BOKO

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BOKO

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NOVEMBER 11, 2010 8:53PM

Slavery, Segmentation, And The Right To The City

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If segmentation plays an important role in structuring, and controlling, labor in America today, then it's to the history of the present patterns of segmentation within the workforce we have to turn if we're to discover when and how effective ruptures in the system can occur.

Let's return for a moment to Chris Harman's Zombie Capitalism and his account of imperialism and the role it played in capital's early phase of "primitive accumulation."  Remember that Harman makes this term unique to the period when capital was seeking to expropriate the property and raw materials it needed to both overthrow the previous social-economic regime, feudalism, and establish itself more permanently in its dominant place over labor.

The control of labor must be an important concern in the capitalist system because it is the exploitation of surplus labor that serves as the basis of profit.  And the drive, or desire, after profit, is the engine of the entire system.  Labor has to be not merely made to rely on wages (through which the extraction of surplus labor is accomplished), it has to be kept under social control as well.  Like the Assizes and paternal laws of feudal states, an entire legal and juridical framework had to be constructed that reflected the needs of capital.  And beyond this, an entire network of secondary social relations--beside but attached to the primary systemic relationship of exploiter-exploited, capitalist-worker--had to be put into place.  

During the 16th and 17th centuries when imperialism began to siphon wealth from other parts of the world to feed the nascent capitalist system in specific European countries, slave labor was developed as an important "outside" source of surplus labor (profit), while at the same time the externalization of labor in the colonial "workhouses" of Africa, Latin America, and the West Indies became a way to hold in check the systemic tendency of the rate of profit to fall.  This allowed the early capitalist powers of Britain, France, the free Dutch states, and even to some extent Germany (while there was no direct involvement, the German economy profited second-hand from the systemic arrest of certain downward pressures), to develop at a much more rapid rate than otherwise would have been possible.  The division of certain parts of the globe into "civilized" and "colonised" zones not only represented an early large-scale segmentation of labor in the system, it of course provided the historical basis for the political divisions that remain to this day: developing and developed, Third World and First World, indebted nations and creditor nations, etc.

Much like capital is able to compress time through technology and other labor-saving methods, it was able to abolish temporarily certain trends within itself through slavery and to speed up the overall early development of the system.  Furthermore, although slavery was carried over from previous times, new specific uses were found for it within capitalism.  Just as many feudal ties were replaced with new ones at home, especially through enforced urbanisation and the growing power of the merchant classes, the European capitalist powers grounded many new financial and legal relationships around slavery in the colonies abroad.  That brings us to the crucial part of our account.

The one area of the system that is missing in Harman's historical analysis of early capitalism is America.  Britain quickly became the focus of many of the new technical, methodological, and legal innovations necessary to capital's development.  For various reasons, both social and material, Britain was the center of industrial development: even new technologies worked out in other countries such as Switzerland and France were first applied on a large scale in Britain.  As British industrialisation really got going, the pressure to siphon more and more value in the form of surplus labor from the American colonies increased.  This meant increased pressure on slaves and slave labor.  Through the organization of exploitation in the plantation system--even extending to the appointment of some slaves over others--the early segmentation of labor in the colonies began to take shape. 

At the same time, America could be regarded as the first area under European imperial control that developed its own independent capitalist economy on a considerable scale, and thereby began to transform the relationship between coloniser and colonised.  As Harman points out, the trouble with maintaining the power of imperialism to arrest systemic trends such as the falling rate of profit was that the colonised zones began to develop their own internal economies, and as the whole set of relations that make up capitalism emerged in each colonised place (at vastly different rates and in vastly different ways), they were brought into the system as a whole.  Externalization became internalization.  And the systemic trends that cause major structural crises began to be felt once more.  By the mid 18th century, wealth increasingly had to be extracted from America through additional means: raised taxes, corruption, and finally the imposition of sudden, inexplicable levies (the Tea Act of 1773 for instance).  This led to rebellion and local movements for independence that organized themselves around economic issues--that is, the demands of colonists became deeper and more serious.   

