Re: costs of unproductive labor

jurriaan bendien (
Wed, 21 Jan 1998 22:29:29 +0100

In response to Ian Hunt:

It may be of interest that the suggestion of expenditure on unproductive
labour as a "separate stock" was also suggested by Ernest Mandel in 1978
(Introduction to Capital Volume 2, Penguin ed., p. 49): "An important part
of [unproductive] labour (e.g. commercial employees, workers in the
financial sector and those in unproductive service industries) is paid not
out of currently produced surplus-value, but out of that portion of social
capital which is invested in these sectors. Only the profits of these
capitals form part of currently produced surplus-value. It is true that
social capital is the result of past extortion of surplus-value. But this
applies also to variable capital, i.e. to wages currently paid out to
productive workers".
The simple thought behind this idea, I think, is that in order for e.g.
financial capital to be able to appropriate a portion of currently produced
surplus-value, they must command capital already and advance/apply it
first, and this capital is not "currently produced surplus-value", but the
result of past extortion of surplus-value. That is then a reason why
expenditure on unproductive labour ought not to be regarded in the annual
account as an appropriation of currently-produced surplus value. A
counter-argument to this is that a rise in unproductive labour is made
possible only by an increase in the productivity of workers in "material
production", in the productive sector, i.e. an increase in the real rate of
surplus-value, and that at least part of the wages of unproductive workers
are paid out of current income which represents an appropriation of
currently produced surplus-value.
Well, as I pointed out in a previous post, if you treat expenditures on
unproductive labour as a fraction of currently produced surplus-value in
the annual account (as Shaikh does), this has the result that an increase
in unproductive workers employed can by itself raise the general rate of
surplus-value. I am therefore not surprised that Shaikh & Tonak's rate of
surplus-value is much higher, and rise more steeply, than some other
measures by previous authors (although the general movement is mostly in
the same direction if basic Marxian distinctions are applied to the data).


Jurriaan Bendien.

> From: Ian Hunt <>
> To:
> Subject: Re: costs of unproductive labor
> Date: Wednesday, January 21, 1998 12:26 AM
> If you do accept a distinction between unproductive and productive labour
> in a capitalist enterprise, which I do not think is ultimately necessary,
> think the best way of dealing with the "costs of unproductive labour" is
> use the distinction between capital stocks and and flows, including the
> costs of unproductive labour in the stock of capital required to sustain
> given flow of productively used variable and constant capital, so that
> presence of "costs of unproductive labour" shows up as an increase in
> turnover period of capital, and thus as depressing the rate of profit.
> would avoid confusion between such wage costs and variable capital (but
> without, in turn, confusing such costs with constant capital) and also
> the requirement that such costs reduce the rate of profit.
> 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