If you would add up all the labour that goes into the things you consume on an average day, how many hours do you consume a day?

Extra clarification: https://mishathings.com/2021-08-23-how-many-people-work-for-me.html

@AgreeableLandscape
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12d

As a Westerner, most likely WAY more than I’m personally comfortable with. Even simply existing in a Western country means that a lot of people, often from less wealthy places, are making my life possible. Even simple things like walking around in the city. Well, that concrete I’m stepping on probably didn’t originate locally.

Black Tulip
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1112d

I couldn’t even begin to calculate it. I have no idea how long it took to produce a lot of the stuff I use on a daily basis, and I don’t even know where to start.

Like, for instance, I drink a cup of tea every morning. I like black tea with sugar. In order for me to have tea in the morning in the first place, someone had to make the stove in my apartment, someone had to install it. A gasman had to hook it up to the gas system, and employees at the gas plant have to work to make sure the system has enough gas for not only my morning tea, but also everyone else’s cooking needs around the time that I made tea. Someone had to make the kettle I use, someone had to transport it to a store, then someone had to sell it to me. A plumber had to install the water system in my apartment, and hook the sink up to it. workers at the water plant have to filter the water and make sure that I have water during the same period when thousands of people in my area are taking showers, washing dishes, etc. A farmer had to grow the tea, over a course of months - do I count the months, or just the active working time? - and farmhands had to harvest it. Lipton then had to process, bag, package, and ship the tea to stores, where then a worker had to stock the shelves with the tea, and another had to sell said tea. I use primarily cane sugar, which means a farmer in South America planted the cane, tended to it, then harvested it. That cane was then transported to a processing centre where workers turned the raw cane into raw sugar, then separated the sugar to make it pure. Then that sugar needed to be transported - likely by boat - to the United States and shipped via trucks to the packaging plant, where the sugar is then put into a branded bag and shipped to stores, where again a worker had to stock the shelves, and an other had to sell the sugar to me. We’re already at potentially hundreds of hours of work, and we’re not even done yet. Next, I can’t just make hot tea in my hands, so I need a mug. which means workers had to dig the materials needed to make ceramics out of the ground, ship it to a processor to refine it, then ship the refined material to a mug maker. Who then shipped the mugs to get artwork put on them. Then shipped to a store, and again sold to me. Lastly, the spoon. Iron ore had to be mined from the ground, refined, shipped to a manufacturer, turned into a spoon, then shipped to the store where I bought it.

This is just one thing that takes me maybe 15 minutes a morning, constructed of only 4 core components (there are more in the process of making the parts, but this is already a book long comment) and it’s already impossible to really know how many total hours were required to make it possible for me to do. We could go into the hundreds of hours my breakfast would take to make possible, the hundreds of hours it would take to make my computer possible, etc. In a day, I probably consume thousands upon thousands of hours worth of labour.

@snek_boi
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9d

Yeah, the calculation can get impractically hard to do.

This gets harder to calculate because of integrated costs of production (e.g., the work that went into the machine that another worker used to create your commodity, as well as the work that went into creating that machine, etc.).

However, we’re in luck because the price of commodities is more closely correlated with labor costs than with profits (or ‘markups’); variations between prices and labor costs are, on average, 15%, meaning there’s a very high correlation between both (Shaikh’s Capitalism book, p.21 for a quick summary, a couple graphs of the data in p.396-7, more diverse sources of evidence and theoretical contextualization in p.433-442). This means how much you pay for something can serve as a quick-and-dirty proxy of the integrated labor-cost necessary to produce a commodity, give or take 12-15%. What remains, then, is to estimate a wage (or wages, in the integrated version). In the end, only with prices and estimated wages, I think the question in this post can be reasonably well answered.

Calculating it is both harder and easier than it seems.

Edit: Clarity and page numbers.

@mishathings@mander.xyz
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12d

Thanks for the reference, I’ve added the book to my reading list.

However,knowing the price of commodities are more closely correlated with labor-time than with profits (or ‘markups’;

I see. Assuming that prices are mostly made up of labour costs (?), I “only” need to know the average hourly wage/salary in the supply chain-network of the products I consume could get me a rough estimate of the labour time that went into it.

variations between prices and labor costs are, on average, 15%,

Is this in Shaikh’s book? If so, do you maybe have a page reference for this? Do you mean that on average, prices are for 85% made up of labour costs? And the rest is profit [1] and rent [2]?

[1] what workers effectively pay their bosses to be allowed to use their machines

[2] what farmers need to pay to landowners to be able to use their land

@snek_boi
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29d

Sure. I updated the original comment to include page numbers. I also suggest watching the video lectures. He covers this topic in his 10th lecture on the course based on the book.

I’m still thinking about this, now that I revisited the topic, but I think it’s fair to say that prices of commodities are ‘composed’, on average, of 85% labor costs. The reason I’m not entirely sure is because it’s different to say that something deviates by an amount, and that one quantity is 85% of another. However, statements from his book like the following make me think it’s fair to use the ‘composed of’ meaning: “In this metric the distance between market prices and direct prices is about 15%, that between prices of production at the observed rate of profit and integrated labor times is about 13%, while that between market prices and production prices at the observed rate of profit is once again about 15%.” (Shaikh 2016, 439)

@mishathings@mander.xyz
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512d

Yes it is mind-boggling. But then again a lot of these processes serve many people. It may take months for a farmer to grow the wheat that is in my bread, but in doing so he provides for thousands of breads. So effectively my bread doesn’t contain “months of work”, but “months of work” / “thousands of pieces of bread”.

Jesse
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210d

I’m going to invoke blissful ignorance on this one… cause it’s likely an amount I would be seriously uncomfortable with. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that people specialize though. I consume products that a lot of people put time into rather frivolously. But I also put a lot of time into my work, that end-users consumer rather frivolously as well. It’s a cycle and we all play our part in some aspect. Of course, ignoring all the issues with labor inequality.

@mishathings@mander.xyz
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10d

No, specialization is fine. It’s just that, through the market, you lose track of how many people work for you.

Let’s say you own an estate and have a gardener, a butler and a maid, it’s clear. It’s visible. You know it, they know it, your neighbours know it. If you, through the market, effectively consume 3 fte of (international) labour, you’re practically living the same aristocrat life, without realizing it.

If this situation would be more visible, people might be more willing to vote for (internationally) redistributive politics?

Jesse
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210d

Oh yea definitely. I think people would rather live in the ignorance is bliss category though. It’s also easy to get people to acknowledge these types of imbalances, but even harder to get them to act accordingly when doing so would result in less economic utility for that person - theoretically of course. Really interesting though, wouldn’t have thought about it like this had you not posted about it.

@gun
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412d

Not too much I think. I don’t consume many products besides the bare essentials of what I need to survive. Automation means no individual product takes too much labor to produce. Maybe a couple hours I’d think.

@mishathings@mander.xyz
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110d

I’m not sure if automation really brings down our labour footprint though. For that to be the case, automation would need to lower the number or hours we work, which I don’t believe is the case?

@gun
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9d

Well, it’s a tricky subject. In the industrial revolution, working hours were at an all time high for all of human history. No one had ever worked longer than those generations. This is the demand of industrialization as factories and infrastructure are being built at a faster rate than any time in history.

However, post industrialization, living standards rise, working hours are shortened etc. So automation both raised and then lowered the hours we work. And the output for those hours is much higher. So overall, for an individual good like a table, what once took hours of dedicated artisanry, now is being put together in part by a machine in minutes. A person could hypothetically make 20 times more tables in a day. The question is where is this new wealth of value going if people are still working such long hours.

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