 

Today's Segmentation: Carry-Over v. Establishment

Much of the events described occurred in response to economic trends of which the actors were unaware.  But that doesn't prevent the trends from operating.  They're material facts.  One doesn't have to be aware of one's class role in order to play it either--even the objectified, "real-world," "pragmatic," "practical" arguments of capitalist political economy admit to this aspect of the social situation.  But an institution like slavery is not just the inevitable result of inexorable economic forces.  Besides the plantation system, a whole host of laws had to be passed and enforced to keep the system of free exploited labor running, and running with ruthless, often deadly efficiency.  Blacks were defined as less than a whole person, as less than human in fact.  Furthermore, once the colonies had "detached" politically from European control, slavery remained an important source of surplus labor (of profit) in the American economy, and the entire offical apparatus of definition and control was carried over under the new government.

Although the use of slave labor was no longer able to arrest trends in the system as a whole, its effect more locally was to segment part of the labor force for employment at the most menial, repetitive and work-intensive tasks.  Picking cotton, or other crops, requires long days and the repetition of the same actions again and again.  It is mentally as well as physically debilitating.  It allows little time for activities outside work, and it hardly provides the worker with many opportunities for intellectual freedom.  One can see how the segmentation of blacks as day laborers and tenant farmers continued well after the abolishment of slavery, under the influence of the Jim Crow laws and white terror organizations.

In official accounts of the civil rights movement, Jim Crow laws are often depicted as legal and "traditional" facts only, as "carry over" from an incomplete reconstruction of the South.  It's surprising the extent to which this follows the line of reasoning offered by the laws' racist supporters while they were still in operation.  But their primary effects were economic, and brutal.  They prevented blacks from working in many industries, and along with racist terror campaigns, they acted to continue the limiting of one part of the labor force in the modern South to the most menial, back-breaking and dangerous work.  This also meant that blacks had little chance of organizing as a labor group and little incentive to do so.  The continuation of part of this form of labor segmentation in the Southern states, altered (to some extent) from its racial definitions, can still be seen today in "right to work" laws that represent little more than open resistance to organized labor.

It's interesting to note how conscious the supporters of the Jim Crow laws were of their economic dimensions, in spite of all the denials and recasting of support along "defense of tradition" lines.  Often in the history of capitalism when a new period, or new "enunciation," of capital is reached--such as that represented by the emergence of the American economy from its role as a source of surplus wealth for Britain during the age of  "primitive accumulation," to its own early independent expansion--the old forms and segmentation of labor are maintained, but with more conscious control and organization on the part of the capitalist class.  So the movement from an industrial to a postindustrial economy has also meant that any pretense of government or business neutrality on issues of labor organizing has been abandoned.  Regulations designed to structure collective bargaining and other labor relations in factories have been declared invalid by courts for application in the "service sector," and where this has not been possible, they've simply been ignored by authorities.  It's unclear exactly what WalMart may not do to its workers.  Perhaps they can't boil down their corpses to sell as soap--not quite yet.  The point is that there are both official and unofficial rules by which people live within the system, and these often change as a new "enunciation" of capital is reached, a disorienting and disturbing experience for workers.

In the '40's and '50's, large numbers of black workers moved from the South to take advantage of employment at new factories in urban areas in the Northern states.  It's a little discussed fact today in America, but througout the '50's and '60's, and right up until the economic crisis of the 1970's, there was a thriving black working class in almost every big city north of Tennessee and east of the Mississippi River.  The fact that this labor group was reduced well before white working class people began to feel the squeeze of offshoring and union busting in the 1980's, is often lost in contemporary American politics.  By the mid-70's many industrial firms were moving or planning on moving to the Southeast, where most blacks who had moved north were unwilling to return, and where "right to work" laws protected corporations from the demands of labor.  A new plantation system was established in the Southeast within which workers were considered "free agents," much like the newly freed slaves of a hundred years before had been considered "freshly minted citizens."  Of course in both cases the structures of the system assured that segmentation and exploitation would continue relatively uninterrupted.

 

The City: The Global Landscape of Segmentation

Almost everybody today lives in a city.  If they don't live in one, they're dependent on the economic organization of city-life for their livelihood.  Even in a developing country like Brazil, more than 80% of the population lives in big cities.  The percentage of urban dwellers drops somewhat in China and parts of Southeast Asia, but the trend (with the exception of some workers being sent by recent government decree back to their farms in China), is in the direction of city-life.  One can decry the trend on ecological or political-economic or even traditionalist-nativist grounds, but it is a fact of contemporary life, a seemingly irreversible fact of the global spread of capital.  As it becomes easier and easier to invest in industrialised, and postindustrial, forms of capital, it also becomes more and more profitable to concentrate workers in highly organized ways.  The overlapping energy, transportation, delivery, education, telecommunications, and political grids of cities are a perfect fit.  While it may have been possible to spread out production and supply lines in the early days of capital's development, the contradictory pressures of "globalisation" are all in the direction of concentration.

