Part 1: Purchasing Labour
With two little boys at home, I don’t get out much, so a visit to a new craft brewery in Niagara was an exciting event. Playing it safe, I opted to start with the IPA. It had a nice grapefruit and tangerine aroma that lead into hints of tropical fruit notes followed by a slightly over the top bitterness. There was more than enough potential in this first beer to convince me to purchase a variety of tall cans. In the process of the exchange, I got chatting with the owner who was excited about the growing craft beer movement in Ontario but was worried that the ambition of a few breweries had elevated their production levels beyond the “craft” status. Relaying this story to a friend, I was told that any beer was craft so long as it wasn’t owned by InBev — the corporation responsible for almost 50% of the beer produced in North America that had generated revenue of about 47.06 billion U.S. dollars worldwide in 2014. Bubbling under the surface of the Niagara craft brewer’s concern was, well, beer. He was concerned that the larger the operation, the more likely it was that the passion for beer is eclipsed by the motivation to make money.
In the last post, we learned that according to Marx the only way to generate original value is through labour, the trick that we have yet to discover is how a capitalist generates value using capital alone. This mystery, as we will discover, isn’t all that complicated: to generate value without imputing one’s own labour, the capitalist must exploit someone else’s labour-power. The trick is to find a way of accomplishing this feat without violating the rules of economic exchange.
Part 2: Exploiting Labour
Asking “why read Karl Marx” is a legitimate question. It seems strange to believe that Marx, who wrote 150 years ago, could address current economic and political challenges. Certainly, things have changed in the last 150 years. Marx’s Capital, however, remains relevant in part because it’s an attempt to analyze the experience of capital, an experience that shows no signs of abating. Further, in examining capital, Marx inevitably touches on other integral parts of contemporary life such as money, labour, commodities, markets, value, technology, class relations, etc. Capital is connected to all of these things and in reading Marx we come to understand the consequences of our participation in the economic system. He reminds us that using a cell phone or tapping a credit card aren’t inconsequential actions. The rhythm of daily life has a storied history. Our participation in “the way things are,” has consequences for our lives and the lives of those around us. Even if you ultimately disagree with Marx, grappling with his arguments is an illuminating journey.
This summer was my first substantial introduction to Marx, and I wanted to use a series of posts to highlight a few aspects of his thought that have helped me evaluate my participation in the market. The first two posts are guided by one seemingly simple notion: that money can produce more money. How, for example, does an index fund grow in a capitalist economy. In this first post I explore Marx’s basic definition of capital, while the second one looks at capitalism as a social relation between labour and capital — better known as surplus labour. In the third and final part, I aim to evaluate Hannah Arendt’s critique of Marx found in her book, The Human Condition.