HOME
        TheInfoList






Surplus labour (German: Mehrarbeit) is a concept used by Karl Marx in his critique of political economy. It means labour performed in excess of the labour necessary to produce the means of livelihood of the worker ("necessary labour"). The "surplus" in this context means the additional labour a worker has to do in his/her job, beyond earning his own keep. According to Marxian economics, surplus labour is usually uncompensated (unpaid) labour.

In this case, more work effectively exchanges for less work, and a greater value exchanges for a less

In this case, more work effectively exchanges for less work, and a greater value exchanges for a lesser value, because some possess a stronger market position, and others a weaker one. For the most part, Marx assumed equal exchange in Das Kapital, i.e. that supply and demand would balance; his argument was that even if, ideally speaking, no unequal exchange occurred in trade, and market equality existed, exploitation could nevertheless occur within capitalist relations of production, since the value of the product produced by labour power exceeded the value of labour power itself. Marx never completed his analysis of the world market however.

In the real

In the real world, Marxian economists like Samir Amin argue, unequal exchange occurs all the time, implying transfers of value from one place to another, through the trading process. Thus, the more trade becomes "globalised", the greater the intermediation between producers and consumers; consequently, the intermediaries appropriate a growing fraction of the final value of the products, while the direct producers obtain only a small fraction of that final value.

The most important unequal exchange in the world economy nowadays concerns the exchange between agricultural goods and industrial goods, i.e. the terms of trade favour industrial goods against agricultural goods. Often, as Raul Prebisch already noted, this has meant that more and more agricultural output must be produced and sold, to buy a given amount of industrial goods. This issue has become the subject of heated controversy at recent WTO meetings.

The practice of unequal or unfair exchange does not presuppose the capitalist mode of production, nor even the existence of money. It only presupposes that goods and services of unequal value are traded, something which has been possible throughout the whole history of human trading practices.

According to economist Fred Moseley, "neoclassical economic theory was developed, in part, to attack the very notion of surplus labour or surplus value and to argue that workers receive all of the value embodied in their creative efforts."[4]

Some basic modern criticisms of Marx's theory can be found in the works by Pearson, Dalton, Boss, Hodgson and Harris (see references).

The analytical Marxist John Roemer challenges what he calls the "fundamental Marxian theorem" (after Michio Morishima) that the existence of s

Some basic modern criticisms of Marx's theory can be found in the works by Pearson, Dalton, Boss, Hodgson and Harris (see references).

The analytical Marxist John Roemer challenges what he calls the "fundamental Marxian theorem" (after Michio Morishima) that the existence of surplus labour is the necessary and sufficient condition for profits. He proves that this theorem is logically false. However, Marx himself never argued that surplus labour was a sufficient condition for profits, only an ultimate necessary condition (Morishima aimed to prove that, starting from the existence of profit expressed in price terms, we can deduce the existence of surplus value as a logical consequence). Five reasons were that:

All that Marx really argued was that surplus labour was a necessary feature of the capitalist mode of production as a general social condition. If that surplus labour did not exist, other people could not appropriate that surplus labour or its products simply through their ownership of property.

Also, the amount of unpaid, voluntary and housework labour performed outside the world of business and industry, as revealed by time use surveys, suggests to some feminists (e.g. Marilyn Waring and Maria Mies) that Marxists may have overrated the importance of industrial surplus labour performed by salaried employees, because the very ability to perform that surplus-labour, i.e. the continual reproduction of labour power depends on all kinds of supports involving unremunerated work (for a theoretical discussion, see the reader by Bonnie Fox). In other words, work performed in households—often by those who do not sell their labour power to capitalist enterprises at all—contributes to the sustenance of capitalis

Also, the amount of unpaid, voluntary and housework labour performed outside the world of business and industry, as revealed by time use surveys, suggests to some feminists (e.g. Marilyn Waring and Maria Mies) that Marxists may have overrated the importance of industrial surplus labour performed by salaried employees, because the very ability to perform that surplus-labour, i.e. the continual reproduction of labour power depends on all kinds of supports involving unremunerated work (for a theoretical discussion, see the reader by Bonnie Fox). In other words, work performed in households—often by those who do not sell their labour power to capitalist enterprises at all—contributes to the sustenance of capitalist workers who may perform little household labour.

Possibly the controversy about the concept is distorted by the enormous differences with regard to the world of work:

Countries differ greatly with respect to the way they organise and share out work, labour participation rates, and paid hours worked per year, as can be easily verified from ILO data (see also Rubery & Grimshaw's text). The general trend in the world division of labour is for hi-tech, financial and marketing services to be located in the richer countries, which hold most intellectual property rights and actual physical production to be located in low-wage countries. Effectively, Marxian economists argue, this means that the labour of workers in wealthy countries is valued higher than the labour of workers in poorer countries. However, they predict that in the long run of history, the operation of the law of value will tend to equalize the conditions of production and sales in different parts of the world.[5]

See also