Offshoring work today means offshoring it to an urbanised area, to someplace where all the grids, or the supergrid, already exist or soon will.  The types of manufacture offshored in the earlier history of transnationals was simple and required little preinvestment.  That is no longer the case.  As a result, it is the city that has become the landscape where conflict is expressed, and it is often the subdivision of the urban landscape itself that best represents the segmentation of different labor groups within the system.  This can be seen both in the racial and class segregation between various neighborhoods, kept in place through practices such as "redlining" (the racist apportioning of home mortgages), and in the conflicts that erupt in cities over housing: issues of gentrification, foreclosures, access to the "public commons."  One of the best efforts to come out of the recent economic crisis to address many of these issues is the Right to the City coalition (http://www.righttothecity.org/home.html). 

However, increasingly, official politics focuses on the issue of the influx of cheap labor from all over the world: a kind of reverse "on-shoring" of exploitable surplus labor that is going on in most First World countries.  In combating the official discourse, it is important to note that seeing this trend merely in light of imperialism is now inadequate.

One can talk about the exploitation of migrant workers in the American Southwest in terms of some type of "internalized imperialism," but the analysis would be unrevealing for at least two reasons.  First, the surplus labor represented by migrant workers does not arrest crisis trends like the falling rate of profit in the system as a whole the way that slave labor in the old European colonies did, or even very effectively (obviously) in the national American economy. 

Second, the relationship of the migrant worker's activity to the rest of the economy is different in organizational as well as historical terms.  In other words, the differences are vertical in the system as well as horizontal in time.  Migrant workers are fully paid (if brutally, inadequately so), and therefore they have a way to "travel" with their labor.  They can move from place to place, take up employment with different employers.  Of course they can't choose to work for nobody since this is a basic part of the capitalist system in all its phases of development.  But they can choose to work for capitalists in different parts of the migrant economy, traveling between industries, and thereby up and down the "economic ladder" somewhat, say from picking fruit to slaughtering chickens in a factory to machine-sewing clothes or even to working in a call center.  Many "service sector" skills have been folded into the migrant's labor experience, too, and this labor in turn is folded into the economy in far more complex ways than colonised slave labor ever was.  This is why calls for "immigration reform" that feature the mass elimination of migrant workers from the national economy are met with so much political resistance by capitalists from many different industries. 

What they understand, on some level, and many commentators and much of the American public does not, is that today's migrant worker is really not anything like depictions in "dust bowl" era stories of farmhands traveling from spot to spot looking for the best conditions, or at least some kind of livelihood.  And it is just as true that migrant work today is not merely the exploitation of cheap labor from "across the border."  It is an extension of the segmented labor group also represented by the perfectly American "free agents" in the "right to work" states of the Southeast.  The two parts of the national economy are mirror images of each other in both conditions and wage-quality of work.  If there is still some tier-effect, the point for capitalists is to eliminate the difference at the upper end of the scale, and certainly not to get rid of those workers whose presence represents its lower levels.  The natural political alliance here therefore would be between white service-industry workers in the Southeast and Mexican migrants working mostly in the Southwest, and not, as many labor organizers suggest, factory workers in the North and migrants.

Even as capital grasps the importance of using forms carried over from previous "enunciations" in a more conscious, ideological way than before, if not in a totally transformed way, the worker has to beware of falling into the trap of being too convinced by the new versions of exploitation being presented as "revolutionary."  This brings us to a discussion of innovation, and its glossy contemporary expression: technology.

