What’s Black and White and Red All Over?

Pic: US Dept. of Labor (PD)

Turns out that on September 4, 2012 at least, the answer was the New York Times, which today published a startling demonstration by Robert Reich of the core Marxist principle of surplus value at work in the US economy:

Starting in the late 1970s, the middle class began to weaken. Although productivity continued to grow and the economy continued to expand, wages began flattening in the 1970s because new technologies — container ships, satellite communications, eventually computers and the Internet — started to undermine any American job that could be automated or done more cheaply abroad. The same technologies bestowed ever larger rewards on people who could use them to innovate and solve problems. Some were product entrepreneurs; a growing number were financial entrepreneurs. The pay of graduates of prestigious colleges and M.B.A. programs — the “talent” who reached the pinnacles of power in executive suites and on Wall Street — soared.

There’s a picture in the article that shows the striking expansion of productivity as wages remain flat. Compare that with the the “blunt” character of surplus-value as it is explained by Karl Marx in Theories of Surplus Value, based on his discovery of an old anti-capitalist pamphlet published in England in the 1820s:

This scarcely known pamphlet . . . bluntly describes surplus-value—or “profit”, as Ricardo calls it (often also “surplus produce”), or “interest”, as the author of the pamphlet terms it—as “surplus labour”, the labour which the worker performs gratis, the labour he performs over and above the quantity of labour by which the value of his labour-power is replaced, i.e., by which he produces an equivalent for his wages. Important as it was to reduce value to labour, it was equally important [to present] surplus-value, which manifests itself in surplus product, as surplus labour.

Or as Geologic of the Blue Scholars pithily puts it “It seems we never get paid what our labor is worth/That’s why we often in a daze on the way to our work.”

It is certainly interesting to hear this kind of Red thinking sound, even disguised as it is in the gauze of liberal capitalism, in the Grey Lady’s voice. Of course, Robert Reich has been talking like this for years and it hasn’t yet managed to penetrate the thick concrete bunker of false consciousness in which most Americans live. Still, the point is scored by the Marxists this time.

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  • Ted Heistman

    Basically, yeah. You can’t make a profit if you pay people what their labor is worth. Its like, you could say “hey Joe! Good job today! You made me a hundred bucks, so here’s a hundred bucks for you.”

    I mean like what’s the point of that? I think the way to make things slightly better is to have more people working for themselves, but to be really frank, a lot of people think that is too scary and hard and prefer the security of a steady pay check. 

    • mesomovie

      Wow. Where to start? Let’s try this: If a company sells tennis shoes for $100 a pair but it only costs $5 to make the shoes (materials and labor), did the workers receive a fair wage?  (Note: this is actual data.) Most people say “no they did not.”  The company, which is motivated to keep most of the return as profit, will advance, via a PR firm and a ton of overpaid sports performer spokesmen, a lot of smoke and mirror arguments to argue that they NEED that much profit.  Meanwhile, workers (in Thailand and Malaysia) remain mired in poverty, consumers in the US continue to be gouged by ridiculous shoe prices and some rich shoe moguls buy humongous ranches in Colorado for their third trophy wife.

      • Ted Heistman

        Right. And your solution is what?

        • mesomovie

          Workers need to be able to officially vote on the actions of their company on issues like like layoffs, overseas investments, new hiring, overtime etc. 

          • Ted Heistman

            So you like the idea of huge corporations yo just want to see them unionized?

          • mesomovie

            Business structures, large and small, have been inevitable for the better part of the last 2000 years.  Most work for (and own in a small way) these businesses.  The problem is when the self-interest of the minority top of business is destroys the the self interest of the nation and society.

            I am not sure where the union stuff came from – the description above is the way it is in Germany.

      • Ted Heistman

        I suppose there are co-ops and things like that, which i support. Nobody pays laborers what they are worth. Being a laborer is a shit deal, unless you work for yourself. That’s my experience.

        I guess to me, saying things like “Wow that’s wrong! Those rich people should pay those factory workers more! They shouldn’t have such big Yachts!”  Just is like a no brainer. I don’t consider myself all powerful and that my proclamations accomplish anything.

        I am not looking for Utopia, but I think things could be improved with more people owning small businesses which was once more commmon in the US. I am hoping Locally grown food CSA’s and things like that  will catch on more as well as other types of small businesses related to community and sustainibility.

        • mesomovie

          Not even in Adam Smith’s America were there “lots of small businesses.” That’s just a nostalgic trope.  The truth is that there are more small businesses today than ever before!  It just that we see the darkside: failures, strip malls, and the inevitable crushing of successful ones by larger ones. But the reality remains: the engine of the economy still depends on large companies employing people.  And as Marx pointed out in Das Kapital, the disparity between those that control the money and those that make the product will inevitably increase – for no good reason whatsoever except greed.  

  • Threefourdumb

    TAKE THAT YOU CAPITALIST YELLOW DOGS!

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    > Robert Reich has been talking like this for years and
    it hasn’t yet managed to penetrate the thick concrete bunker of false consciousness
    in which most Americans live

    waiting for the herd to awaken
    is similar to watching a pot boil
    especially since the herd is well herded by psyop cowboys

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  • El Pato

    I’m not an economist but I’ve been thinking this:

    How about establishing some sort of minimum livable wage? In some countires that wage would be higher than in others, but in any case countires would agree not to import goods that haven’t been made by workers receiveing the minimum livable wage. And by livable wage I mean the ability to afford housing, decent food, health care, and leisure time.

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