Monday, June 05, 2006

The rate of exploitation in the USA

In Marxist political economy, the rate of exploitation is defined as the ratio between the total amount of unpaid labour carried out (surplus value) and the total amount of wages paid (the value of labour power).

It forms one of the key theoretical bases for the socialist contention that all wage labour is, in its very nature, exploitative.

Now, I’m probably not reading the right specialist journals. But I don’t recall any recent attempts in the left press to calculate this statistic for the major capitalist economies.

But by way of a proxy measurement, here’s a story from today’s Financial Times, which makes the recent trend in the rate of exploitation in the US only too clear:

‘US companies have increased their share of the economic pie at a faster rate over the last five years than at any time since the second world war.

‘Recent government figures show that profits from current production as a share of the national income have risen from 7% in mid-2001 to 12.2% at the start of this year.

‘This rate of growth is unprecedented since collection of these figures begun in 1947.

‘Profits have climbed 123% over the same period, soaring from $714.5bn (£378.89bn) to $1,595.4bn – also the fastest increase since records begun.’

And, as the slogan used to go, what about the workers?

‘As profits have increased as a share of national income, the return going to workers has been in decline, falling from 58.6% in the middle of 2001 to 56.2% in the first quarter of 2006.

‘Paul Donovan, a global economist at UBS, believes that the negotiating position of US workers may have been weakened by globalisation.

‘”The US labour market may be tightening, but there is still an ample supply of workers worldwide, and this may be capping what domestic workers can demand,” he said.’

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