more clearly than they can be these days, and what with robots, the coming bio-chemical business cycle which will replace the digital based one, and other efficiencies these edges are going to have to be crossed in the not so distant future or they're going to be used to pen in the vast majority of the human population permanently while the today's aristocracy boldly goes where no aristocracy has gone before.

Submitted by lambert on

.. into "told by the man what to do." Well, what if "the man" is democratically controlled structures?

Frankly, I think "write me a check so I can do what I want" is going to be a tough sell. And I'm not even sure the state should be doing that, even under the "provide for the general welfare" clause. If people want to go find, and build, a food forest, say, so they can live by gathering fruit from the trees, as in Amazonia (1491), then classify planting and maintaining the food forest as work, and write a check for that.

Submitted by lambert on

... " “the concept of work itself can be broadened to include activities that many would currently dismiss as being leisure”" am I not hammering hard enough here?

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

It may well be that most members of a society, who are not the children of those to the manner born, would turn themselves into porn fixated couch potatoes if they were guaranteed a lifetime of free lunches. Then again maybe there is some way to scale up the ability of the leisure class to produce individuals who have advanced civilization through what, for them, were avocational pursuits.

Submitted by lambert on

But as a matter of public purpose, I think work (however redefined democratically) is a good thing and to be encouraged. The real problem with a lot of jobs is that they aren't real work.