Key Topics Covered Work and production Different kinds of work Work and employment Paid and unpaid work Working with tools Technology and tools Defining capital
Key Terms Introduced work production value value-added employment paid work unpaid work labour theory of value productivity subsistence surplus tools capital physical capital fixed capital technique of production technology skills
What is Work? Any productive human activity. The only thing that adds value to the materials we harvest from nature. Comes in many forms, many social arrangements. Not just a means to an end, or a necessary evil… –Work can also be a source of meaning, gratification, and social connection.
Job Well Done Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing. Teddy Roosevelt
Work and Employment Employment is just one form of work. –Work performed for someone else, under their direction, in return for payment. A defining feature of capitalism: –Employment (or wage labour) constitutes most of the work performed in the formal economy. Most people are wage labourers: –They must find and keep employment in order to support themselves.
Forms of Work Under Capitalism Employment is not the only kind of work under capitalism. –Though it is the most important. Other forms of work co-exist: –Managerial work of company executives. –Work of self-employed small business owners and farmers. –Unpaid (reproductive) work performed in our families & communities. The vast majority of work in capitalism is paid wage labour, or unpaid reproductive work (needed to get ready for wage labour).
Wage Labour: An Inclusive Definition A misleading ideology suggests that youre not a worker unless you work in manual labour (factory, blue-collar, etc.). This is objectively false. Workers with higher education, who work in offices, who earn salaries, still fit the definition of a worker: –Performing work for someone else, under their direction, in return for payment. They are still fully dependent on their employer, and still face an inherent tussle with them over the terms & conditions of work.
Spot the Worker White-collar or blue-collar. Goods industry or service industry. High-skilled or less skilled. Salaried or paid by the hour. Private sector or public sector. All these people work for someone else, in return for payment. All depend on their employer. All can be disposed of when they are no longer needed.
Outsourcing Wage Labour Some employers have tried to convert paid workers into contractors. Does this mean they arent workers anymore? They are still workers: –They still depend on the employer for work. –They still perform that work under the employers direction. –They still perform the work for payment. The only change: They are now paid worse, with no benefits, and are more insecure. More broadly, most self-employment is also poorly paid and insecure. –Being your own boss is usually very hard.
Work and Value Two sources of value in the economy: 1.Free gifts of nature: Things that can be harvested directly from the environment. 2.Value-added through work (productive human activity). Work is the only thing that adds value to the things we find in nature. –All value-added depends on work.
The Labour Theory of Value Classical economists recognized that work is the source of value-added. David Ricardo developed a Labour Theory of Value: –Prices of goods depend on the amount of labour required to produce them. Marx recognized this was wrong. –Under capitalism, profit is paid out, and this also affects prices. –Two products requiring equal labour, but paying different amounts of profit, will have different prices.
Working With Tools Nobody works only with their bare hands. Humans learned very early that working with tools makes us more productive. –Even many animals know this! Tools allow us to: –Produce more output. –Produce higher quality output (goods and services that we couldnt produce without the right tools). Humans learn by doing: –The more we work, the more we find better ways to work (including new tools).
Where Do Tools Come From? Like any other product, tools are produced by work. –Intermediate good: Something that is produced to then produce something else (rather than consumed). Think of working with tools as a two-stage, indirect way of working: 1.First we work to produce the tool. 2.Then we use the tool to perform our end task. But remember: Humans did all the work. –The tools themselves are not productive. And merely owning a tool is not a productive act.
Technology and Tools Technology is the knowledge that we work better, when we use tools. –Technology is not the tools themselves. Under new technology, our work can become more and more productive. –But the tools themselves are not. Even the most automated assembly line depends fully on work for anything to happen: –Work to produce the assembly line. –Work to maintain it in good working order. –Work to operate it (at least press go).
Example: A Farm Without a tractor, farmers are unproductive. How to increase productivity: 1.Spend some time building a tractor. 2.Use the tractor to grow crops. The tractor does not do the work; it is not productive. Its knowledge that makes the farmers productive.
Demystifying Capital Capital is just the economic term for tools. Physical capital: real, tangible products used to produce other products. –Distinct from financial capital, which is just money. Fixed capital: long-lived, used in a workplace. –Structures: buildings, offices, stores. –Machinery and equipment: computers, assembly lines, hand tools, transportation equipment. –Infrastructure: roads, bridges, utilities. Working capital: the value of raw materials, inventories, and other items used up in production.
Work and Surplus Collectively, society must perform enough work to meet its needs for survival, and to allow for production to occur again next year. Example: Growing corn. –Need enough corn to eat. –Plus some corn to replant as seeds. If society can produce more than enough to do that, it produces a surplus. The surplus can be reinvested, consumed, or wasted. Crucial issue: who controls the surplus?
Work, Profit, and Value Neoclassical theory: Profit reflects a payment to the productivity of capital. –Attempt to justify capitalism as fair. –But the theory did not succeed: it cannot be proven that produced goods (capital, tools, etc.) are themselves productive. Marx: Profit comes from exploitation, and is part of the surplus. –Payment to owners of capital reflects their social power, not the productivity of tools. Sraffa: Wages and profits are inversely related; profit is paid from the surplus.
Historical Note: Piero Sraffa Italian economist based at Cambridge, U.K. Developed a theory of prices dependent on direct & indirect labour and payment of profit. With modern algebra, showed that wages and profits are inversely related, and that profits are paid from the economic surplus. This is the basis for a theory of exploitation, if desired (dont need a labour theory of value). Piero Sraffa
Theories of Capital and Profit In a system of private property, the tractors owner can charge rent for it. –This assumes that the farmers cannot build their own tractor (due to patents, lack of knowledge, up-front costs). Neoclassical theory tried to argue that capital is productive (and hence profit is justified) on two grounds: –The tractor itself is actually productive. –The owner waited, and should be paid for that patience. Neither approach succeeded.
The Surplus Approach to Understanding Profit Capital is not itself productive. The owners of capital have social power. That allows them to collect income purely from their ownership status. –Not through actual work. That income is paid from the surplus. Fluctuations in their power determine fluctuations in profits. –Example: rise in profits under neoliberalism reflects power of wealth-owners, not better productivity of their capital.