«I ask you to redirect your thinking away from claims of “value added” at various nodes of a global production network. Contrary to that view, ...»
Clearly, the overwhelming source of low coffee prices for U.S. consumers is the contribution of cheap and unpaid labor in the periphery. Table 4.1 also demonstrates that most of the dark value from cheap and unpaid labor is not extracted by core capitalists but, instead, is passed on to consumers.
Capitalists retain only about $1.16 in profits (Column 2), but they pass on more than $23 in embedded dark value to consumers (Column 5). In the eyes of mainstream economists, these coffee businessmen are doing a fabulous job of reducing prices in order to provide competitive consumer goods.
However, that low price conceals that (1) real people live in households that face threats to their survival caused by this system of commodity chains for export production; (2) the drain of potential surplus, mostly from labor but also from capitalists who are lower in the chain, is a loss of potential expanded reproduction (economic growth) to the peripheral producing country; and (3) core consumers have significant political and economic interest in maintaining this commodity chain system of production and surplus Donald A. Clelland 87 drain. Extrapolating from this example, we can clearly understand that capitalism is not only a world-system of accumulation in the core but also a system of “delivering the goods” to a majority of core workers by means of the expropriation of dark value from peripheral workers.13 ••• In contrast to Milton Friedman (1977), who argued that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” I contend that the world-economy is structured to ensure free lunches for capitalists. From the origins of the modern worldsystem, one of the free lunches provided to capitalists is the extraction of dark value in the forms of unpaid and underpaid labor. The capitalist productive system is inescapably based on capture of the dark value embedded in unpaid and nonwaged household labor. The capitalist world-system is not grounded in anything approaching competition; rather, it is grounded in the acquisition of degrees of monopoly by capitalists. Thus capitalists construct long degree-of-monopoly commodity chains that extract hidden surpluses by controlling factors of production tightly enough to reduce production costs. As a result, the capitalist world-system is structured to benefit the core working and middle classes through dark value to an even greater extent than it benefits its instigators, the transnational capitalist class (W. Robinson 2004). This dark energy is partially captured by capitalists as profits and partially passed on as benefits to core consumers.
What is to be learned from this argument? The origins of dark value can be made visible through more accurate mapping of commodity chains.
Because dark energy is disproportionally provided by households and by the females in them, analysts arrive at an underestimation of the labor required for production when they conceal the unpaid contributions of households. Through commodity chains, the capitalist “masters of the universe” accumulate on a world scale by draining pennies from the unpaid labor of those at the very bottom. It is this dark energy that drives the expansion and growth of the modern world-system. To recognize this fact is to view the world-system from the bottom up, where a majority of the world’s worker households struggle to survive. Revealing the daily misery that derives from dark-value extractions from those households is the central rationale for undertaking commodity chain analysis. Indeed, that is the project to which world-system originators intended this concept to be applied.
Other approaches to commodity chain analysis have the effect of teaching capitalists how to widen and deepen surplus drains from households and of assisting them to conceal their dark-value drains from the world’s expanded working classes.