Marxism 101

Open Letter to Amanda Palmer, The Newly Arrived Member of the Petit Bourgeoisie

Edit: Amand Palmer has now decided to maybe do the right thing, although the details are still sketchy. A new blog post reports that she is now going to pay her "volunteer" musicians, and I'm glad she's decided to do that right thing. That said, I hope she really does learn from this and spends some time thinking about her newfound power as a person capable of raising the kind of capital she finds herself in command of. ANd I hope she's paying her volunteers AFM Scale for their performances.

Note: This began life as a comment on AFP's blog here. It's been expanded and edited a bit below.

Dear Amanda,

First, know that I'm a fan. I like your music. I like what you do. I think you're a very talented performer.

Second, know that I'm a musician, and an accomplished one. I graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2000 and I've been around working musicians my whole adult life. I've been a working recording engineer, record producer, and live sound engineer. I've also worked for no money at friends gigs and I've got lots of friends who have struggled hard on tours trying to make enough gas money to make it to the next town. And I have dozens of friends and acquaintances who to this day make their living as professional musicians.

I want you to know this because I want you to understand where I'm coming from when I tell you that what you're doing is awful and you need to stop.

Surplus Value in a Nutshell

Take all the money you need to survive and add it up. Call this amount X. X is the lower limit of your financial ability to sustain just yourself. It's what you need for food shelter and the basic necessities of life. X is actually quite a low number. The only people who make anything close to X in the United States are migrant workers, and even they make more than X which is the reason why they come to the US seeking work, because back home in Mexico, Guatemala and various other depressed countries, X is significantly lower than it is in the United States and even a little money to send home makes a huge difference in the lives of those living in the abject poverty of the developing world. But I digress. We need to focus on X.

So now suppose that you are entering the labor market. The labor market, without other regulation, is largely like any other market. The prices are controlled by supply and demand. If your ability to produce in whatever job you are seeking is roughly on par with the average entry level worker in the labor market, then the supply for the sort of labor you offer is very high. In fact, it will almost always exceed demand. What this means is that for the Average Worker AW with no special skills that increase his ability to produce above and beyond that of any other average entry level worker, the labor market exerts constant downward pressure on wages due to competition and limited demand.

The situation is slightly different for a Skilled Worker SW. SW is in a better situation because SW has skills that make his output greater than that of AW. What this means is that if SW and AW work for the same amount of time, SW will produce a greater absolute output than will AW. Accordingly, SW will be able to demand higher wages in the labor market. However, there is a limit on SW's ability to exploit this ability to produce more which is the competition from other skilled workers. This also exerts downward pressure on skilled workers.


Ahem, is this thing on? Testing? One, Two, Three?

As the world teeters on the brink of true stupidity, I would just like to take one moment to state once more from my little soap box that seriously folks, the federal budget deficit is not a fucking problem right now.

The Thing About the Tea Party Movement, or False Consciousness for Fun and Profit!

It's not clear that Karl Marx ever used the term "false consciousness" to describe ideology and the way it is used to convince members of the proletariat to act against their own interests politically, but the notion is one that has shown remarkable prescience and staying power as a problem for leftist politics in the last couple centuries or so. It's a useful tool that at least helps to explain how it came to be that Irish immigrants who were apparently no friends of black folks at the time nevertheless joined the Union Army during the civil war to participate in a fight to end slavery in America. It seems to be lurking in the background of the poor kids who got duped into fighting in Korea and Vietnam where it has never been clear that brinksmanship with Mao's China had any real benefit for an American workforce in the middle of the greatest prosperity any labor force has ever had in the history of the world—thanks in no small part to the strength of labor unions in the forties, fifties and sixties; and to President Eisenhower's 70% top marginal tax rate. And frankly, arguments about getting money for school and gaining job skills aside, I can't help but think it's there in the fresh faced kids signing up to learn how to be IED fodder year in and year out in a Military that hasn't had to fight a defensive war in almost four generations now. It also explains to a great degree the question Thomas Frank asked and attempted to answer a few years book in his book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" Frank's answer is wrong because Frank is a milquetoast liberal, and like all milquetoast liberals, he has conceded too much to capitalist propaganda to continue to make a coherent argument for a robust leftwing agenda. But the problem he has identified is real, despite the many attempts to discredit his work by right wing "intellectuals" shilling for the GOP.