- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Skill: Relative or constant?

Posted by: Gee ( si ) on December 23, 1999 at 16:18:13:

In Reply to: Skill: The Middle Class Distinction (better) posted by Barry Stoller on December 23, 1999 at 10:41:17:

: Unlike the working class proletarian, the middle class proletarian does possess some items that are NOT consumed completely. Indeed, the middle class proletarian possesses 'working capital' of a sort (which can be consumed productively). This 'working capital' includes education, stock holdings, and basic savings.

I think this detail is an important distinction from a 'pure' proletariat and a 'pure' capitalist.

: The statistical verification of a middle class proletarian (in America), so characterized: 25% with a B.A. degree or higher (2); 25% owning stock (above $2,000) (3); and 25% possessing savings sufficient enough to retire at the age of 65.(4)

It would be interesting to see what standard of retirement is considered sufficient.

:Thus it is evident that only a quarter of the American people are college educated, own stock, and earn enough to retire.

You should be wary of assuming that those 25% all have degrees/stock/pensions. There are plenty of non college high earners in specialised trades and plenty of degree bearing low earners. There are plenty who have one or two of the above, but not all three. Learning the degree of crossover would be useful when making the conclusion that the middle class can only comprise 15%. That followed a number of questionable assumptions.

: As I mentioned before, some work occurs in the production sphere and other work occurs in the circulation sphere. Production is primarily characterized by raw material retrieval & processing and commodity manufacture & assembly. Circulation, by contrast, is characterized by book-keeping, transportation, packaging, advertising, and---especially---retailing. These are two VERY DIFFERENT parts of the overall circuit of capital (m - c - m). While the production process creates value, all the circulation process does is realize value.

When you buy a cuddly toy your only interest may be the converted material. However the act of you having the toy would not have been possible if there were no retail (how would you finally get hold of it?), no advertising (how would you know of it?), no book keeping (the producer must know its own organisation to survive), no transport (how would it get near you?) and so forth.

Therefore you are buying the package that is 'cuddly toy in store when I go to buy' rather than just the object that is the toy. The distinction Marx makes is certainly valid as a theoretical model -and Marx is right - if somehow the cuddly toy were beamed straight from the factory to the buyer without any need for advertising, distribution or knowledge keeping along the way then capital would be more productive per unit. I think we realize it isnt going to beam itself over.

The trend you gave regarding overseas manufacturing shows another possible phenonoma. the circulation work, which is necessary as explained above, is done increasingly (as proportion) in the west and the manufacturing is done increasingly overseas. Why? Costs sure - and different skill profiles. Its the great equaliser - every cent paid out in wage oversease is a cent not paid to Westerners - and as more and more factories go abroad, so circulation work will follow, so competition for workers will increasingly eradicate the differences between nations and so education and training will continue to increase for the same reasons and so consumer demand will increase ala 'tiger economies' - the world over, and over and over. That has been the trend this last 300 years, and especially this last 50.

This will take more decades ofcourse - there will always be that country or that people who are relatively impoverished compared to the ever increasing 1st world. There will always be pressure to speed up equality, and some groups will always demand steps which would, when put in practice, have the opposite effect.

Automation is another factor. Increasing automation does away with traditional 'worker' by essentially replacing them. Instead of there being a scrapheap of ever increasing unemployment though - what actually happens is that more and more circulation jobs appear, especially in service industries like insurance, both the web designer and cashier jobs. Why? Circulation work is a vital component of the realised value of a good or service to both user and seller.

: America and similarily 'advanced' capitalist nations are primarily service economies (i.e. circulation sphere)---while Asia and 'Third World' nations are outposts for raw material extraction & processing as well as (increasingly) manufacturing locations.

For now - until 'similarly advanced' includes almost every other country. Ofourse we will still have relative discrepancies. The one who criticises inequality in the world has a life time career.

: While some circulation sphere workers are skilled, many are not. While some production process workers are skilled, most are not.

Is this an unchanging constant? what is 'skilled' and does this goalpost move over time? In other words is skill only measured relative to other skill? If so then the same criticism can be levelled at any time in the past, present or future.

Follow Ups:

The Debating Room Post a Followup