Current capitalism as an enclosure of labor

Excerpted from Kevin Carson, reacting to the attacks of Eric Raymond on the striking fast food workers:

“Labor is different from other factors of production in one regard. Owners of land and capital will dispose of their full supply, guided only by one consideration: Revenue maximization. If labor were governed by the same law, workers would work as much as they were physically able to on a sustainable basis. But in fact there’s a backward-bending supply curve of labor because, unlike using land and capital, expending labor — at least after a certain point — is unpleasant. Labor, unlike a piece of land or a lump of coal, has to be persuaded to supply its own productive services — to crawl out of bed in the morning and go into a place it would rather not be.

Since the main source of equilibrium price for reproducible commodities is the cost of factor inputs, it’s more accurate to say that the productivity of labor in a free market would be the price required to overcome the disutility of labor.

The fact that workers toil under such conditions for so little money is not the effect of the free market pricing mechanism. It’s the result of the structure of power that controls the factors of production. Historically, as Franz Oppenheimer argued in The State, it is impossible to exploit labor so long as employers are forced to compete with the possibility of self-employment. Exploitation only becomes possible when unoccupied land is no longer freely available for independent production. And the land is nowhere near being fully occupied by natural means — i.e., actually using it. Instead, it’s enclosed by a privileged class of landlords, who control access to vacant and unimproved land. Other forms of productive property are likewise enclosed for rents by an economic ruling class, with the help of the state.

The purpose of the state, since its origin, has been to enforce such artificial scarcities and artificial property rights on behalf of the economic ruling class. The rents of the propertied classes result not from their contributions to production – i.e., actually producing something — but from enclosing and controlling access to productive opportunities. The great share of income, under capitalism, comes not from production but from controlling the conditions under which others are allowed to produce.

The result is that, by artificially restricting independent access to the means of production and subsistence, the supply of wage labor is artificially inflated compared to the demand for it.

So in a truly free market, the main source of commodity value would be the requirement to pay labor enough to make it worth their while, in their own subjective perception, to engage in production.

Our goal as market anarchists is not to “force” anyone to pay labor more, but to tear down the enclosures that force workers to accept wage employment only on the terms offered by the economic ruling class.”

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.