Your money but whose time?
I suppose it took nearly 100 years to happen - which cannot be bad - but why it happened can be learned from reading Das Capital.
Marx defines exchange value in terms of the hours one spends in the production of good. A thing cost more (or ought to cost more) if it takes longer to produce. Capitalism is then in a very real sense for Marx the system in which individuals exchange, one with the other, the hours of their lives. What makes it powerful is then that by my putting some of the hours of my life at your disposal, you get to be, and do more things. You can have shoes without being a cobbler, or law without being a lawyer, or travel without too much hassle. Capitalism is therefore in Marx’s argument so powerful because it exists as a way of pooling human action. Our lives become in the exchange of commodities caught up with and able to use one another.
Marx has two natural limits’ of this pooling
The first of these limits is the assumption that their will always be a medium, a tangible reality, which forms the gold standard of exchange. There needs then he suggests to be a product whose production is difficult and availability is relatively scarce. This product forming the standard against which all others are valued. Gold and silver therefore form a single yardstick, or monetary clock against which the value of an action was measured.
Secondly Max suggests there must be somewhere in the system some group of people who are working for mere subsidence. Sweat shops form then the basic unit of production in the system. Their role is therefore to literally ‘price’ the value of profit. This is because that while the amount they are paid is fixed (by their biological) need, what that labour is used for And how productive is might be) is open, and can change. Technological advance is therefore able to make the same group of workers achieve more, for the same basic pay. A capitalists profits lie then in getting more form their workers for the same or less pay.
Over the century and three quarters since Marx’s time this last limit has been slowly mitigated or perhaps watered down. The number of workers paid subsistence has been reduce (although somewhere in the system there will always be those workers). A capitalist found that they make profit by merely ‘underpaying’ their work force. That is, by agreeing with the work force that it is a part of their role to increase what they can do for the same basic pay (that is to make productivity increase the condition of employment)..
Likewise for around a century we have lacked the gold standard, and it has all appeared to work.
And yet, for Marx at least the lack of these limit or the removal of one and watering down of the other ought to have been critical, for without these limit who can say what value to put on the hour of a life? Are they not actually ‘valueless’? Or is not their use value beyond any price? How can they be judged if not against either one particularly dangerous and difficult job (gold production?). or the ‘cost; of subsidence?
The temptation grows up either to over pay workers (the city was rater prone to this),; or pay them in kind (expenses); or to encourage them to double their money through credit.
That is, it is the role of credit to express this ambivalence. This is because, when it is no longer clear what could compensate one frittering ones a life away at job, credit became an appropriate ‘additional’ pay. Credit in effect doubles or trebles the (exchange) value of ones pay. It opens one up to greater possibilities in the present, at the cost of miring one further and further within the (purely relative) system. One stopped working for the here and how, and rather got caught up in a system where one pay now pays for past debt; and/or ones pay now allows one to make purchases based on future work. All the draconian and spartan Rhyme and reason Marx was so aware of, was therefore excluded from the system (as was of course the revolution) .
A system without any real ground was created. A system waiting to crash. A fact that surely spawned three further mysteries: Why did it take so long? How can we find a way to pool our labor now ? And finally can we ever actually produce a system that moves beyond that problem of sweat shops? Or will subsidence wages, that produce profit by squeezing the poorest people in the system, to produce ‘real’ profits, become once again our only possible redemption? They suffer so we can thrive...