This blog used to be about politics. Not so much anymore as I have worked through
my fascination with that subject. It now seems appropriate that with a new president
and the end of the Bush nightmare that I move on to new subjects that are more in
line with my current interests. I may still occasionally express an opinion about
political matters but for the most part I will be commenting on music, photography
and personal observations. Thank you for reading.
Plucked from the Ether
Posted by a Jordon over at the comments section of Tacitus
Labor itself has a cost, naturally, which is the subsistence of the laborer for a day's work. However a worker is able to produce more value in a day than it costs to eat, and so real wages typically fall somewhere between the subsistence of the worker and the exchangable and usable value of their work. Here is where the dirty part comes in. Marx calls the difference between subsistence cost of the worker and exchange value of the product "surplus value." Capitalism is the system wherein the capitalist has a vested interest in keeping as much of that surplus value as possible. There are "nice" factory owners just as there are nice drug dealers, who have profit sharing plans with workers, etc., but the ones intent on outbidding their competitors, etc. will keep the real wages as low as possible, since these are the source of "surplus value" and therefore profit.
So one of the functional centers of capitalism is a contract negotiation between the worker and the capitalist for a wage. Now I'm guessing Nikita will offer at this point a version of caveat emptor, that the laborer and the employer, being free individuals in an ideal unconstrained market, go into this negotiation as rational decision makers bearing full responsibility for their end of the contract. Marx holds that this aspect of capitalism is de facto evil, and one of the points which will unify the workers in anger against the capitalists. I disagree with Marx - I think there is room for a negotiation in which the worker gives up some of the value produced in exchange for more than a living wage.
But the problem is that both sides in this negotiation, like in so many economic transactions each one of us is familiar with, have very strong incentives to deceive, bluff, intimidate, cajole, etc. to get the best possible deal. In real practice in life, this goes on all the time. Employers make false promises or otherwise create barriers and false impressions to keep the wage low; workers lie on their resumes, form labor unions, threaten to strike, etc., to get a better deal for themselves. This is all part of the normal practice of capitalism - rational individuals responding to conditions inherent in the system.
Familiar so far, right? Here's the problem. Many folks like me feel that the wage contract negotiation is NOT really a square deal for the worker/employee. Especially not in today's environment of supranational corporations. Corporations have been able to invest huge resources in hedging their own bets - creating entire fields of science with names like "human resources" to ensure they keep wages as close to open revolt levels as possible. Employers are much better at lying and intimidating than a given worker, who is typically a young poorly educated person without much experience in the world. Ask the 12 year old Vietnamese girl who stitched the labels on your Nikes how her wage negotiations with the shoe factory owner went.
For those who hold that industrialization of the third world is a "good thing" because it brings economic advances to backward agrarian countries, remember that what is being brought to those countries is usually a lot like 18th-19th century British factory capitalism, whose grotesque abuses of laborers were what led Marx & Engels to write in the first place. Also remember that the large populations of urban children and women third world factories rely on have been driven out of traditional agrarian villages by the same processes of industrialization.
Ok, the quick point here - large corporate employers have a vested interest in maintaining a large pool of uneducated, disorganized, impoverished laborers. And when laborers in one area get better organized (Detroit), they move to another area where the fruit is ripe for picking.
35 yr old
Voted for Kerry
Voted for Obama
22.3% Less Smart