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Work as a Value

Work as a Value

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Published by: onenationregister on Nov 07, 2013
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Work as a Value
By Maurice Glasman
It is wonderful to be here at the LSE. I've had debates with Michael Gove and Jesse Norman, and with Lord Skidelsky, but my fondest memory of the LSE remains the Living Wage Campaign with London Citizens. In that campaign we discovered the London School of Economics was precisely not supposed to be the Chicago School and reproduce the deficiencies of an exclusive reliance on individual utility maximisation as a unit of calculation and, according the Webbs, it was supposed to develop a theory of Labour Value. It didn't turn out that way. As we know, the Fabians discovered the state as the instrument of progress, justice and efficiency and it was not clear where work fitted into that scheme. External redistribution replaced internal negotiation and the balance of power as the fundamental agent of change. Caught between the individual maximiser and the collective aggregator society effectively disappeared from economic calculation as a source of value and was externalised as a cultural or historical anomaly that got in the way of maximum efficiency, price equilibrium and just distribution. The Living Wage campaign drew attention precisely to the limits of contractual individualism in thinking about work because the cleaners, cooks and security guards were a necessary part of the University and were denied decent pay and conditions through contracting out which treated a human being as a disposable commodity. The discovery that the Webbs were committed to a Living Wage for all Londonders was one of the few favours that the Fabians have ever done for me and we won a Living Wage on the basis that we were being true to the founding vision of this university. Working with the students, particularly in the NUS, the Islamic Society and the Christian Union, getting to know the cleaning staff and generating new friendships and alliances was a very good experience and not only is the LSE being true to its founding mission in paying it but
also in hosting debates such as these as a forum for public debate. That was also part of the vision of a London School outlined in the founding documents. One of the core features of Blue Labour is that the old is the new, that our past is our future and finding out what the original mission of an institution is before giving advice on renewal is fundamental to our approach. I think that under the leadership of Craig Calhoun the LSE is rediscovering its identity and renewing its mission. It is also the case that this debate, about work as a value, is of central political as well as academic importance. I will suggest that work is a value, a good in itself as well as a source of value. That it is characterised by an internal good, the expertise, experience and excellence of internal accomplishment, doing a job well and also as an external good, in terms of generating value in commodities and the determination of price and wages. There are two internal goods. It is both good for people to accomplish something skilfully, to participate in an inheritance of practice and innovate within it. It is also a good in terms of an internal practice that is shared between practitioners that nurtures the character of a person. In terms of external goods, there is the generation of value expressed in price. A constitutive feature of any commodity is the quality of the labour that is involved in its production. The second external good is that the preservation of work in terms of honesty, skill, resilience, co-operation and competitiveness is fundamental to a good society and a good life. The political consensus around economics in the past thirty, I would say seventy years has assumed that almost anything other than work generates value. I have been assured that capital generates value, that technology generates value, that state planning generates value, that universities generate value, that friendship generates value, but significant though all these things are, if work, if labour, is ignored then a constitutive and decisive feature of value is ignored. The way this plays out in both political and academic terms concerns the argument over the explanation of the comparative superiority of the German model in terms of its external competitiveness and its internal economic system. How can it be that the country with the greatest degree of democratic governance in its economy has proved to the most competitive? How is it possible that a vocational system of labour market regulation has proved to be more efficient than its flexible competitors? How is it that a sectoral and local form of banking survived
the crash in so much better shape than competitive asset maximising banks? It was her Majesty the Queen, here at the LSE, who politely asked why none of her expert economic advisors had predicted the crash. 'Why did no-one warn me this would happen?' she asked. The letter of response from economists is an object lesson on how to deny that there is an epistemological crisis of explanation in any theory of value that does not include work as something other than a commodity, as a good carried by human beings who flourish when they treat each other humanely. That is the key Aristotelian insight. In turns out that there is a need of intermediate institutions that promote virtue, vocation and value within the economy otherwise capital will erode trust and constraint leading to the circumstances of the crash in which unaccountable greed and recklessness brought us to the brink of ruin. Capital exerts a tremendous pressure to turn centralise ownership and turn labour into a commodity but human beings are capable of association, negotiation, learning, expression and improvisation and these are nurtured by institutions that uphold a non commodity status for labour within the economic system. Institutions like vocational colleges, unions and works councils play a constitutive role in the preservation and renewal of work. Labour has the ability to organise itself because it is human and it turns out that the results are better if labour value is recognised as a distinctive factor of production. Where finance capital, or the state assert sovereignty and labour is subordinated there is exploitation and oppression. Karl Polanyi's theory of commodification in which things that are not produced for sale become available at a price is, I think, the best starting point for understanding this. So work has a commodity value, an ethical value and a societal value as a means through which knowledge and good practice are reproduced and renewed. Blue Labour goes further and states that work, is definitive of what it means to be a human being. In this it is true to both socialist and Catholic thought. There are two forms of labour. One is childbirth and the reproduction of life and the attempt that parents make to love and honour their children throughout life. Labour in this sense is definitionally painful, full of grief and sacrifice as well as love and grace, not always in equal measure and the same is true of the other kind of labour, the transformation of the external world and inherited materials, conceptual and material, so as to increase their

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