Dead Men Left

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Absolute surplus value II

Just to add to the post below: the current drive to carve up pensions and extend working lives is a simple smash-and-grab operation to expand absolute surplus value. It's a frontal assault on real wages, something comparatively rare under advcanced capitalism outside of deep recession.

A great deal has been written, recently, regarding an apparent US productivity "miracle". Much of this sudden increase in growth has been attributed to the retail sector, and the introduction of ICT to enable more efficient working practices: just-in-time delivery, minimum number of items in stock, and so on. It strikes me that much of these implicit increases in relative surplus value - to the extent that retailing produces surplus value at all - from improved technology are disguised increases in absolute surplus value: that ICT's major funciton, in low-cost bulk retailing like WalMart, is to improve staff monitoring. Actual working practices, one suspects, remain much the same: it's just somewhat harder to shirk when a computer is logging your every move. ICT, to this extent, is waste production; it does not directly contribute to the system's productivity, but is a necessary function of the system's inability to completely regulate its labour inputs.

(The same argument about improved monitoring is harder to make for ICT in other service sectors - something anyone reading this at work will well appreciate.)