[OPE-L:3560] Re: Productive and Unproductive Labour

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Wed, 30 Oct 1996 06:40:42 -0800 (PST)

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A reply to Paul Cockshott's ope-l 3556:

I had written: "Workers actually advance their labor to capital, as you've
recently noted. They are paid *after* doing the work and because they did the
work. If they do not work, they will not get paid, so their v will equal
zero. Yet capitalists incur repression costs.

"When workers go on strike, they do not get paid. Their v = 0 to the firms
against which they strike. Yet capitalists very willingly incur costs in
order to prevent the strikes and break the strikes."

Paul replied: "This is absurd, there is no v=0 when they are on strike
because they are not working, not employed and there is thus not c, v, or s
either as production is not going on. Employers resist strikes because they
want to hold wages down
when the workers go back to work, because v is, under those circumstance > 0."

Note that Paul doesn't respond to the first point. Nor does Paul present any
evidence in support of the claim he makes in the 2nd sentence. It is well
known, first of all, that employers also resist strikes because they want to
keep production going. Second of all, Paul's response brings us back to my
first piece of evidence. That is, when workers go back to "work," v will only
be greater than 0 if workers actually do work. Thus, one way of holding wages
down is simply not to pay people, which brings us to my third piece of

"I took a poll. I asked whether, if one didn't like the nature of the work,
and one wasn't going to be compensated now or in the future, one would do any
work if one wasn't forced to do so. 1000f the sample answered no. A
typical reaction was that I must have been asking a trick question, because
the answer was so obvious."

Then I skipped a few lines, and ended by commenting: "There is no such thing
as a free lunch."

Paul responded: "This is why your whole idea of v=0 is so ridiculous, it
supposes that workers can get free lunches to live off.

"If they could get free lunches, going to work for nothing is not ridiculous,
as the number of voluntary institutions that are kept going by people with
either a private income or a retirement income indicates. Oxfam dont have to
repress their volunteers, but the charities they work for are non-profit. The
assumption that workers in the capitalist sector will work for nothing and
could survive whilst doing so is absurd."

This response quite obviously misses or evades my point, and indeed the
wording of my survey question.

(An aside to Jerry: note the "ridiculous" and the two "absurds" in Paul's
response. This really doesn't bother me - I'm glad Paul is saying what he
thinks -- as long as I'm allowed to say what I think as well. Ah, there's the

Of course, v = 0 is not *my* whole idea. It is an assumption that Marx
employs twice in _Capital_, and it is regularly employed in constructing the
wage/profit rate frontier, as Alan has noted.

I find this debate depressing and frustrating. By means of introspection, I
reach certain conclusions. When Paul doesn't like them, he demands empirical
evidence. When I supply the evidence, he challenges it - by means of
introspective arguments (and irrelevancies about volunteers). It is just
this type of thing that turned me off long ago to attempts to prove things
empirically. It can't be done. Someone can always pick at the evidence and
refuse to accept it. The whole thing then becomes endless, with everybody
trotting out more and more evidence, with no outcome possible unless the
parties happen to *agree*. No thanks. I'll stick with refuting fallacious
arguments. Because everyone knows how to think, this does yield a clear
outcome, even when the outcome is not acknowledged openly.

Another method I find useful is to explain why people think the things they
do. Can anyone explain the resistance to the idea that capital must always
force workers to work, and bear the costs of doing so?

Andrew Kliman