Labor Commodity Proposition

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Zak Stein:

"One of the foundations of the capitalist economy is the idea that individuals are free to sell their labor as a commodity that is fundamentally no different from other commodities, being part of a marketplace with price competitions governed by supply and demand. The labor commodity proposition (i.e., that labor is just like any other commodity) justifies, among other things, the persistence of efficiency-oriented decision procedures and data-driven management strategies in which labor is represented as if it were simply another purchasable component in the production process, to be sought for as cheaply as possible and utilized with maximal efficiency. It is the labor commodity proposition that provides the terms for justifying the existence of sweatshops and not providing a living wage.

Of course, labor is actually unlike other commodities (such as a TV or car), because labor is inalienable from the person who “sells” it. You cannot separate the laborer from the labor. When I sell you my TV in exchange for a sum of money, you walk away with the TV and I walk away with the money. But when I sell you my labor, I must live through the work to be done. The valuation of my labor (assigning it a numerical, cash value) and my fulfillment of the employment contract (exchanging my labor for what it is deemed to be worth) implicate me both physically and psychologically in a way that the exchange of my TV for cash does not.

The analogy between labor and other commodities breaks down once the economy is understood not merely as a system of exchange, but also as a system of employment. It is not just things that are caught up in market dynamics; there are also people being exchanged, their capacities and time being purchased. Framing economic issues in terms of the analogy “labor is a commodity” removes considerations about the human side of the labor-exchange relationship, simplifying its representation in terms of monetary units, and depoliticizing it by turning it into an impersonal relationship (like the selling of a TV) to be negotiated and determined in terms of what the market will bear, as opposed to what justice requires due to the involvement of persons." (

More information