Re: [OPE] "Parasitism"

From: Paula <>
Date: Sun Feb 22 2009 - 23:33:44 EST

Replies to the arguments so far.

Jerry: "There is a pretty extensive literature in mainstream economics dating back to the late '60's and continuing until the early 1980's concerning productivity measurement in the service sector .... Even the police have productivity standards imposed on them: e.g. their productivity can be (and is, in many cases) measured by the amount of tickets they write."

But recall that Gadrey does not deny the possibility of measuring growth and productivity in these sectors; rather, he's questioning the meaning of such measurements. If each police officer issued 50 tickets per month instead of 5, would society become any wealthier? Would it be any different if this service was privatized? In both cases, the answer is no.

Dave: "Note that I'm not interested in the issue of "productive labour" here only the argument that services have no labour-value. This argument rests in my view on a mistaken, or at least poorly motivated, concept of labour-value ..."

I don't use the concept of labor-value at all. My argument is that service labor does not produce value. If you're asking whether service workers sell their labor-power (whether, therefore, their labor-power has value), then I think the answer is yes, provided they are employed by capital; but this labor-power is not employed to produce commodities, and therefore it's not used productively. The example given by Marx is that of employees of merchant capital.

"You agree, for instance, that producing a certain type of cars requires some quantity of social labour-time. But similarly, producing a certain type of car reparation requires some quantity of social labour-time."

The labor of repairing cars is embodied in the cars. Here I should clarify that, although I have used the term 'services' as a shorthand, I do not mean by it the same thing official statistics do. Transporting commodities, for instance, produces those commodities in a specific material form and so adds to their value; therefore it's a productive activity, though officially classified as a 'service'. So - if a car dealer in Vladivostok imports used cars from Japan and employs workers to repair them in order to sell them on, both the labor of transporting the cars and the labor of repairing the cars are embodied in the cars and are therefore productive. But if you repair your own car or take it to a garage to be repaired for your own personal use, then the labor that repairs it is producing material wealth (the repaired car), but in this case the wealth does not take the form of value; it is as if you mended your own coat or got a servant to mend it or took it to the tailor's.

Ian: 'So a dance cannot add to "wealth" but a movie of that dance can?'

Remember that we're talking here about a specific kind of wealth, value (and not 'cultural wealth'). Neither a movie nor a dance are values IMO - they are works of art. But if you make one million DVDs of a dance movie (Strictly Ballroom, say) then those DVDs are values.

Paul C: "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 policies."

As far as I know the 'vendible commodity' argument was Smith's - he held that a servant who mends or makes a coat is productive because, in principle, the coat is an object that can be sold on. Marx's response was that, in order to produce value, it is not enough to produce this kind of vendible object - the object has to be produced in order to be sold. But we still have to produce an object - otherwise merchant, insurance and retail workers would also be productive. To argue that we don't even need to produce any objects in order to produce value is a step back from Smith, let alone Marx.

I understand Paul C's concerns, but we must be careful not to assume 'productive' means 'progressive'. These two labels did go together in Smith's and in Marx's time, when most service labor was performed by the servants of the very rich. Today, however, service labor often serves the population at large - hairdressing, for example. So please again bear in mind that when I say 'productive labor' I mean abstract labor, that is, labor abstracted from its useful characteristics; and that I admit that unproductive labor is concrete labor, that it does have a use-value, and that it does produce useful effects; what I'm saying, actually, is that it produces utility but not value.

In a more progressive society than ours, a greater proportion of labor-time will be spent on unproductive activities such as caring for our bodies and hair, educating ourselves and each other, dancing, and movie-making. Use-value, not value, will be the criterion for the allocation of labor and other resources. But this will only be possible if we collectively own and develop society's productive capacities, ie, the really productive sectors, those that produce material objects - the core of any economy. A serious proposal for a society of this kind requires a distinction between productive and unproductive labor.


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Received on Sun Feb 22 23:38:53 2009

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