1980s >> 1987 >> no-995-july-1987
Economics Exposed: The great money trick
The most relevant response to debates about “economics” in the current era is to point out that the present global system of production is based on the legalised robbery of the majority by the minority. As long as the wages system exists, therefore, the needs of the majority cannot properly be met, as production will remain geared to the needs of our employers rather than to the needs of humanity as a whole.
This socialist assertion about the economic system which exists throughout the world today can quite easily be shown to be correct. A recent survey by Management Today has shown that the top hundred British companies have all increased the value of their shares by at least six hundred per cent over the past decade. Now there is a capitalist cliché about “making your money work for you” which is as misleading as statements about the famous billionaire tinfoil-magnate, Lord Skiver, having “built” a palatial residence in the South of France. What it really means is using your money in order to make others work for you. And if I had invested a million pounds in a share portfolio covering those hundred companies ten years ago, I would now have over six million, without even having heard of the companies, let alone worked for them.
This leads us to the key question. Where would my extra five million pounds’ worth of wealth have come from? The honest answer is so simple and obvious that it will give the average economist (who works for money by dealing with such “complex” matters) a bout of apoplexy. This surplus is created simply because the wages and salaries paid to workers by our employers amount to far less than the value of the wealth we are creating. And that surplus value goes directly into the hands of those who own the productive resources in the first place, allowing them to build up their monopoly of the means of survival still further.
The prices of goods and services reflect the “value” label which is pinned on them by the capitalist economic system. These relative “values”, or ratios in which goods and services are exchanged, are determined ultimately by the amount of socially-necessary labour-time required to produce them. In other words, the quantity and quality of human effort involved in producing some finished item (and delivering it to its point of consumption) is what guides capitalism towards determining its price on the market. Within the wages system, however, the working abilities of human beings have themselves been turned into items of purchase. on the labour market. And the wage (or price) needed to buy your creative powers for a given period is determined in the end by the amounts of labour time or social resources required to “produce” you, as reasonably fit for productive work.
Under the influence of these economic laws, then, let us assume you have been employed for a week. The employer may pay £120, in real terms as the price commanded by your working abilities for that week. That may be the minimum amount necessary to supply the housing and sustenance needed to make sure that you are physically and mentally capable of being a productive and profitable investment for that employer. But unlike other items which are bought and sold in the world market, human working time has a special quality. It is the only item which, once bought, will then proceed to create new values, new wealth. Other investments may seem “productive”, but in all cases it is human labour alone which is responsible for generating socially recognised wealth or value.
Having hired you for the week for £120, the boss can rely on you to produce new value substantially in excess of this, even allowing for “overheads” such as paying for fuel and other services, raw materials and the depreciation of machinery. The simple fact is that given access to natural resources and twentieth century technology, one worker can produce the basic material necessities for one person in a fraction of each day, or week, or year. In a sane system of society this would happen, and the remaining time could be spent in constantly refining and improving life, in addition to safely and happily guaranteeing decent food and housing for every human being. In capitalist terms, however, those few hours taken by each worker each week helping to produce (directly or indirectly) the equivalent of their own bare means of survival, is seen merely as “the reproduction of the value of labour power”, in other words the part of the week during which we create the equivalent of our wage. Any wealth you create in the remainder of the week goes to the owner of the enterprise (who may live a thousand miles away). The penalties for ignoring these present laws are severe in terms of material suffering, as any worker will find if you pack up and go home every Wednesday afternoon, informing your boss that you have finished for the week because you have created the “value” of your wage. This, then, is the legalised robbery which workers have too often been persuaded to vote for.