[OPE-L:5102] Re: Re: productive and unproductive labor (again)

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Sat Mar 03 2001 - 08:41:53 EST

Re Paul C's [OPE-L:5094]:

Previously I quoted the following definition from

> > ( A definition offered in the S/T book is:
> > "Productive labor is the production labor
> > employed in capitalist production sectors:
> > agriculture, mining, construction, transportation
> > and public utilities, manufacturing, and
> > productive services (defined as all services
> > except business services, legal services, and
> > private households; see Table E.1 for a full
> > listing of productive services). It excludes
> > nonproduction labor (sales, etc.) employed in
> > the production sectors such as trade or
> > finance.  Total productive labor is the sum
> > of the production workers in each production sector. Total unproductive
labor is the sum
> > of nonproduction workers in the production
> > sectors and all workers in the nonproduction
> > sectors", p. 295).

Paul C responded:

> This is essentially the definition that I have worked to in empirical
> studies going back to the 1970's, recently however I have
> come to doubt its correctness. It is predicated upon an assumption
> that the social formation is a pure capitalist mode of production.
> For social formations containing a combination of modes of
> production this is not necessarily an adequate categorisation.

What is considered to be "productive" or "unproductive"
labor varies with the mode of production.  In the
capitalist mode of production, these categories concern
whether labor is or is not productive of surplus
value (as distinct from the surplus product).

What this suggests is that for social formations in
which there are a number of modes of production
present, then the value relation is not entirely
adequate for the conceptualization of labor in that
social formation.

> It has peverse results such as workers in government direct
> labour departments building roads being unproductive, when
> the same work done by private contractors is productive.

It is perverted -- yet, this is a perversion that stems
from the operation of the capitalist mode of production
itself rather than a perversion of theory.

To begin to make sense of the perversion, we have to
recall the diference between the *production of wealth*
and the *production of value*.

The roads that are produced by state labor *clearly*
represent an increase in social wealth. Do they also
represent an increase in *value*?

I would answer "No" because the roads represent
a *use-value alone* and do not take the commodity-
form or take the value-form.

So, indeed it is perverted that the same use-value
can be produced by labor which is unproductive of
value as can be produced by labor which is productive
of value.  Capitalism is perverted -- so what else is

Let's consider this question further:  *wealth* can be
created by living human labor *and  nature*.

In the case of the roads built by state labor then the
source of the funds to pay these laborers comes from
capitalists and workers via taxation or borrowing. In
either event, this is dependent on the *accumulation
of capital* in the rest of the economy.

Now, an interesting question might be to consider
the implications of this from an *international

There is no doubt that the roads and some other aspects of social
infrastructure can make possible an increase
in social wealth at the level of a national economy.
This increased infrastructure gives capitalist firms
a "comparative advantage" when dealing on
international markets with commodities produced by
firms from countries where the infrastructure is not
as well developed. Indeed, one might say that this
represents an *absolute advantage* for some firms
rather than a comparative advantage.

Now, how do we factor this into the distribution of
value internationally?  One way of explaining this
might be that the contributions of state labor to
social wealth and the contributions of nature to social
wealth contribute to the re-distribution of value and
wealth internationally through the mechanism of
"surplus profits" captured by leading firms at the
expense of less competitive firms.

This might be seen as a *rent-like mechanism* which
rewards firms from some countries and punishes
firms in others.

> <snip, JL> To the extent
> that a large part of the social product takes this form, as
> it has at times in some European countries,  it would appear
> that the economy becomes increasingly unproductive.

This might very well be the case (Fred came to a
similar conclusion), but you would agree that we
should think of the European countries (with the
possible exception of former "socialist" countries)
as nations in which the capitalist mode of production
is dominant and in which the remnants of prior
modes of production have only a marginal influence,
wouldn't you?

> I think that we need two different concepts:
> 1. socially productive

This is a concept which is trans-historical.

> 2. productive for the capitalist class as a whole

This must center around the creation of value rather than
social wealth.

What do others think?

In solidarity, Jerry

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