 

Postscript

This turned out to be a controversial post, I received a lot of emails from readers accusing me of trying to divide people with issues of race.  So, I decided to include a video with audio by the wonderfual Tony Cliff, speaking at a Marxism Bloomsbury gathering, about the necessity of solidarity in the face of attempts by the system to divide workers against each other.  As he points out, that is where these contradictions, and the conflicts that follow from them, originate.  Issues of segmentation are often used ideologically in this way, and it's important to face up to them, try and convince reactionary colleagues of their mistakes, and stick together.  There is a lot of this going on right now in America around issues of race, immigration, religion and so forth.  Cliff's comments are useful, especially where he talks about the fact that even a "vanguard" group, or a group of people who are aware, involved, struggling with labor and working class-related issues--like the issues addressed by a coalition group such as Right to the City--will face its own internal divisions.  Joining the struggle is not a pass to some kind of "utopia," as Cliff points out.  People disagree not merely on strategy, but on their philosophy and outlook as well.  And these are often the fault lines that develop both within any advanced group, and within the working class itself.  Cliff also goes over some of the ways in which this conflict can play out--there are not an infinite number of positions one can choose to take: appeasement or apportionment, sectarianism, and solidarity, are the positions that usually emerge.  The images are a helpful and playful way of dramatising Cliff's remarks.  Of course he concentrates on Britain, but in this case one can easily substitute "Republican" or "Democrat" for "Tory,"  and "Bush" or "Obama" for "Blair."

 

                         

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It's interesting how this analysis contradicts the idea that the working class Republican vote in the Southeast is the result of mere cultural factors...It's an expression of the contemporary conditions of work there. The area is glutted with "service sector" jobs and other non-organized, or inadequately organized, labor.
The vicious deconstruction of the American labor movement by almost all factors of business and government powers is very strangely accepted by those most oppressed. It seems the propaganda against the rise of labor power is working very well.
Jan,
People tend to organize when they absolutely have to, and when they're told to, even by well intentioned and well informed activists. The SEIU recently went on a huge drive to organize workers and found less response than they expected. But in the period just prior to that, during the late 90's and early noughts, they saw their ranks swell with very little agitation. Again, that doesn't mean one shouldn't emphasize activism, but it's powers lie with conditions and not outside of them.
Hey. Glad you wrote this. A couple things, though -

1. Capitalism vs. Imperialist Capitalism - You made a lot of strong statements about capitalism. The most spurious is that profit is the engine that drives it. That's a common error when discussing capitalism. Capitalism is nothing but the manifestation of an economic philosophy where the focus is efficiency (there's a lot of subtext in what you wrote to verify this, but when it was statement making time, you said many other thing which were ever-so-slightly off). The engine that drives it is utility, of which profits are a part, as is social good, social side effects, personal enjoyment of free time...many things are valuable to the players in a capitalist society. That we've let our capitalist society get so consumption-centric is a crime. Imperialist Capitalism, a big reason why we don't get to participate in the Commonwealth Games, is really almost exactly like feudalism. For a second, forget the methods employed and just think about start and end results (also forget you're not on a farm). At a base level, what are the differences? Lord 'allows' you to do 'A'. You (serf) employ your labor toward 'A', 'Lord' requires large percentages of your labor. You are left with barely a subsistence amount of 'A' and the only Capital built is for the 'Lord'. Now, for fun, think about Keynesian (Reagen trickle down)...not so different, huh? Didn't work then, doesn't work now.

2. The slavery and labor thing is pretty interesting and too much to get into. You should do a separate one for that. Check out crop patterns and what was grown where to see if Slavery was even economically advantageous by the start of the civil war. Then, examine the cost of a laborer before and after slavery. I think you'll find the results surprising.

3. Lastly, if you're gonna talk about afro-american labor migrations from the south, you gotta talk about CA and the aerospace industry. Look at pictures of Compton in the 50s/60s and now. What fucked it up? Well, he's an actor known for such films as "Hey you, tear down that wall..."
freebob-

1. Of course profit does drive capitalism. Any system that creates mountains of food in one place, and leaves millions to starve in others can hardly be called a system for social needs. The point is that without profit, the engine stops. Even "not-for-profit" organizations, with which I now work a great deal, are driven by revenue models involving fundraising, grants etc., as a way to plan and arrange all their activity. Efficiency, besides being a secondary consideration in how to get the most surplus labor out of workers, is also not an ever-present driver, like profit, since many of the largest corporations are actually quite inefficient. Take the large managed care firms, for instance, which employ so many people to help them "cut costs" that they end up spending more than they would have without all the layers of unnecessary administrative work. Maybe claims about efficiency could have been made for the capitalist system in the 50's and 60's, but not today when private companies are often even more bureaucratized than their public sector counterparts.

2. "Cost" analyses of slave labor are unrevealing; there is no doubt that it saves on overall cost--it's free.

