Exploitation of labour

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Exploitation refers to social relations where an "actor or character of actors uses others for their own end because of a fundamentally asymmetric power relationship between them".[1] When speaking about exploitation there is a direct affiliation with consumption in social theory. Traditionally, this would label exploitation as unfairly taking advantage of another person because of his or her inferior position, giving the exploiter the power.

Karl Marx, who is considered the most classical and influential theorist of exploitation, did not share the same traditional account of exploitation. Marx's theory explicitly rejects the moral framing characteristic of the notion of exploitation, and restricts the concept to the field of labor relations.

In analyzing exploitation, many political economists are often stuck between the explanation of the exploitation of labor given by Marx and Adam Smith.[2]

Marxist exploitation theory

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. Marx's exploitation theory is one of the major elements analyzed in Marxian economics, and some social theorists consider it to be a cornerstone in Marxist thought. Marx credited the Scottish Enlightenment writers for originally propounding a materialist interpretation of history.[3] In his Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx set principles that were to govern the distribution of welfare under socialism and communism; these principles saw distribution to each person according to their work and needs. Exploitation is when these two principles are not met, when the agents are not receiving according to their work or needs.[4] This process of exploitation is a part of the redistribution of labor, occurring during the process of separate agents exchanging their current productive labor for social labor set in goods received.[5] The labor put forth toward production is embodied in the goods and exploitation occurs when someone purchases a good, with their revenue or wages, for an amount unequal to the total labor he or she has put forth.[6] This labor performed by a population over a certain time period is equal to the labor embodied to the goods that make up the net national product (NNP). The NNP is then parceled out to the members of the population in some way and this is what creates the two groups, or agents, involved in the exchange of goods: exploiters and exploited.[5]

The exploiters are the agents able to command goods, with revenue from their wages, that are embodied with more labor than the exploiters themselves have put forth. These agents often have class status and ownership of productive assets that aid the optimization of exploitation. The exploiters would typically be the bourgeoisie. Meanwhile, the exploited are those who receive less than the average product he or she produces. If workers receive an amount equivalent to their average product, there is no revenue left over. Thus, these workers cannot enjoy the fruits of their own labors and the difference between what is made and what that can purchase cannot be justified by redistribution according to need.[7] The exploited are the proletariat.[8]

Surplus labour and labor theory of value

Exploiters appropriate another's surplus labour, which is the amount of labor exceeding what is necessary for the reproduction of a worker's labour power and basic living conditions. In other terms, this entails the worker being able to maintain living conditions sufficient to be able to continue work. Marx does not attempt to tie this solely to capitalist institutions; he notes how historically, there are accounts of this appropriation of surplus labor in institutions with forced labor, like those based on slavery and feudal societies. However, the difference he emphasizes is the fact that when this appropriation of surplus labor occurs in societies like capitalist ones, it is occurring in institutions having abolished forced labor and resting on free labor.[1] This comes from Marx's labor theory of value which claims that value is intrinsic in a product according to the amount of labor that has been spent on producing the product.

In a capitalist economy, workers are paid according to this value and value is the source of all wealth. Value is determined by a good's particular utility for an actor, if the good results from human activity it must be understood as a product of concrete labor, qualitatively defined labor. Capitalists are able to purchase labor power from the workers, who can only bring their own labor power in the market. Once capitalists are able to pay the worker less than the value produced by their labor, surplus labour forms and this results in the capitalists' profits. This is what Marx meant by "surplus value", which he saw as "an exact expression for the degree of exploitation of labor-power by capital, or of the laborer by the capitalist".[9] This profit is used to pay for overhead and personal consumption by the capitalist, but was most importantly used to accelerate growth and thus promote a greater system of exploitation.[8]

The degree of exploitation of labor power is dictated by the rate of surplus value as the proportion between surplus value/product, and necessary value/productproduct. The surplus value/product is the materialized surplus labor or surplus labor time, while the necessary value/product is materialized necessary labor in regard to workers, like the reproduction of the labor power.[4] Marx called the rate of surplus value an "exact expression of the degree of exploitation of labor by capital".[10] These theories ultimately demonstrate Marx's main issue with capitalism: it was not that capitalism was not an institution where the labor exchange is coercive, but that in this institution one class still becomes significantly more rich while the other becomes impoverished.

Critique and rejection of Marxist exploitation

Many capitalist critics have pointed out that Marx assumes that capital owners contribute nothing to the process of production. They suggest that Marx should have allowed for two things: permit a fair profit on the risk of capital investment, and allow for the efforts of management be paid their due.

