In Misery and Debt, Endnotes argue that Capital accumulation tendentially means the growing ‘irrelevance’* of labour. Labour is thrown onto the street, forced into junk jobs- into low paid and often precarious jobs in the service sector. They further propose this is the process by which the proletariat is made, by which, to quote Marx, capitalism creates its own gravediggers.
If this were the case, if capital accumulation rendered labour increasingly less in demand for capital intensive projects, forcing a larger and larger portion of labour into low capital intensity jobs, we would expect that the inequality in capital at one’s workplace per worker would be on the increase. Crucially Misery and Debt claims that this process is visible throughout the world. Thus we selected the United States, because of its size and the richness of the available data, and calculated an estimation of the inequality of capital per worker using the Theil index of inequality from 1948 to 2000. The results showed a small decrease in inequality of fixed assets per worker over the period.
Thus we found endnote’s hypothesis of a growing exclusion of the bulk of the working class from the means of production unsupported in America 1948-2000.
Unfortunately, the statistics we used meant that we could not measure inequality below the industry level- at the level of the firm- which means our estimates of the inequality of capital per worker. But unless there has been some special rise in inequality within industries outstripping movements in inequality between industries this should not make a difference- and the kinds of rising inequality endnotes describe would most likely appear at the between industries level of analysis.
Tim Scriven & Kieran Latty
*Irrelevance is our phrase, not theirs. It is not a very accurate way of looking at things, and our brief summary does not substitute for reading the text, which contains many intricacies we’ve not examined here.