The Real Movement

Communism is free time and nothing else!

Month: February, 2014

How does superfluous labor time alter the impact of labor hours reduction on profits

In my last post I showed why I think a reduction in hours of labor would affect the “economy” the same way as a crisis brought on by the falling rate of profit does. The reduction of hours of labor has the effect of withdrawing a portion of the surplus labor time of the working class from exploitation and of reducing the time available to capitalists for production of surplus value.

However, so long as the labor time withdrawn from the capitalist does not reduce hours of labor below the duration necessary for the reproduction of the labor power of the working class, the working class should suffer no change in its material standard of living. The reduction only affects capital and has the same impact as a rise in the organic composition of capital. In this case, however, the rise in the organic composition of capital is achieved by a forcible reduction in hours of living labor imposed by the actions of the working class, rather than by an increase in the proportion of constant capital to variable capital resulting from a crisis of overproduction.

I think this is correct and would appreciate any input others might have on this question.

In my last post I deliberately left out the question of the role superfluous labor plays in this problem; however, in reality the efficiency of the employment of capital in the course of the labor day is not 100%. Some portion Photograph_of_President_Truman_with_his_some_of_his_top_advisers,_upon_his_return_to_Washington_from_the_Wake_Island..._-_NARA_-_200236of the labor day is wasted, i.e., does not produce value and, therefore, does not count as productive labor time. The portion of the labor day that might fall under this heading has been calculated by various yardsticks by both bourgeois simpletons and by labor theorists. The estimate employed by Borsch-Supan is that wasted labor time amounts to anywhere from 10% to 30% of the typical labor day. On the other hand, labor theorists, employing different measures from bourgeois economists and even among themselves arrive at between 50% and 66% of the typical working day. My own calculation, based on a comparison of currency prices to commodity money prices, finds this wasted labor time now amounts to more than 90% of the labor day.

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How might a reduction of hours of labor affect profits?

stock_chartAfter realizing Borsch-Supan ignored the impact of labor hours reduction on profits — he never mentions profits even once in the entire paper — it finally sunk into my thick skull that “the economy” would respond to a reduction in hours of labor in much the same way that it responds to a fall in the rate of profit resulting from other causes. This had occurred to me perhaps a year ago, but somehow I forgot it when looking at Borsch-Supan’s paper. That  realization was triggered by this ridiculous statement:

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How do wages and prices respond to a reduction in hours of labor?

In this post I show the surprising results of the empirical literature on hours of labor reduction: Contrary to the commonsense assumption, if hours of labor are reduced, the reduction will probably have no impact on wages at all.

Borsch-Supan states there are arguments for the idea reducing hours of labor will reduce the rate of unemployment, but these arguments rest on assumptions that go against the empirical evidence (which he calls “counterfactuals”). The question he asks us to ponder is whether, based on empirical evidence, there is a case for the idea employment will increase if hours of labor are reduced.

wal-mart-relies-on-taxpayers-to-subsidize-low-wagesBy contrast, there is no basis for such an argument within labor theory, because the expansion of employment in labor theory is determined by the rate of surplus value and, all else held equal, the quantity of surplus value produced is a function of the duration of labor. If the duration of labor is reduced, the mass of surplus value will also be reduced; if the mass of surplus value is reduced, the rate of expansion of the existing capital (new employment of living labor) must also fall.

At the same time, a reduction in the mass of surplus value produced means the mass of profits have fallen, since profits are nothing more than the mass of surplus value divided by the total capital invested. Since profit is the motive of capitalist production, the capitalist will again take steps to increase profits by further reducing wages. How this is done is not important at this point, but in labor theory there is no reason to assume fewer hours of labor increases employment — just the opposite: fewer hours of labor accelerates the reduction of living labor in production.

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What Borsch-Supan overlooked in his discussion of the economic impact of reducing hours of labor

How reducing hours of labor affects the so-called economy is, according to Borsch-Supan, determined by six questions:

  1. What effect does reduction have on wages?
  2. What effect does reduction have on productivity?
  3. What effect does reduction have on expansion of constant capital?
  4. What effect does reduction have on workers’ overtime?
  5. What effect does reduction have on prices?
  6. What effect does reduction have on output?

great-depression2soup-lineIf you notice, the questions Borsch-Supan asks actually can be reduced to three:

First, his questions on productivity (1) and output (6) are simply two side of the same coin. How much of any reduction in hours of labor result in an improvement in the productivity of labor power?