David Ramsay Steele argues that marginal utility theory renders Marx's theory of exploitation untenable. According to this theoretical framework and assuming competitive market conditions, a worker's compensation is determined by his or her contribution to marginal output. Similarly, owners of machines and real estate are compensated according to the marginal productivity of their capital's contribution to marginal output. However, Steele notes that this does not in any way touch the ethical argument of socialists who acknowledge non-labor contributions to marginal output, but contend that it is illegitimate for a class of passive owners to receive an unearned income from ownership of capital and land.[11]

The theory has been opposed by, among others Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. In History and Critique of Interest Theories (1884). He argues that capitalists do not exploit their workers; they actually help employees by providing them with an income well in advance of the revenue from the goods they produced, stating "Labor cannot increase its share at the expense of capital." In particular, he argues that the theory of exploitation ignores the dimension of time in production. From this criticism it follows that, according to Böhm-Bawerk, the whole value of a product is not produced by the worker, but that labor can only be paid at the present value of any foreseeable output.[12]

John Roemer studied and criticized Marx's theory by putting forth a model to deal with exploitation in all modes of production, hoping to lay the foundations for an analysis of the laws of motion of socialism. In his works published in the 1980s Roemer posits a model of exploitation based upon unequal ownership of human (physical labor skills) and non-human property (land, means of production). He states that this model of property rights has great superiority over the conventional surplus labor model of exploitation, therefore rejecting the labor theory of value.[5] In his attempt to put forward a theory of exploitation that also includes feudal, capitalist, and socialist modes of production he defines exploitation in each of the modes in terms of property rights. Roemer rejects the labor theory of value because he sees that exploitation can exist in the absence of employment relations, like in a subsistence economy, therefore backing the model of exploitation that is based on property rights. He tests his theory of exploitation using game theory to construct 'contingently feasible alternative states' where the exploited agents could improve their welfare by 'withdrawing' with their share of society's alienable and inalienable assets.[5] Feudal, capitalist, and socialist exploitation all come from the theory of exploitation on the basis of inequitable distribution of property rights. There has been a range of agreement and disagreement from various economists, neo-classical economists favoring the model the most.

Some theorists criticize Roemer for his entire rejection of the labor theory of value and the surplus labor approach to exploitation, for they were the central aspects of Marxist thought in regard to exploitation.[13] Others criticize his commitment to a specifically liberal, as opposed to a Marxist account of the wrongs of exploitation.[14]

Other theories of exploitation

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Liberal theory of exploitation

Many assume that liberalism intrinsically lacks any adequate theory of exploitation because its phenomenon commits itself only to the primacy of personal rights and liberties and to individual choice as the basic explanatory datum. Hillel Steiner provided an argument to refute the claim that liberalism cannot supply an adequate theory of exploitation.[15] He discusses interpersonal transfers and how there are three types: donation, exchange, and theft. Exchange is the only of the three that consists of a voluntary bilateral transfer were the beneficiary receives something at a value greater than zero on the shared scale of value, although at times there can be ambiguity between more complex types of transfer. He describes the three dimensions of transfers as either unilateral/bilateral, voluntary/involuntary, and equal/unequal. Despite these types of transfers being able to distinguish the differences in the four types of transfers, it is not enough to provide a differentiating characterization of exploitation. Unlike theft, an exploitative transfer is bilateral and the items are transferred voluntarily at both unequal and greater-than-zero value. The difference between a benefit and exploitation despite their various shared features is a difference between their counterfactual presuppositions, meaning that in an exploitation there's a voluntary bilateral transfer of unequally valued items because the possessors of both items would voluntarily make the transfer if the items to be transferred were of equal value, but in a benefit the possessor of the higher-value item would not voluntarily make the transfer if the items were at equal value. Put simply, the exploitation can be converted to an exchange: both exploiters and exploiter would voluntarily become exchangers when benefactors would not.

In an exploitation both transfers are voluntary, but part of one of the two transfers is unnecessary. The circumstances that bring out exploitation are not the same as what brings about exploitative transfers. Exploitative circumstance is due to the factors other than what motivates individuals to engage in nonaltruistic bilateral transfers (exchanges and exploitations), they are not sufficient circumstances to bring about exploitative transfers.

To further explain the occurrence of exploitative circumstances certain generalizations about social relations must be included, to supply generalizations about social institutions. He says 'if (i) certain things are true of the institutions within which interpersonal transfers occur, and (ii) at least some of these transfers are nonaltruistic bilateral ones, then at least some of these transfers are exploitative.[16] Steiner looks at the institutional conditions of exploitation and finds that in general exploitation is considered unjust, and to understand why it is necessary to look at the concept of a right, an inviolable domain of practical choice, and the way rights are established to form social institutions. Institutional exploitation can be illustrated by schematized forms of exploitation to reach two points:

  1. Despite the mode of deprivation in exploitation isn't the same as the mode involved in a violation of rights, it does result from such violations and the two deprivations may be of the same value.
  2. Rights violation (theft) is a bilateral relation, but exploitation is trilateral one. There are at least three persons needed for exploitation.

