[OPE-L:3829] Re: productive and unproductive labour (continued)

Gerald Lev (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sun, 15 Dec 1996 06:26:41 -0800 (PST)

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A reply to Chai-on's [OPE-L:3828]:

When we discuss productive and unproductive labour at the micro level
things can get rather messy (i.e. difficult to categorize). Chai-on raises
the question (especially, it seems, regarding health care) who pays for
the expenditures on unproductive labor.

*Who* pays for unproductive labour frequently varies depending on the
particular use-value of the product or service provided by unproductive
labour and the different social and institutional arrangements in
differing cultures and nations.

Wage-payments for unproductive labour can be paid for by: a) capital; b)
the state; c) consumers.

a) If paid by capital, there is the remaining question regarding whether
unproductive labour costs are paid out of v, c, and/or s.

Take the case of health care when it is provided by capital for
wage-earners. One could either argue, it seems to me, that the expenditures
for this health care are paid out of surplus value (i.e. they represent a
reduction of s) or they are added-on to the cost of v. Regarding the
latter possibility, the money capital allocated for the employment of
productive wage-labour not only includes wages but also the monetary cost
of benefits accruing to those workers. Health care, as one type of
benefit, could then be added on to the wage cost and, in so doing, the
cultural and "moral" component of the wage would be redefined and
increased. In either case (an increase in v or a decrease in s),
profitability would be decreased.

However, the above scenario can get messier (unfortunately) in practice
when capitalists (increasingly) attempt to shift part of the costs of
health care to wage-earners by making workers pay for some portion of the
health care that they receive (or, in extremis, shifting the entire cost
of health care to workers). This, at least in the US, has been one of the
major goals of the "concessions movement" that began in the 1980's. In
such a case, part of the costs for health care would be paid by capital
and part would be paid by workers as a deduction out of wages.

b) Health care, in some capitalist nations, is a *right* and is provided
by the state either through nationalized health care (where health care
employees are employed by the state) or through provide providers (but
where the cost of those services is then paid for by the state). The
question, then, is: who pays for these state expenditures? This varies
according to the nation and tax system that one is talking
about. This cost could be borne by capitalists (if the taxes are levied
against corporations) or wage-earners (where they are special taxes levied
against wage-earners) and/or citizens in general (the "public"). In
practice, there is frequently some combination of the above. For instance,
in the US, social security payments and unemployment compensation are
partially paid by employers and partially financed by a deduction
(transfer) from wages.

I should note, in passing, that the provision of health care by the state
is neither something which is the case in all advanced capitalist
countries (e.g. there is no national health care insurance that citizens
in the US are entitled to as a result of citizenship) or something which
is exclusively a "First World" entitlement.

[Digression: I sometimes tell the following story to my classes. There was
a very famous British couple, the Smeetons, who sailed the ketch _Tzu
Hang_ around the world on several occasions. On one voyage, while off the
coast of Argentina, their Siamese cat, _Pwe_, came down with a bad
toothache. They decided to make for the nearest port (if you have ever
owned a Siamese cat you would readily understand why! The meows!). Anyway,
they took _Pwe_ to the veternarian and he proceeded to pull her tooth.
_Pwe_ was much comforted and relieved. Beryl Smeeton then asked the vet
what she owed him. He said that she owed him nothing as health care for
domestic pets was a right in Argentina (and this right also extends to
foreign pets vising Argentina). So, I tell my students, if you are
a foreign pet in Argentina, you have more rights to health care than if
you in the US are a citizen of the US!].

c) In other cases, the costs of health care are paid by consumers. Of
course, this was the norm before trade unions, in different
countries, fought successfully for either health care to be paid out as a
benefit by capitalists (a) or provided by the state (b).

> (1) Payment from individual consumption funds: family doctors whose direct
> benefits accrue to the individuals (in an exclusive manner). But national
> health service has categorized this as a social insurance cost. It is paid
> in part by the society and in part by the immediate benefiters.

Discussed above.

> (2) Payment from constant capital funds: repairing and maintenance cost (a
> normal production cost). Repairing labor is a necessary, normal cost in some
> aspect but cannot produce surplus value, and so its wage payment is
> categorized as a material, constant capital.

Here is where we differ, I think. In what sense can "repairing labor" be
understood as a component part of constant capital?

> (3) Payment from surplus-values: repairing and maintenance cost (abnormal
> production cost, fire, earthquake, robbery, etc. (NB: contemporary
> capitalism has developed a mechanism to transform this into a normal
> production cost, since they categorizes it as an INSURANCE COST and pass it
> onto the consumers).

I agree that, in practice, insurance costs paid by capitalists are
frequently shifted to consumers through higher commodity prices.

> (4) Payment from unspecific individual incomes: pure circulation cost,
> nobody is willing to pay this but it is paid anyway. Like indirect taxes, it
> is paid by nobody but it is paid finally.

If it is paid for by the state, it is paid for by somebody.

> (even Russian people might have paid in
> part the indirect taxes for the products US workers consumed).

How so?

> In conclusion, contemporary capitalism has converged the above four
> categories only to two ones, (2) and (4).

This is the point I understand the least. I must have missed your
explanation for *why* there is a convergence to what you designated as (2)
and (4).

In solidarity, Jerry