The real reason Seattle-area restaurants are experiencing labor shortages – Slog

“Let the dollars flow, let the dollars flow …” vorDa /

According to Matt Baume, one of the main reasons Seattle restaurants are currently experiencing a severe labor shortage is due to this disincentive: wages are too low to make livability stress-free in a city. which has almost no affordable or public / cost-controlled housing options. . This reading, which is not false, will serve as a starting point here.


A look at the basic structure of this crisis reveals something that is not said enough in the majority of journalistic or academic reviews that qualify the economic period following the 1960s as “post-Fordist.” On the one hand, the current structure of capitalism is characterized by the rise of a deregulated financial sector which corresponds to the fall of a unionized production department. On the other hand, we are witnessing an increase in indebtedness which corresponds to the stagnation (or even the fall) of salaries in the department of un-unionized distribution, the services.

This economical formulation explains the current and local business environment that Baume described in the Slog AM article. The inflation of housing values ​​over the past four decades expresses the strength of a sector that has securitized livability; the repression of wages which has lasted for four decades expresses the structurally weak position of work in the services. Two developments, however, have given workers in this department a boost and respite. One can be attributed to activism (such as the national success of Kshama Sawant’s $ 15 minimum wage project); the other to nature, to chance, to a pandemic that came out of nowhere and which seems to be going nowhere soon.

Working for fifteen dollars an hour is certainly not enough to make ends meet in a city like Seattle, but minimum wage activism has made the problem common. The other development, the pandemic, has forced the government to redirect some of its massive monetary support from the stock markets to the job market, to workers. This was to happen because capitalism collapses almost immediately if the flow of goods, services and capital is impeded. The loss of jobs due to the lockdown was so severe that the government was forced to put in place a meaningful (albeit temporary) employment insurance program.

That said, the sense of urgency regarding the current labor shortage needs an even deeper explanation, which I think can be found in the pages of Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie.

In Marxian economics, the theory of the organic composition of production (the relationship between machines and human beings) provides an explanation for the declining rate of profit. To understand this explanation, we must first distinguish between value and price. The habit in orthodox and heterodox economics is to think of the two as the same thing. But they are not. Value is made, and prices, on the other hand, realize that value. And because value is made, surplus value – the cornerstone of capitalism – can also be made.

The part of the day when compensation for working time ends and free time begins is, according to the classic Marxian critique of classical political economy, the moment when value (equality between worker and employer) becomes surplus value. (inequality between worker and employer). The first is determined by the socially necessary labor time (the cost of living – or, in other words, the cost of replenishing the labor force), and the more this determinant is reduced, the more the surplus is available for the profits made by cash.

An important insight provided by David Harvey’s reading of Grundrisse, which is a collection of notes that form the basis of Karl Marx’s mature works, is that capitalism cannot function as it is if variable capital (labor), the source of surplus value, is largely replaced by capital constant (the machines), which by of course greatly increase the production rate but add a little more to this process. Manufacturing equipment can, according to Marx, only convey the value that it already has to products. Robots, oddly enough, cannot be exploited. As a result, the profits from surplus value begin to fall.

But if so, how can capitalism persist in a society like the United States, a technologically overdeveloped society? Post-Keynesians like Steve Keen, a brilliant mathematical-minded economist, often set this trap for orthodox Marxists. If labor is the source of all value, why is capitalism still there? Why the organic composition of American capitalism led to its collapse in the second half of the 20th century? For Keen, the theory of labor value, which actually dates back to Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the fathers of classical political economy, is belied by the seemingly obvious fact that capitalism is still, in the 21st century, in the making. agenda. .

But Harvey has an honest path around this post-Keynesian trap. According to his way of thinking, which is guided by pages 750 and 751 of the Penguin edition of the English translation of Grundrisse, if one department of the capitalist process in a given society is saturated with robots, which can only transmit the value they have, then another must be saturated with work, which can transform “muscles, nerves, bones and the brain “in value and, above all, an added value. In the case of today’s American capitalism, capital-intensive departments such as manufacturing can survive because the service department is still labor-intensive, and therefore it generates the most- value which is distributed among the capitalists.

This is why activism and labor shortages occur in restaurants, an important section of the service department. This is also why there is a frantic search for constant capital solutions for services in general. One is the autonomous car, the other the automatic checkouts, the other the autonomous pizza delivery pods.

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