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Unequal Value Transfer From Mexico to The United States

Utilizing a Marxist perspective and the concept of unequal exchange, I describe here the enormous drain of wealth that Mexico has experienced as a manufacturing supplier to the U.S. market. Unlike the analyses that understand Mexico as a backward economy, low on the scale of production compared to the United States, my argument is based in the value-labor time perspective and demonstrates that the meager wages of the working class in Mexico do not correspond to productive backwardness, but to a vast value creation that is drained away systematically through unequal exchange mechanisms occurring in trade. The conversion of Mexico into an export platform supplying the United States has resulted in a huge theft of socially necessary labor time. As Samir Amin explained, “underdeveloped countries are so because they are superexploited and not because they are backward.”1

In what follows, I present some basic elements of the Marxist theory of value, showing the importance of socially necessary labor time as a constituent element of exchangeable commodities. Subsequently, I incorporate the concept of unequal exchange, which, based on Karl Marx’s notion of surplus profit, enables us to understand the value transfers causing peripheral export economies to be perpetually depleted of wealth. I briefly describe the reconversion of Mexico into a huge export manufacturing platform subordinated to U.S. market demand. Then I highlight the way in which wage differences between Mexico and the United States have become the backbone of unequal value transfer from the former to the latter. In closing, I illustrate the shocking loss of value that Mexico has suffered—much higher than the supposed gain that it receives through remittances.

Value, Price, and Surplus Profit

An understanding of contemporary global unequal exchange dynamics requires a perspective that places socially necessary labor time as the core measure in the formation of value embodied in commodities. It is not the marginal utility—as neoclassical views suggest—but rather the materialized socially necessary labor time that makes a commodity exchangeable. Therefore, the price of a commodity is a monetary measure representing objectified socially necessary labor time. As Marx stated in Value, Price and Profit:

If we consider commodities as values, we consider them exclusively under the single aspect of realized, fixed, or, if you like, crystallized social labor. In this respect they can differ only by representing greater or smaller quantities of labor.… A commodity has a value, because it is a crystallization of social labor. The greatness of its value, or its relative value, depends upon the greater or less amount of that social substance contained in it; that is to say, on the relative mass of labor necessary for its production.2

Marx viewed value (socially necessary labor time) and the price of a commodity as converging entities, that is, that the price represents the integrity of value. His aim was to show that, despite these elements being convergent, there was a portion of labor time that was not paid (surplus value) and was held back and accumulated by the capitalist, something that was not clearly understood by either Adam Smith or David Ricardo.

Source : MR