RE: [OPE] Invention, Inventors, and the Productivity of Labor

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Mon Nov 03 2008 - 04:18:56 EST

You are taking a narrower definition of the productivity of labour than me.

I take the view that if the sum of the direct and indirect labour needed to produce something
has fallen, then the productivity of labour has risen. Thus if fuel efficiency of the
prime movers improves -- steam to diesel, old to new diesels, low by pass to high
by pass turbines etc, then the total labour productivity in transport rises, since
less indirect labour is required for transport. As the productivity of transport rises,
there is a knock on general rise in social labour productivity as so many products
have transport as an input.

But to return to the original argument about productivity rising due to efforts of
salaried engineers. One could say exactly the same about the semi-conductor industry where
the labour required to produce transistors has undergone and exponential decline as a
result of a vast collective effort of process engineers, photo lithography engineers
and circuit designers. Again this rise in productivity is done by wage labourers employed
by Intel, IBM and the firms that make photolith equipment.

Paul Cockshott
Dept of Computing Science
University of Glasgow
+44 141 330 1629

-----Original Message-----
From: on behalf of GERALD LEVY
Sent: Sun 11/2/2008 10:00 PM
To: Outline on Political Economy mailing list
Subject: RE: [OPE] Invention, Inventors, and the Productivity of Labor

>>The fuel efficiency improvements which you refer to are instances of>> 'capital-goods-saving technical change' which, while they lower the constant>> circulating capital requirements, do not increase the productivity of labor.> I dont see this. The fuel efficiency of diesel engines has gone from around> 20% for the first marine diesels to around 50% now. If one compares it with> the fuel efficiency of the steam engines that the first marine deisels replaced> the difference is even greater.
Hi Paul C:
This I see (indeed, I have some first-hand experience on that subject). > This means a big reduction in the indirect labour required for transport -- much less> labour producing fuel is needed to move a ton from china to the usa than was required> 50 years ago, ( abstracting from changes in productivity in the oil industry ).> Thus the aggregate productivity of labour rises, and with it relative surplus value.
This I don't. The increased efficiency of the engines haven't reduced the labor
requirements to operate the transport or increased labor productivity - except
for what I suspect to be a marginal decrease in the labor required for bunkering.
There is a savings, of course: the ships require less fuel to travel a given speed and
distance. This reduces the constant circulating capital requirements of shipping
and also means that the ships themselves can be more efficient in the sense that
less space is 'wasted' for fuel (which really means that new ships are (re-)designed and
built so as to take advantage of these efficiencies).
The 'manning' requirements of commercial ships have indeed decreased dramatically
over the last 50 years but that is not because of the advances in diesel design
and efficiency.
In solidarity, Jerry

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Received on Mon Nov 3 04:20:43 2008

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