Above: Karl Marx, a rather remote figure for some people. Credit: Public domain.

Surplus Value

To some students these days the Marxian concept of surplus value is assumed to be historical and remote to their milieu. No longer really relevant--meaning it is a concept connected, in their minds, to factory work. Not so! The concept has never been more relevant, and is in fact more relevant today than ever before. Surplus value is created by the hourly-paid worker and is appropriated by the capitalist as income and profit. It is the essential material of capitalism, and is not at all bound up with factories, or any other specific workplace.

A good example from today's world is the barista. The barista takes raw materials (a cup of milk, some ground-coffee and a paper cup) worth about, say, 5p, and creates a hot beverage (a cappuccino) that retails for an average price of, say, £2.80. If a barista makes 20 coffees each hour and a shift is 8 hours then a barista creates a total of (160 x £2.80) £448-worth of hot coffees per shift. A barista in the UK is typically paid £7 per hour or £56 per day. So, as an average, a barista creates £384 in surplus value per shift (£448 minus £56 for labour costs and £8 raw-material costs), all of which is immediately appropriated by the owner-capitalist. Now, how remote and antiquated is that? No, it's not factory work, but the familiar mechanism of capitalist exploitation is absolutely unchanged and in full force.

(14 November 2018)