Volume 44, Number 172,
January-March 2013
The Migration of Qualified Workers
as an Obstacle to Development
José Luis Hernández

The explanation offered here regarding the processes underlying international migration is based off of the analysis of the law of population established by capital, whose dynamics imply a progressive increase in the number of products as a function of production and labor in the form of capital. Marx stated it clearly:

In economic forms of society of the most different kinds, there occurs, not only simple reproduction, but in varying degrees, reproduction on a progressively increasing scale. By degrees, more is produced and more consumed, and consequently more products have to be converted into means of production. This process, however, does not present itself as accumulation of capital, nor as the function of a capitalist, so long as the labourer’s means of production, and with them, his product and means of subsistence, do not confront him in the shape of capital (1887, 414).

This means that in the evolution of capital, the labor population creates the means for their own excess in relation to the needs of capital. Said another way, the tendency of capital is to propagate itself and modify the proportions between its components by reducing the portion destined to the purchase of the labor force. In some notes, Marx writes (1989: 309): “it is clear that the objective conditions of production obtained in the circulation of capital are kept identical regarding their value. In other words, in the same amount of value of use the same amount of work is used. A lesser portion of capital can be spent on live labor. In other words, the proportion between the components of capital will be modified” (italics in the original).

Capital, considered on an individual basis, has to increasingly provide a lesser portion when buying a labor force and has to contribute more to means of production. Otherwise, it will succumb to other capital. Everything is determined by the logic of profits and likewise, everyone is on a downward trend in terms of buying a labor force, in such a way that we have “a labor population that is surplus for the needed means to exploit capital, that is, an excess or leftover labor population” (Marx, 1959: 533, italics in the original).

But advances of capital do not only follow a tendency to change the proportion in favor of constant capital. In other words, not only are there changes in the quantity, but also in the qualitative type, because there must be means of production that stimulate productivity of the labor force. That means better machines, tools, plans, organization, etc. These are not accompanied by changes in the composition of the type of labor force hired, with a tendency towards greater differentiation between workers. This produces a smaller and smaller sector of highly qualified workers in charge of scientific development, specialized maintenance of machines, equipment and tools, etc., as well as a sector of low qualified workers, more numerous, but still unable to escape the tendency to reduce their numbers.

Regarding the labor population that is outside of the production process, in other words, the surplus labor population, Marx emphasizes the following:

... it becomes, conversely, the lever of capitalistic accumulation, nay, a condition of existence in the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army that belongs to capital quite as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost. Independently of the limits of the actual increase in population, it creates, for the changing needs of the self-expansion of capital, a mass productiveness of human material always ready for exploitation (1887: 438).

In Marx’s theory, this surplus labor population is relative because capital needs it to the extent that its “variable needs of exploitation” demand it, because in the course of accumulation there are “periods of average activity, production at high pressure, crisis and stagnation, depends on the constant formation, the greater or less absorption, and the re-formation of the industrial reserve army or surplus population” (1887, 438).

This means that, independent of the natural population increase, capital has the labor force at its disposal, and provides dynamism for accumulation, whether this force is active or inactive, pressuring elements such as labor conditions, the level of exploitation, salary levels and the negotiation capacity of the active labor class. The degree to which this occurs corresponds to the growth or contraction of the reserve army, which is also affected by industry periodicity.

In other words, the movement of the reserve army is subject to the movement of capital, and capital is not subject to the absolute movements of the population census (Marx, 1959: 540 and 541). That is, the magnitude of the reserve army depends on the size and composition of capital advances or investment, which in turn depend on the profit rate. This also happens for salary levels, depending on the speed of accumulation, the degree to which capital, through investment, absorbs or feeds the reserve army, and the value of the labor force, affected by economic, historical, cultural and geographic variables.

This is how the law of population in capitalism works in general terms, but it can be expected that at a future stage, there will also be a “ consolidated overpopulation” that exceeds the needs of capital valuation, given that, “The fact that the means of production, and the productiveness of labour, increase more rapidly than the productive population, expresses itself, therefore, capitalistically in the inverse form that the labouring population always increases more rapidly than the conditions under which capital can employ this increase for its own self expansion” (Marx, 1887: 445).

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PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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