Re: Productive and Unproductive Labour

Michael Williams (Michael@MWILLIAM.U-NET.COM)
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 22:32:01 +0000

Thanks to Fred for his patient honing down of the debate to the nub
of our disagreement:

> 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
> ...
> Marx assumed that

I agree, and accept that indeed this is an appropriate abstraction.

But, Fred continues immediately:
> from which it follows that the various
> labor activities related to exchange do not themselves
> produce additional value. .... 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.
This is, of course, what I am having a problem with. Of course, in
the simple circulation of commodities, C(use-value x)-M-C(use-value
y), there is no change in the magnitude of value, *because there is
no production*, which is the only place where new labour time is

But now we recognize that some services are required in order to
effect this circulation. Now, in the performance of those services,
there *is* production, in which (for example) commercial labour-power
is purchased along with means of production, put to work performing
commercial services, in a formally and 'really' subordinated labour
process. The commercial capital will, typically, ensure that her
commercial labour power is manifest in more labour producing
commercial services than is required just to reproduce the value of
the wage. Bingo! Surplus value has been created. The mere act of
circulation of commodities doesn't create it. But the production and
circulation of value through the commercial capital and labour
process does - doesn't it?.

That is why I still have a problem with the rationale legitimating any
unproductive labour other than that which does not produce a
commodity, or, equivalently, does not take place under capitalist
production relations.

Your quiet reasonablenss, Fred, nearly convinced me to stop worrying
and learn to love the oxymoron of labour performed under capitalist
relations of production but not (systematically not) producing
surplus value. But now I'm still worried!
"Books are Weapons"
Dr Michael Williams
Department of Economics Home:
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