[Marxism] Working hours and the law of value

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Wed Jun 9 17:46:28 MDT 2004

Michael Huberman of the University of Montreal provided some interesting
data on average hours worked per year in the USA, which can be supplemented
from many other sources.

In 1870 it was 3,010 hours per American worker per year (Maddison's estimate
= 2964) with a labor force of 12.9 million(nearly 46% of the working age
population). Workers worked 9-10 hours a day, 6 days per week, and 309 days
per year, and had Sundays off.
In 1899 it was 2,795 hours per American worker per year (Maddison's estimate
for 1900 = 2,707 and 1913 = 2,605) with a labor force of 29 million ( 50% of
the working age population)
In 1998 it was 1,610 hours per American worker per year with a labor force
(2000) of about 140 million in 1998 (67% of the working age population) of
which 108 million employed fulltime and 23 million employed parttime.

That is to say, across a span of 130 years time, the average hours worked
per American worker per year, were reduced to half of what they were in
1870. But a vastly greater proportion of the population worked for money,
and other data show clearly that they produced vastly more per hour, with a
larger amount of average capital invested per worker. Between 1870 and 1913
the value of output per worker doubled, and between 1870 and 1998 the total
labor force grew by nearly eleven times in size. As you can see from these
estimates, whereas paid labor force participation was less than half of the
American working population in 1870, nowadays it is about two-thirds of the
American population.

We can calculate that, assuming that on average parttime employees worked
half the hours of fulltime workers, a total of approximately 193 billion
paid hours were worked by employees in the American economy in 1998. It is
also possible to work out in detail how those hours were actually valued in
the market, and how much of the value of the product of those working hours
was claimed by the great social classes.

Suppose we dropped the GDP focus and the profitability focus for a moment,
and wanted to test out how the law of value actually operates in United
States economic history. Well, we could do so quite easily, over very large
stretches of time, because every form of quantitative data required is
available, and computing techniques plus some relatively simple math allow
us to reduce the time required to do it to a manageable level. In fact, you
could study the operation of this law quantatively for the world economy as
a whole, to grasp the world-historical trends.



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