Re: Productive and Unproductive Labour: response to Mike William

Michael Williams (Michael@MWILLIAM.U-NET.COM)
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 00:06:26 +0000

Alan starts with soft words, and suggests that he and I should
agree to disagree. OK, I can see that Alan wants to 'get on' with the
NIPA project. However, I am still seeking conceptual clarification
with whomsoever cares to join in discourse with me. And I have a few
response to some of what Alan said:

> there are two distinct contexts in which the question arises:
> (a) Labour that does produce use-value but not exchange-value (servants,
> state labour, etc). First part of TSV I, Murray's category (1)

A quibble: I have difficulty with the idea of a use-value not a
moment of a commodity.

> (b) Labour that does not produce a use-value at all (banking, perhaps
> security, etc). Last part of TSV I, Murray's categories (2), (3) and (4).
> In case (a) the type of labour doesn't matter (services versus material
> production). What has to be established, is whether it is 'exchanged
> against capital'.

I agree!

Alan then quotes what I had said:
> > I can see why such labour,
> > either all or in part, is wasteful from the point of view of some
> > hypothetical society rationally and democratically organized to
> > allocate resources so as to meet human wants and needs. The use-value
> > of the commodities it produces are humanly undesirable (at least in
> > excess) - but then so are the use-values of junk food, cars unsafe at
> > any speed, products that cause the death of 50% of their consumers
> > when used as recommended (tobacco products), etc. But the labour
> > that produces these commodities is not, thereby, unproductive.

> This is the core of the question,

I agree!

> and all I can comment is that for
> me it is a correct summary of the difference. And that's as far as we can
> go. I don't expect to convince you, and I don't expect you to convince
> me. What I do think is that we have clarified the difference and here it
> is:
> view (a)[you] Security guards and Bank workers are productive because
> they create a new use-value
> view (b)[me and Marx]: they are not productive, because they don't
> create a new use-value.
> You're entitled to your view, I'm entitled to mine,

Yes, but ... could you just give me an inkling as to why security
services are not a use-value? Is it or is it not by comparison with
a rationally organized society? And if that is not the criterion -
what is?

Alan goes on
> Marx is entitled
> to his. I don't think the question is whether Marx was 'right' and it
> is probably forlorn to think that this list can settle that question.
> It can only be decided in relation to a much wider enquiry. What is
> relevant and useful are the following questions:
> (b) what in fact was Marx's view?

I have not attempted to explicitly address this question now,
although, of course, my current view is informed (although not
determined) by my study of Marx, that has, from time to time,
involved a degree of focus on this and related issues

> (a) was it coherent/consistent?

This will have to await an examination of (b). But I was addressing
the broader question, for which you applauded me at the beginning of
your message:
(c) What sense can we make of the productive/unproductive labour
distinction that we have absorbed, however critically or not, from
Marx's work.

> As far as I can see Marx is very coherent and sticks to the principle
> that if it's productive, it must make both exchange value and
> new use-value:

I would agree with him about this.

> case (b) above are people who genuinely don't create any new use-value
> in the first place.

This is what I would like explained - in someone's own words, or by
reference to Marx (or anyone) - for argument or evidence, not as an
authority. Why are security services not a use-value? Or in what
sense are they not a use-value? Or on what criteria are they not a
use value? (Ditto banking services, and any other controversial

Alan again
> Marx has one view, and you have another. I don't have a problem with
> that, as long as it is clear which is his and which is yours.

If this is addressed to me, it is redundant, since I have not
addressed the question whether the view that I am investigating is or
isn't compatible with Marx's view or views.

> Where you (or others who share your views) differ, we both agree to
> produce variants of the same data, showing the effect of these
> differences, so that the reader is left free to judge for her or
> himself. Economics is too important to be left to the economists.

If this is addressed to me, I don't buy this naive empiricist line.
Readers will not know what they are judging unless the concepts are
clear - and I suggest many will find the notion that security
services are not a use-value very unclear (well, I do anyway).

> And that's it!

I am very happy for you to drop any further discussion about the
conceptual issues I raised, Alan, although I am surprised at the
emphasis you place on "You're right from your side, I'm right from
mine. We're just one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind",
however wise that might be in the love-relations for which Mr
Zimmerman intended it ... .

You may have bigger fish to fry. But I
would appreciate anyone else's help in getting to grips with this
puzzling notion of a use-value that isn't.
"Books are Weapons"
Dr Michael Williams
Department of Economics Home:
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences 26 Glenwood Avenue
De Montfort University Southampton
Milton Keynes SO16 3QA
tel:+1908 834876 tel/fax: +1703 768641
fax:+1908 834979