[OPE] Services (->Paula)

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Tue Jan 06 2009 - 07:17:59 EST

To my knowledge, I was the first scholar to emphasize that Marx and
Engels got their notion of "productive forces" from Adam Smith (and I
stated this explicitly in the wiki article
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Productive_forces ). But the fact they were
inspired by Smith does not mean that their concept is wholly identical
to Smith's.

The central productive force in the Marxian concept is human
labourpower, not labour, and for that reason, at least in the Marxian
interpretation, economic growth is not simply a technical-material
process specifiable in terms of an "output vector". To think that it is,
is a vulgar techno-liberal reification and I find it astonishing that a
self-proclaimed Marxist would make such a claim. I blame Althusser for
this - Althusser deformed Marx's ideas almost beyond recognition, and it
takes a lot of time to unmask and debunk his forgeries, pernicious
influence and intellectual frauds.

I have moreover demonstrated on OPE-L beyond any doubt that the very
conceptualization of what "input" and "output" are defined to mean is
itself theory-laden and by no means neutral. It is quite possible to
produce a lot of extra physical output without any economic growth
occurring at all, since whether economic growth will occur, depends in
part on what exactly is done with the output (as the communist
bureaucrats in non-capitalist societies found out).

I agree that military expenditure or legal institutions could in given
circumstances also constrain economic growth, but as I argued before on
OPE-L, I do not subscribe to the static, anti-historical Marxist
classification of what is "productive" in capitalist society. If it is
not possible to secure and enforce contractual rights and obligations,
this restricts the scope of trade and the very possibility of economic
growth (cf. Iraq).

In Marx's own theory, as he makes quite explicit at times, capitalist
activity results in the division of labour being constantly redrawn and
reorganized, and the concept of productive labour, as I said before,
aims to explicate the social principles and economic imperatives which
in reality guide this process. It's a process however which is not
always smooth, but which involves competition and conflicts between
different imperatives.

You are quite entitled to devise a concept of productive labour which
you think would correspond to the optimal growth path for capitalism,
but that is more a Smithian interpretation than a Marxian
interpretation. Marx was primarily concerned with human beings and their
social relations, not with a technical output vector.

You are also entitled to devise a transhistorical concept of productive
labour, but the point is that this will not necessarily apply in the
case of capitalism. A transhistorical concept of a productive worker
would be a worker who can perform surplus-labour (normally, in such a
way that he produces more that is required for his own maintenance,
though in forced labour, workers can be rapidly worked to death).

In Marx's theory, labour does not produce profit, but surplus-value,
which is subsequently realised - in part or as a whole - as profit
through trading activity. The problem however is that what adds to
surplus value from the point of view of the individual capitalist
appropriating it, may not add anything to the mass of surplus value in
capitalist society as a whole - it could be a deduction from it, a cost,
expressed through a redistribution of already existing surplus value.
The analytical problem then is to determine how this works.


Jurriaan Bendien wrote:

    Adam Smith and his entourage of Marxist enthusiasts constantly
    confuse the material conditions for the production of output and the
    social conditions for the accumulation of capital, [...] The
    neo-Smithian Marxists thus try to portray economic growth as being
    essentially a technical-material process, but not a social process.

No, I think you are mistaken. My view stems from the distinction Marx
made between the 'productive powers of labour' (derived from Smith) and
historically specific 'social relations of production': Economic growth
is by definition a 'technical-material' process, i.e. the increase in
the magnitude of the elements of the output vector and its dimension, in
short a quantitative increase and qualitative change of the productive
forces. But whether economic growth occurs and how it occurs depends on
the social relations of production.

    This is essentially an argument about the conditions for economic
    growth, the fact that "the protection, security, and defence of the
    commonwealth" is not a vendible commodity in a bilateral trading
    circuit - it is funded, according to Smith, not as intermediate
    expenditure which makes a net addition to wealth but final
    expenditure which transfers and consumes wealth. But obviously if
    defence expenditure creates more security for capitalist property,
    this also promotes growth; or if the use of lawyers mean that
    contractual obligations are met, this also benefits economic growth.

These sectors contribute to the maintenance of the social order; i.e.
the relations of production under which economic development can occur.
But your connection between 'creates more security' and 'benefits
economic' is a loose one to say the least. What are the effects of
increased employment in law firms on the overall economic system?
Capitalist firms may have greater armies of lawyers at their disposal
but the total retained profits will be decreasing and productivity
growth stagnating. Instead it is the output of the basic sector that
allows these non-basic activities that maintain the social order to take
place at all. Material reproduction sets immediate prior constraints on
the maintenance of the social order. Just as the forces of production
sets immediate prior conditions to the social relations of production.

    Similarly, Marx's concept of productive labour is purely socially
    defined and has nothing to do directly with the particular nature of
    the products produced, or with how essential the given labour is for
    the economic reproduction process. It has only indirectly to do with
    this, insofar as particular kinds of production intrinsically do, or
    do not, easily permit themselves to be transformed into means for
    capital accumulation.

Indeed, this is really the central point of our difference. Smith gave
different criteria in his discussion of productive labour: (i) a
'surplus value' criterion and (ii) a 'basic goods' criterion. Both have
some rational and Marx happened to take on (i), i.e. labour is
productive if it produces a profit.

Grieve summarizes the distinction between the criteria:

   While the /surplus value criterion/ directs attention to the source
   from which the capitalists’ profits derive -- which indeed provide
   /potential/ for capital accumulation -- the /basic goods criterion/
   puts the emphasis directly on /the specific nature of the goods
   which must be available if that potential is to be realised/; there
   is no getting away from the fact that as ‘the annual produce of the
   land and labour of any nation can be increased in its value by no
   other means, but by increasing either the number of its productive
   labourers, or the productive power of those labourers who had
   already been employed’ the possibility of ‘increasing the number of
   productive labourers’ or their ‘productive power’ depends on -- is
   constrained by -- the availability of what we are describing as
   basic goods. [Emphasis added]

I couldn't make the point better myself.

//Dave Z
P.S. Jurriaan, please keep the e-mail you are replying to at the end of
your posts, they will be easier to follow then.
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Received on Tue Jan 6 07:20:13 2009

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