You are on page 1of 6


Pradip Baksi

Abstract The claim that capitalism is the dominant mode of production today may not stand the test of labour time measure of all the work done in the world.

Keywords Political Economy; Mode of Production; Capitalism; Time Use Studies; Unpaid Domestic Labour.

In contemporary political economy the current crisis of capitalism is the most discussed issue. Almost all the political economists think that today capitalism is the most dominant mode of production in the world economy. Any disagreement with this consensus may be considered to be a veritable blasphemy. As a mode of production capitalism is characterised by preponderance of commodity production for profit.

How preponderant is really preponderant?

Till date, everywhere, commodity production is based upon the natural production of the labour providing worker in the family. Not only that, even in the bourgeois families of G7/8 economies the familial production and reproduction of children of the bourgeoisie is not commodity production, but natural production: production of use value without the corresponding exchange value. Everywhere in the world the familial goods and services enter into the commodity chain only as end products: as the labour of child worker and adult worker, nutrition for the worker, health and vigour of the rested and sexually serviced worker etc. etc. However, even when the sum total of the familial services and goods (= the worker) enters into the market, nobody pays for the past familial goods and services, for the unpaid dead labour of mother/wife/other familial care givers, embedded in the body and consciousness of the worker available for hiring in the market. In other words, child-rearing and adult-servicing related familial unpaid labour still remains outside the pale of commodity market everywhere. How big is the share of this labour in the economy as a whole? Comprehensive global data required for this measurement does not exist. A study of Australian childcare time for the year 1997 shows that: when the time spent in secondary activities is included, childcare becomes the largest industry in both the household and market economies. It absorbs more labour than any other paid or unpaid economic activity. The total amount of time Australians spent on caring for children in 1997 was equivalent to almost two-thirds (63 percent) of the entire labour time absorbed by the market economy (Ironmonger 2004: 10506). It is necessary to compute comparable

child-rearing-time related data for each country and, for the world as a whole. For some steps taken, which may lead us in that direction, see: Razavi 2007; Budlender 2007.

Further, most workers employed in the capitalist market sell their labour power for a fixed period of time: say, 8 or 12 hours a day. For the remaining 16 or 12 hours of the 24 hour day they remain largely outside the pale of commodity production and exchange, as they provide and/or enjoy unpaid familial services. Thus, commodity production and exchange at most occupies 50% (= 12 hours) of the daily time of most gainfully employed people of the world. Some upward revision may be required for the minority upmarket workers who can afford paid leisure-time services. For the vast majority of world population, the reach of commodity production and exchange is certainly much less than 50% of their time.

Is it permissible then to say that the capitalist commodity production and exchange is preponderant in the world today?

It seems that so long as human civilisation remains unable and/or unwilling to pay for the unpaid domestic labour of women and children, capitalist commodity production and exchange can not become preponderant in the world. Women and children constitute more than 50% of the global working population and, the total wages for their unpaid labour may add up to about 2 times the total wages paid in the global market economy today. It is very likely

that when global childcare labour time and other unpaid domestic labour time is computedand that would include data from the less industrialised economiesthen the Australian 63%: 37%, childcare: market labour time ratio may need upward revision in favour of unpaid domestic labour time. The notion of preponderance of capitalist commodity production over natural production in the global economy today appears to be false, once the veil of nonrecognition is removed from the face of unpaid familial labour.

In human history, so far we have two interdependent types of production: natural and commodity. The different socioeconomic formations or modes of productionnamely: primitive communal, Greco-Roman slave-holding, West European feudal, Asiatic, Germanic, Slavonic, capitalist and, their various hybrids, are all, without exception, various combinations of these two types of production. Apart from what has been indicated above about the economics of familial labour time, some developments in Economic Anthropology (Goody 1996) and, in the study of history of world economy (Frank 1998), also require of us that we revisit the very concept of mode of production in general and, that of the capitalist mode in particular.

So far political economy has remained largely preoccupied with the 8 to 12 hour employed worker in the market. It has failed or refused to study the 24 hour family-market continuum. The demand for a political economy of the 24 hour totality of human social life can not make peace with this failure or refusal. It has to go the whole hog.


Budlender, Debbie 2007, A Critical Review of Selected Time Use Surveys. UNRISD, Gender and Development Programme Area, Political and Social Economy of Care, Paper No.: 2. Available at: <
(httpPapersForProgrammeArea)/169A34EDDF90D43DC12573240034E24E? OpenDocument>.

Frank, Andre Gunder 1998, ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, New Delhi: Vistaar Publications.

Goody, Jack 1996, The East in the West, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ironmonger, Duncan 2004, Bringing up Bobby and Betty: the inputs and outputs of childcare time, in: Family Time: The social organization of care, edited by Nancy Folbre and Michael Bittman, pp.93109, London and New York: Routledge.

Razavi, Shahra 2007, The Political and Social Economy of Care in a Development Context: Conceptual Issues, Research Questions and Policy Options, Gender and Development Programme Area, Political and Social Economy of Care, Paper No.: 3. Available at: <
(httpPapersForProgrammeArea)/2DBE6A93350A7783C12573240036D5A0? OpenDocument>.

Submission from: Pradip Baksi, Translator and editor of the Mathematical Manuscripts of Karl Marx, (Kolkata: Viswakos 1994), into Bengali (ISBN 81 86210 04 0) and English (ISBN 81 86210 00 8). These are complete translations of: K. Marks, Matematicheskie Rukopisi (Moscow: Nauka 1968), edited by Sofya Aleksandrovna Yanovskaya, together with Special Supplements titled Marx and Mathematics, reflecting the history of these manuscripts, subsequent investigations inspired by them and, some texts pertaining to future research questions.