Re: Commodities and Services: productive/unproductive labour

Ian Hunt (
Mon, 19 Jan 1998 15:58:53 +1030 (CDT)

> (Ian Hunt)
>Subject:Re: Productive and Unproductive Labour
>One definition of 'productive labour' (under capitalist mode of
>production) is that it is labour which produces comodities for capital.
>Marx himself thought that labour which 'merely' changed the ownership of a
>use-value did not produce a commodity for capital, so he excluded 'purely'
>sales and financial services. Whether this distinction between altering
>use-values and ownership can be sustained is arguable. Perhaps it cannot.
>Perhaps it is simplest to treat ownership/changes of ownership as itself a
>use-value, recognizing that there is no more absolute a distinction to be
>drawn between activities which change ownership and those which change
>use-values than there is between production and consumption, as Marx
>himself notes in the intro to the Grundrisse.
>But there remains the ditinction between producing use-values and
>producing commodities, and the distinction between producing commodities
>and producing commodities for capital. If these are applied there are many
>activities in a modern economy which do not count as 'productive', with
>housework being an example of a service which is not a commodity, and the
>products of self-employed traders being an example of products produced
>for the trader rather than for capital.
>What this shows, ifit needed showing, is that Marx does not use the term
>'productive' as an honourific. He is quite clear that it signifies only
>what capital is interested in.
Whoops - I thought I had used the reply function to send to OPE-L, but
perhaps this was just an illusion....

Here is the original message, of which Michael remembered half. The other
half is directed to the question of whether a distinction between
production and circulation of values can be any more absolute than the
distinction between production and consumption, and since I think it cannot
be, I do not think that the absolute distinction between production and
circulation of value which Marx draws is really workable (or necessary). I
take Chris' point about there being no necessary connection between returns
and labour in the case of financial services and sales services, but this
is equally so in other spheres. There is no necessary connection between
the labour of a geologist and the returns to a mining company, for example.
And, while there is an average return over a long period, so there is an
average return to money traders, which explains the willingness of finacial
companies to employ them. In the case of sales, once again there is no
necessary connection between hours worked and returns on sales personnel (a
number of movies about sales workers have this as their basis), but this
parallels the lack of a necessary connection between recording hours and
returns on a singer for a record company. Moreover, there is a strong
connection between average hours and returns in most retail areas, which
explains their employment (or in modern times, their downsizing). So, while
there is a distinction which may be put to theoretical use, there is also
an identity: the transformation of values is itself a use-vale (but only in
a commodity economy)

Dr Ian Hunt,
Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
Philosophy Dept,
Flinders University of SA,
Humanities Building,
Bedford Park, SA, 5042,
Ph: (08) 8201 2054 Fax: (08) 8201 2556