Marxist Theory of Sexual Labor

by Jason Stotts

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a new amazing comic that is not only hilarious, but also shows the absurdity of the Marxist theory of value creation through labor.

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In case you don’t know, Marx believed that value is created through labor.  So, for example, let’s say that you have a factory with workers who labor and managers who supervise and direct, Marx would say that those who are laboring are creating value, but not the managers.  The more labor put into the enterprise, the more valuable it is from the Marxist perspective. (Of course, in this example, since the workers are not laboring for themselves, Marx would be upset that they were being “alienated” from their labor, since they were not the direct beneficiary of the entire product.)

What makes this comic so funny, then, is that it is not simply the amount of labor that a person puts into something that makes it valuable.  In fact, we generally praise the person who can create the same product with less labor and effort!  This is so common, we have the dictum: “Work smarter, not harder.”  This is perfectly shown with the example of sex, where skill and thought (knowing what to do and how to do it) are much more valuable than simple labor (simply pounding away and hoping for the best).

In some ways, I take the Marxist confusion to be similar to Bentham’s confusion that pleasure was unitary.  As Mill showed, there are higher and lower pleasures and, in a similar way, I think that there is higher and lower labor.  Higher labor is intellectual labor and may or may not involve actually creating a thing in the world with your hands.  Lower labor is creating a thing in the world with your hands.  Now, obviously, these things generally go together, just like higher and lower pleasures, but drawing a distinction between them helps to avoid confusion.  Marx completely denigrated or ignored intellectual labor because of his materialism (read this as a school of philosophy, not that Marx was into shoes or fancy watches) and this caused him to overly value the creation of goods.  But, because humans are beings of mind and body, we need both kinds of labor to sustain ourselves.  This doesn’t mean that any particular person needs to do both, but both must be done.  But of these, we should more highly prize intellectual labor, because without it, we would still be using candles, living in huts, and dying early and you certainly wouldn’t be reading this blog on the internet.

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