Monday, 13 February 2012

How is the value of labour power set ?

Labour Power as a Commodity: In order that labor power is a commodity, the following conditions must be met:

[1] The individual whose labour-power it is... sells it as a commodity. In order that he may be able to do this, he must have it at his disposal, must be the untrammelled owner of his capacity for labour, i.e., of his person. He and the owner of money meet in the market, and deal with each other as on the basis of equal rights, with this difference alone, that one is buyer, the other seller; both, therefore, equal in the eyes of the law. The continuance of this relation demands that the owner of the labour-power should sell it only for a definite period, for if he were to sell it rump and stump, once for all, he would be selling himself, converting himself from a free man into a slave, from an owner of a commodity into a commodity.

The second essential condition to the owner of money finding labour-power in the market as a commodity is this — that the labourer instead of being in the position to sell commodities in which his labour is incorporated, must be obliged to offer for sale as a commodity that very labour-power, which exists only in his living self.

For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.

How the Value of Labour Power is Determined:

The value of labour-power is the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of the labourer.

The value of labour-power is determined, as in the case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production, and consequently also the reproduction, of this special article. So far as it has value, it represents no more than a definite quantity of the average labour of society incorporated in it. Labour-power exists only as a capacity, or power of the living individual. Its production consequently pre-supposes his existence. Given the individual, the production of labour-power consists in his reproduction of himself or his maintenance. For his maintenance he requires a given quantity of the means of subsistence. Therefore the labour-time requisite for the production of labour-power reduces itself to that necessary for the production of those means of subsistence; in other words, the value of labour-power is the value of the means of subsistence necessary for the maintenance of the labourer....

In the US and the Uk certainly there is what is known as the povety line where every so often it is re examined to how much the minimum level of the cost of surviving for a worker. This varies country to country of course and is hard to work out an actual set figure but each country sets its own povety line which it can move up and down depending on how left or right the government are in power at the time who seak to manage capitalism the best they can by keeping wages low and production high.

The owner of labour-power is mortal. If then his appearance in the market is to be continuous, and the continuous conversion of money into capital assumes this, the seller of labour-power must perpetuate himself, "in the way that every living individual perpetuates himself, by procreation." The labour-power withdrawn from the market by wear and tear and death, must be continually replaced by, at the very least, an equal amount of fresh labour-power. Hence the sum of the means of subsistence necessary for the production of labour-power must include the means necessary for the labourer's substitutes, i.e., his children, in order that this race of peculiar commodity-owners may perpetuate its appearance in the market.

The minimum limit of the value of labour-power is determined by the value of the commodities, without the daily supply of which the labourer cannot renew his vital energy, consequently by the value of those means of subsistence that are physically indispensable. If the price of labour-power fall to this minimum, it falls below its value, since under such circumstances it can be maintained and developed only in a crippled state. But the value of every commodity is determined by the labour-time requisite to turn it out so as to be of normal quality.

Karl Marx
Capital, Vol. 1: The Buying And Selling Of Labour-Power

1 comment:

  1. But, of course, as Marx points out,not all Labour Power is the same. When we look at Concrete Labour, then what is necessary for the reproduction of a Brickies Labourer, is not the same as that required to sustain an office clerk. Marx elaborates this in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, where he demonstrates that short of the abundance of full Communism, it is not possible for everyone to earn the same.

    Consequently, as Marx points out when he speaks of the role of the Historically and Culturally determined part of the Value of Labour Power, societies that have progressed, and require Labour Power of a more developed kind, for example, technologically, and intellectually advanced, have a higher Value of Labour Power, than those at a less developed stage. This is why developed economies could never reduce living standards to the level of say China or India, without bringing about an equivalent reduction in the technological and productive levels of their economy in the bargain.