Re: Commodities and Services: response to Michael Williams

Alan Freeman (
Sun, 18 Jan 1998 01:44:11 +0000

I'm with Michael all the way on this one.

Or at least, 93% of the way.

Though Marx tends to maintain Smith's *terminology* according to which
commodities are material as distinguished from services, the whole of
the first part of TSV I is a critique of this distinction when used to
separate productive from unproductive. The clincher for me is the

"Are there not at every moment of time in the market, alongside wheat
and meat, etc., also prostitutes, lawyers, sermons, concerts, theatres,
soldiers, politicians etc.? These lads or wenches do not get the corn
and other necessaries or pleasures for nothing. In return they give or
pester us with their services, which as such services have a use-value
and because of their production costs also an exchange-value. Reckoned
as consumable articles, there is at every moment of time, alongside the
consumable articles existing in the form of goods, a quantity of
consumable articles in the form of services. The total quantity of
consumable articles is therefore at every moment of time greater than it
would be without the consumable services. Secondly, however, the value
too is greater, for it is equal to the value of the commodities which
are given for these services, and is equal to the value of the services

(TSV I: 169)

We are dealing here with a concept in evolution through a process of
critique. If one wants to be pedantic we can stick with the
Smith-as-Physiocrat distinction that Marx was critiquing and in that case I
could rephrase my NIPA proposal in terms of 'consumable articles'. How much
easier just to say that the obvious and logical development of this passage
is that 'consumable articles' is just another word for commodities, in the
strict scientific sense defined in Volume I, namely an indissolubble unity
of use-value and exchange-value?

However, the category of 'services' as reported by NIPA is a horrible
hotchpotch because it includes such things as telecommunications along with
banking. So though commodities include services, I would stop short of
saying that *all* services are commodities. The dividing line is, for me,
whether their principal function is to circulate existing use-values or
whether they create a new use-value.