waiting for someone to actually propose to a correction to the MTW labor aristocracy thesis
I really don't know how to deal with MTW statements like "we only have high wages because Nike sweatshops" "cheap coffee and bananas from Honduras keep people from rebelling" "universal healthcare will be bought with the blood of the third world" etc. beyond the emotionality of them, third worldist theory betrays a static zero-sum understanding of economy that is alien to Marxism. Products can become cheaper while wages rise due to productivity gains and the capitalist cycle. As Marx showed, profits can even increase when wages rise due to this fact. There's no proven correlation that a rise in first world wages leads to a decline in third world wage-growth or vice-versa.
With Zak Cope, whose book I've read cover-to-cover, the major hinge of his argument rests on unequal exchange–which is a completely un-Marxist concept. It's just based on nonsensical assumptions that goods don't trade at their real-values and therefore there's a hidden value-transfer. On the surface, it appears large logical, if you took 14 hours to grow a can of coffee and you trade it for an oil filter it only took my firm an hour to make then you were ripped off, right? Not necessarily, because your labor was far less productive per unit. Plus, both were made under capitalist conditions with the local capitalist taking his cut in both cases. And, empirical evidence has shown, profit-rates are higher in the Third World, so remember that can of coffee made under conditions of drudgery, low-productivity and low-pay? The African capitalist took home more of the profit from it than the European capitalist took on the product he sold.
We then move to the notion of monopoly-capitalism and for all its theoretical merit there are some grave flaws here. We come to the notion that there are high-prices for the goods produced in the global north and these are exchanged for cheap-products from the global south. This has to be significantly modified in the current era now that the global south no longer produces primary products to the extent that it used to.
So, we come to the fact that say a Bangladeshi t-shirt factory owner may produce a shirt worth $12 dollars while a Western car company may produce a car worth $30,000 dollars. This is clearly wrong, right? A gross mis-use of monopoly power? Well, it begs the question, because if the car could be more cheaply produced by a smaller company perhaps even located in the third world itself–then why isn't it? Of course, I don't mean the same model car but cars aren't new tech by any means.
Over time, many products produced by monopolies, cars, TVs, smart-phones, oil etc. are becoming more affordable. So, its a question that only seems to be asked within dissident bourgeois economic circles–do capitalist monopolies actually act like monopolies? Do they intentionally withhold products and put upward pressure on prices. The evidence is lacking, it seems that monopolies actually reduce prices by leveraging their economies of scale on magnitudes that it seems many firms in the global south can only compete with by sweating their labor forces–if they can at all.
Are Western employees of these firms beneficiaries of this monopoly-power? It's true they pay more than average; they also tend to pay more than local rates when they set-up in the developing world. It's telling that big business based in developing nations acts the same way. The wage-differential between Indian workers at big companies versus those employed by small-ones is 200%! Are they beneficiaries of their firms imperialist monopoly power on the Indian market?
Cope estimated in his own work that the average industrial worker in the world is entitled to around $33,000 a year in output. Many OECD workers don't make this but built into this is the rather foolish assumption that all industrial productivity is equal and it certainly isn't. Even China is below the US in labor-productivity per hours worked–but certainly not output.
Western industrial economies like that of the US, Germany and Japan are actually still enormous. So, the question remains if the Western proletariat produces no or very little surplus-value, why does so much industry still remain?
As for whether the divergences in standard of living is solely the result of imperialism this is extremely doubtful but I don't want to go into that whole debate. There was more to my argument laying out the history of labor aristocracy theory but I had to trim things down–the key thing is there's nothing in the classics to support the notion that they would have agreed with applying the labor aristocracy concept to the whole proletariat or the majority of the proletariat in developed nations.