Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter XXII: National Differences of Wages

How to compare the rates of wages in different nations.—Modifications of the law of value in its international application.—Apparent wages and real wages.

How to Compare the Rates of Wages in Different.

To compare the rates of wages in different nations, one must begin by considering all the conditions controlling the value of labor-power in each respective country—such as the extent of the ordinary needs and requirements of its inhabitants, the prices of the means of subsistence, the average size of working-class families, the cost of the laborer's training, the part played by the labor of women and children, and finally the productiveness, duration and intensity of labor.

When the daily duration of labor and the wages per day in each country are known, it is easy to calculate for each country the price per hour of labor in the same branches of industry. One is then in a position to compare the rates of time-wages in the different nations. Then these time-wages must be reduced to piece-wages, as the latter are the only index of the varying degrees of the intensity and productivity of labor. To do this all that is required, when one knows the price per hour of labor in a branch of industry, is to find out how much time is spent in the making of an article in that branch.

Modifications of the Law of Value in its International Application.

In every country there is a certain ordinary intensity of labor. When the intensity is below this common level a product consumes more labor-time than is socially necessary; but, no matter how much time it has consumed, it has on the national market only the value correspondent to the time socially necessary for its production. Value is measured solely by the duration of this socially necessary time, and this rule is modified only when the labor attains a degree of intensity above the nationally normal intensity.

This is not the case on the universal market where the products of different countries are brought together for sale and trade. The ordinary intensity of national labor is not the same in all countries. It is greater here, and smaller there. These various national averages or standards of intensity form a scale, whose unit of measure is the average international intensity of labor. Compared to the more intense national labor, the less intense national labor creates in the same time less value, which expresses itself in less money.

Another more profound modification of the law of value in its application to the universal market is that the more productive national labor counts, on this market, as the more intense labor—i.e., as labor producing not only a greater quantity of products but also a greater quantity of value—so long as the more productive nation is not forced by competition to lower the selling price of its commodities to the level of their real value.

If capitalist production is more highly developed in a particular country, the national labor of that country will, as a consequence, have a greater average productiveness and intensity than general international labor will have, and the quantity of value produced in the same time will be greater and will express itself in more money. And money will be worth relatively less in such a country than in countries where capitalist production is less developed.

Apparent Wages and Real Wages.

From this last fact it follows that nominal wages, the expression of labor-power in money, will on the average be higher in the more advanced countries than in the more backward. It does not necessarily follow that this will hold true for real wages, i.e., for the means of subsistence placed at the disposal of the laborer.

Apart from this difference in the value of money compared to commodities, it will often be found that even if the daily or weekly wages are higher in one nation, the relative price of labor, i.e., its price compared either to the surplus-value or to the value of the product, is lower in that nation, than in countries where lower wages obtain.

While the apparent or nominal price of labor is usually lower in poor countries, where as a rule food stuffs are cheap, the real price, i.e., the cost to the capitalist of a certain quantity of accomplished labor, is, nearly always, dearer than in rich countries.