[OPE-L:5117] productive labour

From: glevy@pratt.edu
Date: Wed Mar 07 2001 - 16:07:01 EST

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Jurriaan Bendien <j.bendien@wolmail.nl>
Date: Wed, 07 Mar 2001 18:55:39 +0100
Subject: productive labour

Hi Jerry

I notice interestingly enough some new discussion about productive labour.
As regards Shaikh & Tonak, they stay away from too many finicky issues and
aim for a broad accounting concept which they can measure.
But is e.g. teaching and administering public primary and secondary schools
capitalististically productive labour, as they suggest ? I somehow doubt it.
I think the central question in the controversy is really this: "which
labour adds new value to the total social product (or the net output) -
thereby enlarging the total mass of capitalist wealth - and why ?"
To answer this question you have to refer both to exchange-value and
use-value. But as I discussed with Michael Williams, there isn't any fully
objective answer, inter alia because the boundary lines of "commodity
production", "material and non-material production", "production and
circulation" etc. cannot be uncontroversially specified. Inescapably some
"value judgement" is involved.
Nor is it clear that labour defined as unproductive is always paid out of
currently produced surplus-value, as Shaikh & Tonak's account suggests.
(Michael suggested the most consistent concept is that which includes all
wage labour performed for profit as productive).
The consequence of this conceptual difficulty is that the Marxian general
rate of profit (total profits/total capital stock) cannot be
uncontroversially estimated either.
I am surprised that Paul Cockshott would treat arms production as
unproductive labour, because it is a clear case of private commodity
production for profit, which stimulates the general process of social
reproduction, even though the final goods produced do not re-enter the
production process elsewhere. (In my view, Mandel's analysis of arms
production in Late Capitalism, though not complete, was certainly on the
right track).
Perhaps we ought to conclude that the usefulness of concepts of productive
labour is determined by how well they illuminate the social relations
involved in the utilisation of economic resources.
Abstract, ahistorical discussions of productive labour aren't very
interesting anyhow; the challenge is to illuminate the trends in the social
and technical division of labour (Michael Perelman writes some very
interesting stuff about this).



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