Labour vouchers

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Labour vouchers, labour tokens, or labour credits are an accounting tool designed to compensate workers in proportion to their expended labour time rather than based on the natural price of their labour power, thus ending the labour exploitation inherent in the wage relation. Utopian socialist Robert Owen created and implemented the first labour vouchers in the 1830s at his experimental community at New Lanark, Scotland. Though Karl Marx was critical of the voucher systems proposed by Owen, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and others, a form of vouchers plays a role in his Critique of the Gotha Programme as part of the transitional lower phase of communism.

Like money, labour vouchers are distributed to workers in exchange for their hours worked, and can then be spent in stores on whatever goods these workers desire. The vital difference is that they do not circulate, and therefore cannot contribute to capital accumulation. Just as workers are compensated according to the amount of time they work, labour prices for goods are also derived from the cumulative amount of labour time (direct and indirect) that goes into each product. In theory, each worker would receive one equal labour voucher per unit of time, but the possibility of deviations for extremely dangerous or difficult jobs is under debate.

As labour vouchers are not money, they cannot be invested or transferred, and are destroyed upon their first and only use. Because they cannot circulate, labour vouchers cannot be used to employ others, thus severely hindering capitalist relations from arising. In some proposals, the vouchers would have to be used within a certain amount of time in order to prevent accumulation and the establishment of a capitalist class — often the proposed expiration for labour vouchers is about one month after they are issued.Template:Fix/category[citation needed] In modern society, labour vouchers could easily be added and subtracted electronically like digital bank accounts, eliminating the need to carry physical labour notes and streamlining the transaction process. The use of automatic accounting in this way was anticipated by the utopian Edward Bellamy in his work Looking Backward, predating the invention and use of modern credit cards.Template:Fix/category[citation needed]

Labour vouchers play a major role in the cybernetic proposals of Paul Cockshott and others. These proposals involve several adjustments to Marx's basic sketch, including the deviation from labour prices noted above, the divergence of labour prices from their actual labour value in accordance with supply and demand, and the possibility for increased pay based on intensity of work.


Some leftists argue that modern industralized countries possess the high level of development needed to more than satisfy the needs and wants of the whole poopulation, making labour vouchers redundant in favor of direct implementation of higher-phase communism. Furthermore, like money but to a lesser degree, labour vouchers maintain the notion of human worth being determined by how many goods people can buy or produce. On top of this, labour vouchers require administration, which requires people to spend time ensuring this system works.

See also