3. Of course this is a vaguely racist statement.
further on 3 - Just to prevent any misunderstanding: The idea that particular leaders or politicians, even one as regressive as Reagan, could influence things to such an extent as to cause the conditions in minority ghettos is vaguely racist because it rests on the assumption that the people there are so easily influenced and so incapable of fighting back politically that they are little more than victims of policy. Hardly. The black community is the least politically naive bloc of voters in America. They vote with their wallets, and not, as in the case of many white suburbanites, the way preachers or other leaders tell them to. Conservatives have been trying to buy off the black community by influencing them through "pet" leaders since the 80's at least, with no effect.
Boko,

I'm sorry. I was trying to be nice. You've obviously read one book on economics in your life.

1. Talk to any economist and ask - What drives a capitalist economy? Is it profit or utility, of which profits are one part?
2. A changing crop mix in the south made manual labor on the scale they had it unnecessary. And, the cost to house, feed, etc was more than when they were free, which has brought about the rise of the 'slave labor class' (migrant workers, etc).
3. THE #1 most important job migration from the south was because of the aerospace industry, and that industry was in CA. That you don't know that shows that this is a topic on which you shouldn't be writing. And, if you don't understand how Keynesian Economics works and how it crushed an entire section of Los Angeles...

Fuck, what do I know? I just have a masters in this subject. Learn when someone is trying to be nice and help you out, Fu-boko.
Loved your poem on Justis's cartoon. Right to the City is a great group, they grew out of all the anti-gentrification efforts around NYC, too. It's been one battle after another over the years. The latest development schemes on the island are pretty weird, especially since Rupert Murdoch is behind more than one of them. The way they do it now, by getting big companies to agree to be tenants and then making them the main partner in the deal, is cleaving off big chunks of the city to big corporate America, and elsewhere. They're carving up the last available territory, like you say it's where most of the conflicts get played out, and so it has to be controlled, sponsored, sucked up into the machine. Weird and creepy. Rated, with kudos.
yeah. Tony Cliff was a god...if Trotskyites have gods. don't think this is racist, mate. just pointing out the facts. what was freebooby's trouble again?

rrrrrrrrrrrrrrated
Read and rated. Keep up the good work.
manhattan - Right to the City does good work. I'm aware that it's the latest in a long line of efforts, many of them directed against the push for "new urbanism" in metro areas, a present-day version of revanchist urban "renewal" in the 60's which also featured low income people getting forced out through declarations of blight, eminent domain, and other maneuvers of development planning. The battle continues.
dmalrajabi - Thank you for stopping. It's good to see you posting on OS again. You always bring an interesting perspective to your work.

Stu - Cliff was good at explaining the most dense economic and organizing topics in clear, concise ways. Hope I can learn from him when I answer the second part of your question...
Stu p.2 - Freebobafett is upset because I won't back down from my position that it's racist to consider blacks and other minorities mere victims instead of actors in the system who have a great deal of say and potential control over it. And also, I won't agree that the system is based on something other than capital squeezing out the most surplus labor it can from workers: this includes methods aimed at increasing "efficiency," such as innovation, Taylorist improvements (production tracking, quotas, incentives), and of course wage reductions and layoffs.

Since capitalist economics won't admit to this basis of the system in exploitation, the other observations and analyses are unavailable to it. The problems of the city--poverty, racism, crime, conflicts over where and how to live--must seem, from the point of view of capitalist politica economy, like "glitches" that should be worked out with further technical "fixes." Of course, I'm perfectly familiar with all these arguments--I spent many years working in business with people who espoused them. Many of these same people are also perfectly aware that the system is based upon the extraction of surplus labor, but they're "gross Marxists" in that they simply use this knowledge to be better able to exploit workers. The point here is to use it in a socially constructive, moral way, to help to inform people, including workers, make them more aware of the general trends and problems in the system, and to advocate for alternatives to capitalism.
A facinating and detailed analysis that I was simply too stoned to stay with all the way through. I shall have to come back sober and check this out.
Doug - Depends on what you're doing. Pot helps sometimes. Drinking stinks.
A real nail biter, this. Well done.
Good take on the Jim Crow laws. They're job orientation has been forgotten. It was a way to keep people picking cotton, and then some. The descriptions of migrant work today are accurate. We have them here and we're about as far away from the border as you can get, the southern one at least. They're all over because it's a general type, and everything is heading in that direction! rate
Lotsa stuff here to think about Boko, as always. One thing I can say from experience, having witnessed it at first hand in the construction trades in my city, is that an influx of cheap foreign labor was exploited by many employers in this country, not just by agricultural interests in the Southwest. Many of the hypocrites calling nowadays for immigration reform and the super-fence and all the rest of it had no problem with illegal immigrants as long as the boom was booming and the pool of exploitable labor could be used not only as a resource in itself but also as a way to drive wages down across the board. I'm not sure to what extent that was a national phenomena, but I watched it happen here in real time.
You won't back down because you have a nasty case of onebookitis. I'm not sure, but I think Valtrex can help. That, or some foundational theory in something besides the singular book in which you have your head buried. P.S. - the other ostriches can still see you.

