[OPE-L:5098] Re: Re: [A question for Charles] Re: productive and unproductive labor

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Fri Mar 02 2001 - 16:09:13 EST

Re Charlie's [OPE-L:5096]:

> >From Capitalism to Equality doesn't use the distinction
> between productive and unproductive labor. It does 
> examine the
> economics of corporate bureaucracy and the sales effort (pp.
> 206-217). As far as I can see, the category of unproductive labor
> is not needed to discover the historical limit of capitalism.

Thanks for the prompt response. Welcome to the

In your book, you move from the most abstract 
determinations to a *very* concrete analysis (e.g.
the discussion of oligopolies  in Ch. 7).  To
understand those more concrete subjects, I think
an analysis of productive and unproductive labor
is important.  E.g. how are we to understand the
labor expended on the "sales effort"  in relation
to value and accumulation without an understanding of unproductive labor?  

Michael P, someone who made favorable remarks
about your book, discusses the importance of
unproductive labor in a contemporary and historical
context in Ch. 6 ("The Falling Rate of Profit and 
Economic Devastation") of _The Pathology of the 
U.S. Economy_ (NY, St. Martin's Press, 1993).
And, of course, Michael is just one of many 
contemporary Marxists who have used the category
of unproductive labor in Marxian empirical research.

So,  if we want to trace out the movement of value
in contemporary capitalist economies then this concept
is of great practical importance. Indeed, once this
concept is used to analyse national income data and
accounts, many authors have pointed to its *central*
role in contemporary capitalist economies. E.g. Fred's
empirical work (see his 1988 articles in the _RRPE_
and his 1991 book on _The Falling Rate of Profit
in the Postwar United States Economy_) attempted
to show an important relation between the increase
in the proportion of unproductive labor and the tendency
for the rate of profit to fall.

In ofering the above hints at why the category of 
unproductive labor is important for an analysis of
contemporary capitalist economies, I am not satisfied
(with my own answer, that is).  I think that a better
and fuller answer would have to trace out the role
of this concept when first introduced at a very abstract
level of analysis and presentation to the most concrete
levels of analysis (e.g. when considering oligopolistic
pricing and  aggregate empirical trends at the level 
of analysis of individual capitalist economies and the
world market).

So, I would appreciate it if others could offer Charlie
more convincing and rigorous reasons for why
employing this category is central to an analysis of
the dynamics of a capitalist economy. (Fred?)

> Marx straightened out Adam Smith's confused notion of productive
> labor, but he did not change its historical range, early
> capitalism in its struggle against still-existing feudal and
> absolutist economic relations and circuits.

I think it's pretty clear, though, that he used this category
in the analysis of capitalist economies (but we can 
discuss different sections of Marx's writings if you are

> In the course of building a socialist economy, society will want
> to reduce many activities that are widespread under capitalism
> today. Perhaps a new distinction under the name of productive and
> unproductive labor will be helpful. It certainly won't define
> productive labor as labor that produces surplus value.

What is considered to be "productive" and "unproductive"
for a socialist society really is *another* question --
although one worth thinking about.  Indeed, what is
considered to be "productive" and "unproductive"
*from the standpoint of the working class* in a 
capitalist society differs from what is  productive or
unproductive *for capital*. Mike L (i.e. Lebowitz)
discusses that issue in his book _Beyond Capital:
Marx's Political Economy of the Working Class_
(NY, St. Martin's Press, 1992).  You might want 
to check it out for an alternative way of conceptualizing
productive and unproductive labor (i.e. from the
perspective of the working class).

In solidarity, Jerry

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