In the early 1980s, I was riding home from work on a bus and looked out the window at a Toyota pickup truck alongside. I was overwhelmed by the realization that I could never in my life make such an object by hand, even if I had a well-supplied metal workshop. From that perspective, how could I hope to own such an item? I did own a Volkswagen Rabbit but somehow the pickup truck made more of an impression on me at the time.
I was experiencing a severe burnout from work in those days that manifested itself in unbearable fatigue. I would sleep for two days and feel I could go into work and make it through the day. I would have to go home by 11:00 A.M. I had a “cushy” government job that was pointless and it was all too cushioned with paychecks and benefits for me to think of throwing it away and stepping out into the void.
The epiphany of the Toyota pickup convinced me that my mental health was worth more to me than the paycheck. After a hot fudge sundae quitting celebration and a week or two at the beach, my draining fatigue began to lift. That is how I imagine the miserable foundation that the “theft” of my labour time laid down. It hardly seemed to me that what I “produced” during forty hours behind a desk had much value worth stealing. A cynic might point out that real production takes place in the private sector and government jobs are not productive. But that is just the point. There wouldn’t be bullshit jobs if there wasn’t a surplus population needing to be pacified.Forty years later, I am still living beyond my means, especially taking into account the carbon dioxide footprint that I will never be required to pay for. A miserable foundation, indeed. Many people are not interested in what Marx wrote because they can’t swallow the labour theory of value. I have news for them. Marx was not a big fan of the labour theory of value. He called it a miserable foundation.
What does the labour theory of value have to do with the price of a house in Vancouver anyway? Well, I will tell you.
Forty years ago, somebody with a decent income or a two-earner couple with average incomes could afford to buy a house in Vancouver. Today, you can only buy a house if you already own a house. There is no “ground floor” to get in on. The reason is neo-liberal labour policy. How does the government enable business to cut real wages without cutting real wages? Asset inflation. Let’s not call it asset inflation, though. Let’s call it “wealth effects” and the “ownership society.”
A terrible, no good, miserable foundation.