I can use economics to show how you decide to eat a tub of lard instead of mow your lawn. I just measure in units of lard/minute and contrast that with how much you value your leisure units by minute. Is it exploitative that you have a yearning for beef fat? I can use economics to explain any choice. That you only understand a single use for the science shows your myopia.

You must have contacts in that picture.
P.S. Capitalism is an economic system where the focus is efficiency. Now, is it efficient for me to exploit how little you know about economics? It wasn't. I was trying to get your brain working in many directions. Now that I see the train is moving south and only south, yeah...it's more efficient to just exploit your lack of knowledge and run the train off the tracks. But, it didn't always have to be that way. You could have had your Kibbutz, but now it's Pawn Shop.

Any decision - bring it. 2 Activities, 2 Items, an Item and an Activity...any choice between 2 things. Murder...I don't care. It's time to learn you some academics so you'll know to stick to the picture books next time you go to Barnes and Noble. Gloves off time.
nana - I meant to imply a larger network for migrant work with the descriptions of different types of labor. Meaning that people DO travel back and forth across the border with Mexico looking for work, but they're not concentrated only in the Southwest. However the largest concentration of migrant workers is still in that area, so if one wants to talk about forming political alliances...

And of course your larger point is in synch with mine. Migrant work provides for a segmentation of labor that accomplishes two things for capital: dividing workers politically; very inexpensive surplus labor, the key to understanding value in the system, again. Also, I doubt that everyone in the capitalist class is on board with the present demonising of migrant workers. It's a case of the class being split over methods, and where their profits are coming from: Mexico, or cheap American labor. So I think that alliances are useful here.
Of course I meant alliances between workers, and not with capitalists--the idea of peace between workers and owners is always a Pollyanna.
Of course. Nowadays, I'm both the worker and the owner in my own little enterprise, so I've cut out the middle man, so to speak, and don't need to worry about capital as such, save for my own lack of it. It is quite liberating.
Liberating, and scary.
nana - It's one way to go. I've been doing for myself for some time. Scary, and interesting. Of course one is still hooked into the system for credit, taxes, personal expenses on mass-produced stuff etc.
The heart of a capitalist system is strong law. You don't own what you cannot keep. Mario Puzio once commented that the mafia was capitalism carried to its logical conclusion.
David - Yes, it's true, the law plays an important protective role for capital. It encapsulates it in some ways, protects the absolute limits of private property in others. But it doesn't determine what the driving weight of "necessity" will be to begin with. The law comes last in a well developed national capitalist economy, I think, almost as an after-thought once much of the initial business of "robber baronry" is done. This doesn't end the matter, it leads to further rounds of accumulation, and that to further rounds, and so on. And so, a boss today might be a chump tomorrow. The king-of-the-hill aspect keeps everybody on their toes in the capitalist class--even in times of crisis, when the system becomes more transparent and their role is being questioned, capitalists continue setting on each other to some extent. Again, it's worth pointing out, that what determines whether one can stay on top of the hill is how much profit one manages to eke out of one's employees' labor. Without that, the law can't help you much. Or it won't.
BOKO----very informative post. It has clarified many issues for me, particularly ones I am currently wrestling and writing about, and which will also be the subject of an upcoming post within the next few weeks, concerning the "Iron Law of Wages," and how Marx integrated it into his system of the "Labor theory of value."

It is clear that folks with power use economic systems to acquire greater shares of resources for themselves. We call this profit. Efficiency is merely a means by which one hopes to acquire more profit; profit, though, is clearly the driving force, as it means one gets more resources, more gold, more babes, more booty, etc...

