[OPE-L:3513] Re: Productive and Unproductive Labour

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Thu, 24 Oct 1996 01:22:44 -0700 (PDT)

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>How then do we understand prices of production in firms which employ both
>productive and unproductive labour?
>As transformed value? But if unproductive labour costs are omitted, such a
>definition bears no relation to long run supply price, or to a centre of
>gravity around which market prices fluctuate, or to a lower level of
>abstraction as theory attempts to comprehend the world.
>And what of firms which are wholly unproductive of value, such as commercial
>and financial capitals, which do not expand value themselves but whose
>operations are essential to valorize value in an M-C-M' circuit? What of
>their prices?
>Anybody prepared to bite?

Paul C:
There are two approaches which seem to me to make sense to unproductive labour

1. Changes in productive/unproductive ratio must produce some testable
and measurable change in prices or profits that is not equally well
explained by changes in the overall wage bill, the basic property relations
in production remaining unchanged.

2. One understands it basically as a political question, related to the
effects that would be produced by a change in property or production

The latter was the historical origin of the concept in the critique of
the employment of servants etc by Smith. I suspect that it is in this context
that the concept makes most sense. However, the problem is that having
just one category of unproductive labour throws into the one basket labour
that is unproductive from a socialist standpoint - like banking, with labour
that is unproductive from a capitalist standpoint like NHS employees.
I suspect that we need two distinct categories expressing these two
different political standpoints.
Paul Cockshott