Sunday, February 2, 2014

Value and the Service Economy

While I appreciate Marx’s analysis of industrial commodities (I can honestly say I have never thought so much about linen in my life).  Thinking about the process of value, prices, and their relation to wages left me wondering how elements of this theory play out in a more service oriented economy.  Marx seems to suggest these services are still commodities, as he notes that even things totally without value, such as an individual’s honor, may be sold and consumed (p. 197).  However,  when receiving haircut, having a mechanic service your car, receiving medical treatment, you may have the same time of labor performed for you, but the price of the labor is entirely different.  Even if we controlled for all of the materials consumed during the service (rent, tools, x-ray film), it seems that the doctor’s hour is worth more than the stylist’s hour simply on account of the profession and title. Do these services have different value because of the training? Are we paying now for all of the value of accumulated medical school?  Or is there some other force, beyond labor based value, that alters the price of these services?

Or instead of thinking of these as commodities, are we truly just paying wages?  if that is the case, why does the doctor or the mechanic not have the same race to the bottom as the industrial laborer?  I am additionally troubled by thinking of service economy simply as wages because this labor does have direct use value to us, suggesting we consume it like other commodities. While these questions may not have been as central to Marx, as the service economy was not as fully developed, I hope for some further discussion of these ideas, as I could not get passed them as we read the accounts of industrial commodities.  Thus I look forward to our discussion of the evolution of Marx’s theories of capital as we apply them to an era less dominated by industrial labor. 

1 comment:

  1. Johnathan,

    I also thought about the relation between commodities and labor in (what is often characterized as) a service economy, like ours. Like you pointed out, there seems to be a correlation between how much a degree in a profession costs to how much we pay for that service. I was considering lawyers as an example of highly paid service providers alongside doctors and maybe even talented IT developers or business moguls. The interesting thing about these careers is that their entire industry is expensive from a consumer standpoint, yet we know that not everyone working in that field is being paid the same wage. The nurse does not make as much as the surgeon, the paralegal not as much as the lawyer. The division seems to run along the line of who has the knowledge and who does not. But, is it the knowledge that is valued or the price that person paid to gain the knowledge. Is there another factor altogether. Services are, I think, branded as a luxury, but any sick person would argue that doctors are a necessity. Too, if you need your car to get to work, the mechanic for that car quickly becomes a necessity. The blurring of what is a necessity and what is a luxury is murky and clearly not static. What we view as necessary now is different from at the time of Marx’s writing. There was a news story not long ago that looked more closely at how we define poverty in relation to current society (I’ve linked to it below) and I think that the tension between the service industry and product industry plays into how our understanding of wealth is fluid and subjection, yet poverty remains real.


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