On a liberal view exploitation can be described as a quadrilateral relation between four relevantly distinct parties; the state, the exploited, the exploiter, and those who suffer rights violations. However, it can be argued that the state's interests with the exploiters action can be viewed as unimpeachable because you cannot imply that the exploiter would ever withhold consent from exploiting due to altruistic concerns. So this trilateral conception of exploitation identifies exploited, exploiters, and sufferers of rights violations.

In terms of ridding exploitation, the standard liberal view holds that a regime of laissez-faire is a necessary condition. Natural rights thinkers Henry George and Herbert Spencer reject this view and claim that property rights belong to everyone; all land to be valid must belong to everyone. Their argument aims to show that traditional liberalism is mistaken in holding that nonintervention in commerce is the key to non exploitation; they argue it is necessary but not sufficient.

Neoclassical notions of exploitation

Majority of neoclassical economists only would view exploitation existing as an abstract deduction of the classic school and of Ricardo's theory of surplus-value.[4] However, in some neoclassical economic theories exploitation is defined by the unequal marginal productivity of workers and wages, such that wages are lower. Exploitation is sometimes viewed to occur when a necessary agent of production receives less wages than its marginal product.[17] Neoclassical theorists also identify the need for some type of redistribution of income to the poor, disable, to the farmers and peasants, or whatever socially alienated group from the 'social welfare function.' However, it is not true that neoclassical economists would accept the marginal productivity theory of just income as a general principle like other theorists do when addressing exploitation. The general neoclassical view sees that all factors can be simultaneously rewarded according to their marginal productivity, this means that factors of production should be awarded according to their marginal productivity as well, Euler's theorem for homogeneous function of the first order proves this:

f(K,L)= fK(K,L)K+fL(K,L)L

The production function where K is capital, L is labor. Neoclassical theory requires that f be continuously differentiable in both variables and that there are constant returns to scale. If there are constant returns to scale there will be perfect equilibrium if both capital and labor are rewarded according to their marginal products, exactly exhausting the total product.

The primary concept is that there is exploitation towards a factor of production if it receives less than its marginal product. Exploitation can only occur in imperfect capitalism due to imperfect competition, with the neoclassical notion of productivity wages there is little to no exploitation in the economy.[18] This blames monopoly in the product market, monopsony in the labor market, and cartellization as the main causes for exploitation of workers.

In developing nations

Developing nations (commonly called "third world countries" or "poor countries") are the focus of much debate over the issue of exploitation, particularly in the context of the global economy.

Critics of foreign companies allege, for instance, that firms such as Nike and Gap Inc. resort to child labor and sweatshops in developing nations, paying their workers wages far lower than those that prevail in developed nations (where the products are sold). This, it is argued, is insufficient to allow workers to attain the local subsistence standard of living if working hours common in the first world are observed, so that working hours much longer than in the first world are necessary. It is also argued that work conditions in these developing-world factories are more unsafe and much more unhealthy than in the first world. For example, observers point to cases where employees were unable to escape factories burning down—and thus dying—because of locked doors, a common signal that sweatshop conditions exist. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 was another example, but it occurred in the US, so the first world of then is the equivalent of the third world of today.

Others argue that, in the absence of compulsion, the only way that corporations are able to secure adequate supplies of labor is to offer wages and benefits superior to preexisting options, and that the presence of workers in corporate factories indicates that the factories present options which are seen as better—by the workers themselves—than the other options available to them (see principle of revealed preference).

A common response is that this is disingenuous, as the companies are in fact exploiting people by the terms of unequal human standards (applying lower standards to their third world workers than to their first world ones). Furthermore, the argument goes, if people choose to work for low wages and in unsafe conditions because it is their only alternative to starvation or scavenging from garbage dumps (the "preexisting options"), this cannot be seen as any kind of "free choice" on their part. It also argued that if a company intends to sell its products in the first world, it should pay its workers by first world standards.

Following such a view, some in the United States propose that the U.S. government should mandate that businesses in foreign countries adhere to the same labor, environmental, health, and safety standards as the U.S. before they are allowed to trade with businesses in the U.S. (this has been advocated by Howard Dean, for example). They believe that such standards would improve the quality of life in less developed nations.