Let's say I am a 19th century merchant and have two options:

a) I can finance a voyage for an initial 100,000 pounds, with an additional 100,000 pounds of expenses (salaries of crews and such), and which will result in revenue of 600,000 pounds.
My profit is 400,000. The cost/benefit, utility or efficiency here, in a sense, is 1:2, for every pound I spend, I will acquire twice as much as a result in profit. (I think this math is right).

I finance 10 such voyages a year, every year, for the rest of my life, all of which have this simple low efficiency of 1:2

b) Let's say I am a slum-lord in London at roughly the same time. I buy a run-down r0w-house building for, hypothetically, 1,000 pounds and do no upkeep. I rent it out for 10 pounds a month to 10 different families at the same time. Within one month, I earn back my initial investment. Within a year, I make a total revenue of 12,000 pounds from this single row-house. If we subtract my initial investment, my profit for the first year is 11,000. For all subsequent years, it is 12,000 (because I do no upkeep and since I am a big dude with a gun and big stick, and only lease the house out to widowed women with small children, I can easily bully them and seize the rent by force, with little expenditure on "strong men.") My efficiency rating here is much, much higher. Much higher than the merchant in the first example.

That being said, any capitalist would much rather choose the merchant shipping position than the slum lord position, because there is more profit, more money to be made in the former rather than the latter. Efficiency is a tool, not an "end in of itself." The key purpose of capitalism, or almost any other conventional economic system, is to maximize profit for those who are running the society, for the "Establishment" to get as much gold, booty, and reproductive rights as possible. In a sense, profit.

(If you can do this efficiently, this means you can hopefully get more profit with the same base expenditure; efficiency can't be the end-all, be-all of existence; other-wise, you turn into a stupid mid-level manager at some big company who never gets to be CEO, precisely because he puts efficiency ahead of profits...lol)
What I also find to be interesting is slavery. Eugene Genovese wrote an interesting Marxian analysis of this. He basically said that it was abolished only when it was no longer needed, when the world moved from an agricultural to an industrial system of production, such that the relations of production no longer profited from a similar structure.

In this sense, it was hypocritical and not much of a "moral accomplishment" for slavery to have been abolished when it was, because it wasn't in the interests of the elite to maintain it when it was abolished. More impressive would have been its voluntary, morally-inspired abolition in the new world in the 1600s on some sugar plantation in the Carribean. Its abolition, right on the cusp of the industrial age seems like cynical opportunism, at best...It had existed for 5,000 years without much of a serious challenge. Sure, people opposed it morally throughout history, but it was simply too profitable for the elite to challenge it. When it ceased being as profitable as other systems, then and only then was it abolished. That said, the south was able to maintain this profitability through artificial, externally imposed political controls that not only maintained slavery, but also weakened and hindered the rise of an American industrial Bourgeoisie. Genovese says that, in effect, the civil war was simultaneously a war between the agricultural/feudal elite of the south against the industrial bourgeoisie of the northeast. He also says that the economic coup d' grace came when the financial bourgeoisie of London was blocked from investing in Southern Agriculture, thus allowing the northeastern US financial bourgeoisie of NY, Philly and Boston to capture new markets, which they did by investing in new, protected, manufacturing industries (which thus found a captive market in the south, which was deprived of cheap british manufactured products, due to increased GOP tariffs on industrial goods).

