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Marx on Absolute and Relative Wages and the Modern Theory of Distribution

Enrico Levrero ()

Review of Political Economy, 2013, vol. 25, issue 1, 91-116

Abstract: This paper aims at clarifying some aspects of Marx's analysis of the determinants of wages and of the peculiarity of labour as a commodity, focusing on three related issues. The first is that of Marx's notion of the subsistence (or natural) wage rate: the subsistence wage will be shown to stem, according to Marx, from socially determined conditions of reproduction of an efficient labouring class. The second issue refers to the distinction between the natural and the market wage rate that can be found in Marx, and his critique of Ricardo's analysis of the determinants of the price of labour. Here the ‘law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production’ (that is, Marx's industrial reserve army mechanism) will be considered both with respect to cyclical fluctuations of wages and to their trend over time. Moreover, a classification of the social and institutional factors affecting the average wage rate will be advanced. Finally, the last issue concerns Marx's analysis of the effects of technical progress on both absolute and relative wages (that is, the wage share). It will also be discussed by relating it back to the longstanding debate on the Marxian law of the falling rate of profit, and addressing some possible scenarios of the trend of wages and distribution.

Date: 2013
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DOI: 10.1080/09538259.2013.737126

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