According to others, however, this would harm the economies of less developed nations by discouraging the U.S. from investing in them. Milton Friedman was an economist who thought that such a policy would have that effect.[19] According to this argument, the result of ending perceived 'exploitation' would therefore be the corporation pulling back to its developed nation, leaving their former workers out of a job.

Groups who see themselves as fighting against global exploitation also point to secondary effects such as the dumping of government-subsidized corn on developing world markets which forces subsistence farmers off of their lands, sending them into the cities or across borders in order to survive. More generally, some sort of international regulation of transnational corporations is called for, such as the enforcement of the International Labour Organization's labor standards.

The Fair Trade Movement seeks to ensure a more equitable treatment of producers and workers, thus minimizing exploitation of labor forces in developing countries. The exploitation of labor is not limited to the aforementioned large scale corporate outsourcing, but it can also be found within the inherent structure of local markets in developing countries like Kenya.[20]

Wage labor

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Wage labor, as institutionalized under today's market economic systems, has been criticized,[21] especially by both mainstream socialists and anarcho-syndicalists,[22][23][24][25] utilising the pejorative term wage slavery.[26][27] They regard the trade of labor as a commodity as a form of economic exploitation rooting partially from capitalism.

As per Noam Chomsky, analysis of the psychological implications of wage slavery goes back to the Enlightenment era. In his 1791 book On the Limits of State Action, classical liberal thinker Wilhelm von Humboldt posited that "whatever does not spring from a man's free choice, or is only the result of instruction and guidance, does not enter into his very nature; he does not perform it with truly human energies, but merely with mechanical exactness" and so when the laborer works under external control, "we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is."[28] Both the Milgram and Stanford experiments have been found useful in the psychological study of wage-based workplace relations.[29]

Additionally, Marxists posit that labor-as-commodity, which is how they regard wage labor,[30] provides an absolutely fundamental point of attack against capitalism.[31] "It can be persuasively argued," noted one concerned philosopher, "that the conception of the worker's labor as a commodity confirms Marx's stigmatisation of the wage system of private capitalism as 'wage-slavery;' that is, as an instrument of the capitalist's for reducing the worker's condition to that of a slave, if not below it."[32]

See also

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  1. 1.0 1.1 "Exploitation", Encyclopedia of Power, SAGE Publications, Inc.
  2. Horace L. Fairlamb, 'Adam's Smith's Other Hand: A Capitalist Theory of Exploitation', Social Theory and Practice, 1996
  3. Andrew Reeve, Modern Theories of Exploitation"
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 John Elster, "Exploring Exploitation", The Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 3-17
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 John E. Roemer, 'Should Marxists be Interested in Exploitation', Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1985, pg 30-65
  6. John E. Roemer, "Origins of Exploitation and Class: Value Theory of Pre-Capitalist Economy", Econometrica, Vol. 50, No. 1, 1982, pp. 163-192
  7. John Elster, "Exploring Exploitation", The Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 3-17
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Exploitation", Encyclopedia of Social Theory, SAGE Publications, Inc.
  9. Marx, Karl. [1867] 1967. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. 1. New York: International Publishers.
  10. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1
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  13. Khalid Nadvi, 'Exploitation and Labour Theory Of Value: A Critique of Roemer's Theory of Exploitation and Class', Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 20, No. 25, 1985, 1479-1494
  14. For example, Allen W. Wood, Karl Marx (Routledge 2004) and Nicolas Vrousalis, 'Exploitation, Vulnerability and Social Domination', Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 41, 2013, 131-157
  15. Hillel Steiner, 'A Liberal Theory of Exploitation', Ethics, Vol. 94, No. 2, 1984, pp. 225-241
  16. Hillel Steiner, 'A Liberal Theory of Exploitation', Ethics, Vol. 94, No. 2, 1984, pp. 229
  17. J. Schumpter, The theory of economic development, Harvard University Press, 1949
  18. Milan Zafirovski, 'Measuring and Making Sense of Labor Exploitation in Contemporary Society: A Comparative Analysis', Review of Radical Political Economies, 2003, Vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 462-484
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  21. Ellerman 1992.
  22. Thompson 1966, p. 599.
  23. Thompson 1966, p. 912.
  24. Ostergaard 1997, p. 133.
  25. Lazonick 1990, p. 37.
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  28. Chomsky 1993, p. 19
  29. Thye & Lawler 2006.
  30. Marx 1990, p. 1006: "[L]abour-power, a commodity sold by the worker himself."
  31. Another one, of course, being the capitalists' alleged theft from workers via surplus-value.
  32. Nelson 1995, p. 158. This Marxist objection is what motivated Nelson's essay, which claims that labour is not, in fact, a commodity.

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