Re: [OPE] "Parasitism"

From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Thu Feb 19 2009 - 04:48:58 EST

 On this thread I would like to integrate what Jurrian wrote about the
former prime minister
of new Zealand.
I recall hearing him speak in Scotland in the early 80s when he used the
concept of
productive and unproductive labour to justify his program. He was
basically saying that
the state sector was unproductive, and that if the size of the
unproductive sector got
too big it would threaten the economy as a whole, and thus had to be cut

I dont know if he had read Smith himself or whether he got it from Bacon
and Eltis or
from some popularisation of them, but there the was both truth and
falsehood in the
argument and one needs to be able to counter these arguments
theoretically and politically.
I fear that some of the formulations of unproductive labour comming up
in the debate
fail to do that.

Smith was addressing a real problem when he raised the concept -- the
problem of the
way the state, the church, the legal professions and an idle and
licentious aristocracy
drained resources from the economy and held back economic development.
In Smith's
hands the concept had a critical edge. But there were certain
ambiguities in it which later
generations of bourgeois economists could use in a semi appologetic
way. In particular
his notion of productive labour as that from which a vendible product
issued, could be
re-interpreted as simply saying that what the private sector did was
productive and
what the public sector did was unproductive.

Marxist authors during the latter part of the 20th century ( starting I
think with Gillman )
returned the concept to its critical roots by pointing out that some
sections of activity
in the national accounts ( advertising, banking services, legal services
) which were
performed by the private sector should actually be viewed as the
recipients of transfer
payments from the really productive sector.

Thus when, in the late 70s and 80s there came pressure to cut public
expenditure for
the benefit of the private sector, justified on the grounds either of
Bacon and Eltis's work
or on the grounds of 'crowding out', one left wing response was to say:
yes, there is
too much unproductive labour, but the sections of unproductive labour
that should be
cut are things like banking and advertising rather than healthcare or

My concern has been to theorise the issue in a way that is amenable to
politics and which is critical of the vendible commodity - private is
good - approach.
I feel that at times, what Paula has been saying has veered towards the
vendible commodity
interpretation, which does not lend itself to justifying progressive

We must remember the function of political economy is what it says --
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Received on Thu Feb 19 04:50:54 2009

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