FASCINATING STUFF!
Rw - Interesting comments about profit, but it's not Marx. For Marx, profit is surplus labor, always--it's the difference between actual labor put into a finished product, or a process, by the worker, and what is paid in wages. So that profit represents the total amount of surplus labor, and not surplus value, in the system. This has caused a great deal of confusion in commentary, even among Marxists. It's surplus labor which is skimmed off by the capitalist for reinvestment and accumulation. If the capitalists get rich, that's nice for them, but for Marx it's unimportant. Most capital accumulates in the system and gets used in the next round of production. In this sense, even the machinery, facilities etc. owned and used by the capitalist, the so called "means of production," represent labor, since these things, too, have to be produced with labor. That means that it is labor which is the source of all value in the system, and not the competitive back and forth between capitals, which only determines prices in the system, after all other factors have been included, since prices, whether it's the price of a finished product or the price of raw materials, don't reflect real value. This is also why one is unable to see the general trends that operate in the system to cause crisis from the "vantage point of capital." The whole thing has to be discarded for the real dynamic to come clear.
Boko: I am currently reading Kolakowski's, "Main Currents of Marxism." In it he discusses the concept of labor, labor power and unrequited labor. What does he mean by this? I am especially confused by the concept of labor power and unrequited labor.
Rw - The theory about moving from an agricultural to an industrial phase is interesting, but not adequate. (I'm not sure if this is implied in your comment or not.) Agriculture remained the primary source of income for the vast majority of the world long after slavery was abolished in America, and indeed until quite recently most laborers in the world still worked on peasant farms--which were only very slowly capitalized through rent and lending, or, in the case of recent events in China, re-capitalized from state to local control by allowing large numbers of "managers" of the township/village collectives to become the new capitalists in the "liberalized" system. Slavery was done away with for various reasons--insurrection being not the least--but explaining changes in the social organization of labor from changes in the mode of production is a system-as-a-whole phenomenon, and not a local one. The trend that forced capitalists to seek out a new mode of production was the return of crisis and falling rates of profit. Parts of Europe and America experienced a number of crises from the 1840's on. The conditions created by these crises forced capital to seek out new methods, new ways of squeezing more surplus labor out of workers. The development of new technologies provided the needed boost, but it's not the "source" of the social changes--the internal contradictions of capital are. Just to be clear.
Boko---Genovese states that, too. He says the rise of Industry changed the nature of global agriculture, though. I will find the article and send you the link to check out. I would love your opinion on it. It is a classic.
http://www.amazon.com/Political-Economy-Slavery-Wesleyan-Paperback/dp/0819562084

I read excerpts of this. Genovese was a hard-core Marxist back in the day, but drifted into the ranks of Neocons later in life. That said, this is actually a very interesting book. I am trying to find the excerpt for you, still, though. Stay tuned!
(BTW: I loved your idea about the alliance between service workers in the southeast and migrant workers in southwest; very interesting and will bear much fruit....)
Rw - Unrequited labor is labor unrewarded in the form of wages, so all slave labor would be unrequited. Trying to put a value to it has been a source of controversy among economists who work on the problems of historical economy, as well as for those who want to assign some overall value to the labor performed by slaves for the purpose of reparations. Labor power is what is commodified in the system as wages--it's the actual work performed by workers. Strictly speaking, it's what makes capital go: strikes are an attempt to get concessions by witholding labor power. Marx also uses it in relation to value, as in: The difference in the value of the worker's labor power and the value created by the labor done is the source of surplus.... Kind of confusing. Best to avoid the phrase, since all labor power is under the influence of wages today, or, in the case of tradesmen or contractors ("free agents"), dependent on products created through wage labor.
Dr. Lee - Yes, you're right, everything does seem to be heading in the direction of migrant work. Many workers, especially in the "service sector," have been "freed" from traditional wage arrangements, but only in the sense that their collective bargaining power has been reduced by "right to work," regressive contracts and other laws meant to weaken unions. When crisis hits, people realize that this isn't such a good deal after all.


It would be interesting to track the historical influx of cheap labor and how it coincided in various periods with economic crises--the Italians, the Germans, the Irish, up to the Mexican workers today. In each period, I think you'd find, the "insiders" are made to blame the "outsiders" coming into the labor market, but it's the inner dynamic of the system that draws the newcomers into the wage relationship at a lower rate than the general one. This also puts downward pressure on wages for those already at work in the national economy. It's a win-win for capital, made all the easier by globalisation. I think you'd also find that getting the "outsiders" to join labor organizations with the "insiders" was the most effective way of fighting back. Making everybody into a migrant worker might be called the "wet dream" of global capital.
Boko: what do you think of Libertarians who think we should have free movement of labor across borders?
Wet dream indeed. It wants to make us all over into the lowest form of work. Everywhere.
Good stuff.
Rw - I try to think as little about Libertarians as possible.

Dr Lee - Ditto.
Here's my favorite thing you wrote:


2. "Cost" analyses of slave labor are unrevealing; there is no doubt that it saves on overall cost--it's free.

Now, I DO NOT ENDORSE SLAVERY OR THINK IT IS GOOD, but was your car free? Even after you bought it, was it free to use at all times? NOTHING IS FREE!!! Everything has an economic cost. Your breathing and exhaling carbon monoxide has a cost, you just haven't paid for it yet.

But, I love all your, "it's interesting..." No it's not.