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A simpler, more elegant, route to communism

An increasing number of folks have been raising the question about hours of labor and the problem of what David Graeber called “bullshit jobs”. vietnamsI have spent some time on the subject in the past few months, but feel it necessary to return to the question again, since I have just come across a paper appearing to refute the idea. The paper by the bourgeois simpleton economist, Axel Borsch-Supan, purports to lay out the argument against a reduction of hours of labor. It is an interesting read because the guy, who is clearly an opponent of reducing hours of labor, thinks he can be trusted to state the case on its behalf.

And, bizarrely enough, instead of refuting the idea, Borsch-Supan actually may have ended up making an argument on its behalf.

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“Proletarians are overwhelmingly women of color residing in postcolonial countries”


Chris Cutrone made comments on my series on privilege theory and Marxism which I think are highly relevant and deserve to be addressed. I print his entire comment below, followed by my response.

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Some (not so) final thoughts on privilege theory and Marxism

6: Communism and the complete indifference of the most privileged workers to the rest of the class

If “orthodox” Marxists were being the least bit honest in the debate over privilege, they would have to admit that the overthrow of the capitalists does not of itself and cannot eradicate inequality within the working class. police-beating-kids-2Why they make such a fuss on this point and cannot accept this admission as the starting point of an honest debate is beyond me. They continue to insist that getting rid of the capitalists of itself is sufficient to end all inequality, when this argument is clearly untenable.

No less than Marx himself explained that the overthrow of the capitalists does not do away with inequality, but only the inequality that rests on private ownership of the means of production. This form of inequality is done away with — no longer is a parasitic stratum of society able to live off the labor of others. However it must be admitted openly, as Marx himself did, that getting rid of the parasites will still leave us confronting what is likely to be historically unprecedented levels of inequality within the working class.

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Notes on privilege theory’s critique of Marxism (5)

Continued from here

5. Marx as the first privilege theorist?: Competition and privilege in labor theory

At the beginning of this series on privilege theory, I suggested that the debate between privilege theory advocates and “orthodox” Marxists could be simplified to two conflicting propositions:

Proposition 1. With the overthrow of capitalism, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression will be done away with.


Proposition 2. Racism, sexism and other forms of privilege cannot be ended simply by overthrowing capitalism.

744px-Omaha_courthouse_lynchingI called the first the “orthodox” Marxist position, but my employment of the phrase was never meant to suggest the “orthodox” view was the position of either Marx or Engels. In fact, contrary to what is now known as the “orthodox” Marxist position, Marx himself agreed with much of what might be called the privilege theory position.

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Notes on privilege theory’s critique of Marxism (4)

Continued from here

4. Privilege theory, racism and competition within the working class

The argument that the victory of the Nazis resulted as much from the divisions within the working class as from the rule of the capitalist class and its state is difficult for most Marxists to accept.

For Marxists, the divisions within the proletariat are one thing, while the rule of capital is another, separate, thing. The relation between the two is rarely discussed and, if at affirmative-action-in-america-is-a-total-failureall, only in relation to the effort the capitalist class makes to employ the divisions of the proletariat against it. In this very limited, naive, context, the divisions within the class are ascribed to the domination of the bourgeois class and its ideology. If finally the Marxist must accept that there are divisions within the proletariat like racism, nevertheless he does this only to insist these divisions are part of a strategy of divide and conquer pursued by the other class. The idea that the divisions within the class have material causes apart from the efforts by the capitalists to exploit them, is seen as some sort of anti-working class hysteria.

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Notes on privilege theory’s critique of Marxism (3)

Continued from here

3. Privilege theory, fragmentation and the rise of Hitler

One of the problems with the debate between the privilege theory advocates and opponents is the lack of perspective. In particular, the legacy of slavery in the Adolf Hitler with Hess and Goebbels, c 1939-1945."United States has few counterparts in the rest of the world. This appears to put both advocates and opponents of privilege theory in the position of trying to analyze what at first seems like a one off event. Making sense of the issues in the debate is harder because there are few other examples of a working class as riven by the sort of unrelenting racism the US working class suffers (South Africa, Rhodesia and Israel come to mind).

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