We are frequently asked by First-Worldists why capitalists would hire workers who ‘are not exploited.’

Because the employment of high-wage workers in imperialist countries generates a profit for their employer, First-Worldists reason, these employers must be exploiting their workers.

Unfortunately, the line of reasoning fails to recognize the difference between the realization of surplus-value as profit, and the creation of surplus-value from exploitation. They are not the same.

To illustrate this, a simple question must be asked. Because a film studio hires Tom Cruise with the expectation it will bring a net-gain of capital, does this mean Tom Cruise is exploited? Or is Kim Kardashian exploited when she is paid a paltry 10,000 USD to publish a ‘tweet’ when much more is generated in additional sales by her employers? And despite his purported 110 million USD income, is Lil’ Wayne exploited. His record label, Young Money, is merely an imprint of Universal Music Group, which is a subsidiary of the French media and telecommunications conglomerate Vivendi.

Lil' Wayne, "Hip Hop Socialist?"

Lil’ Wayne, “Hip Hop Socialist?”

The obvious answer is no. Underlying Marxist analysis of economics is the notion that the production of value does not necessarily correspond to its realization. The idea that workers produce value while capitalists realize it is foundational to Marxist theory. Yet only the staunchest apologists for the First World could vulgarize this to the point of claiming people like Tom Cruise, Kim Kardashian, and Lil’ Wayne might be exploited.

Imperialism, i.e. the structural divide and inter-relation between the Third and First World, has a distorting effect whereby value is largely produced in the former and realized in the latter. Just as Tom Cruise gets paid about $22 million USD for making crappy movies, the median wage for amerikan workers (39,500 USD) is nearly twice abstract labor’s exchange-value (around $20,000 per year for full-time work) and and over 31 times greater than the global median for the price of labor-power (1,250 USD), often for work which is meaningless from the perspective of humanity but profitable for individuals. In both cases, neither Tom Cruise nor the median amerikan worker is involved in the production of surplus-value, but are heavily involved in its realization.

Maybe Third-Worldists are wrong. Maybe it is correct to conflate the realization of surplus-value with its production.

But if this is so, and if Tom Cruise, Kim Kardashian, and Lil’ Wayne are exploited, it begs the question of exactly what sort of practical implications this places before the communist movement?

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Marxism, Political Economy, Theory


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