Re: Productive and Unproductive Labour: response to Mike William

Michael Williams (Michael@MWILLIAM.U-NET.COM)
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 13:09:10 +0000

Paul helpfully reminds us of another aspect of the unproductive
labour distinction, that appears to make it relevant to capitalist
macrodynamics. He writes:

> Can I take another example here, not security guards but advertising
> copy writers. Consider two capitalist economies trading with one
> another on the world market. In country A 5% of national income is
> spent on advertising. In country B, 1% of national income is spent
> on advertising. Each country has the same labour force, and the
> same initial technology available to it. Because country B saves
> 4% of its income that country A spent on advertising, that value
> is available for capital accumulation. Thus in country B capital
> will accumulate faster than in country A, its technology will advance
> faster and its terms of trade with country A will improve.

Assuming that the copy-writer is a wage labourer, then the sv she
creates is available for accumulation. Whether this is more or less
than the sv created by the non-copy-writing wage labour employed with
the 4% of NI the other country saves from foregoing copy-writing is
an empirical matter, about which I can see no reason for any prior
expectation. So this story assumes what is under discussion: that
copy-writing wage labour does not produce sv.

Paul continues:
> This is the original point of Smiths distinction between productive
> and unproductive labour. Labour expended unproductively is a deduction
> from possible accumulation.

This is true by definition. So non-commodity producing labour (eg
domestic labour) is a deduction from potential accumulation. But once
Keynes has married his housekeeper ... .

> In this sense, considering the Wealth of
> the Nation as a whole, advertising copywriters are as much a deduction
> as personal servants of the rich.

I know Smith argues this, but cannot see why.

> Both hold back accumulation and
> economic development.

Well, only if they are unproductive of sv - which is what remains to
be established in the case of copy-writing (or buffooning)

Given Marx's critique of Smith (cited by Alan) perhaps Smith had in
mind the physical impossibility of accumulating services. But of
course, on reflection, it is clear that the money representing the sv
created by commodity-services is perfectly accumulable - or are we
assuming a permanently binding labour-supply constraint here ... .
"Books are Weapons"
Dr Michael Williams
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