Re: Productive and Unproductive Labour

Fred B. Moseley (
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 11:50:16 -0500 (EST)

I have been away for a few days and returned to the
very interesting continuing discussion of "quantifying
values," productive and unproductive labor, etc. I have
still not had a chance to read all the post carefully, but I
want to start to respond to a few points. This post is a
brief response to Mike W.'s request for a theoretical
rationale underlying Marx's distinction between
productive and unproductive labor.

To begin with, I agree with Mike that services can be
commodities. But I also think that, according to Marx's
theory, a distinction can be made between productive
services and unproductive services. If a service performs
a function related to the circulation of commodities (e.g.
trade services, accounting services, financial services)
then, according to Marx's theory, these services are
unproductive, even though they may be sold as a
commodity. On the other hand, services not related to
circulation (e.g. haircuts, concerts) that are sold as
commodities are productive.

I have already discussed in recent OPEL posts Marx's
rationale for this distinction - that Marx assumed that
EQUIVALENTS, from which it follows that the various
labor activities related to exchange do not themselves
produce additional value. Mike responded to my earlier
post that I "read too much" into Marx's assumption of the
exchange of equivalents. But I still do not see how it
could be otherwise. If no value or surplus-value is
produced through the activities of exchange, then the
labor required for these activities clearly do not produce
value or surplus-value, i.e. are unproductive labor.

So, I ask Mike again: Why is this not sufficient