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The (International) Political Economy of Falling Wage Shares: Situating Working-Class Agency

Erik Bengtsson and Magnus Ryner

New Political Economy, 2015, vol. 20, issue 3, 406-430

Abstract: This paper relates the financial and monetary dimensions of the contemporary economic crisis to working-class agency via a central concern of classical political economy: the distribution of surplus between the chief factors of production. The fall in the wage share of value added is now accepted as a stylised fact in the empirical economic literature. This paper argues that the punctuated pattern of the development validates the regulation theoretical narrative of an epochal shift from Fordism to finance-led accumulation. Furthermore, synthesising econometric studies supports a class-centred explanation. In the last instance, the falling wage share is due to successful transnational class rule in the form of a neoliberal hegemonic paradigm. Crucially, such class rule restructured the environment of trade unions, rendering increasingly ineffective its relational power resources. The paper concludes by considering the contradictory implications for organised labour of the current financial crisis. On the one hand, the financial crisis offers an opportunity to link its particular interests to the general interest of macroeconomic management since low wage share inhibits growth rates. But how might trade unions assert a higher wage share in the face of the structural power of (financial) capital?

Date: 2015
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DOI: 10.1080/13563467.2014.951430

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