Re: Productive and Unproductive Labour

Paul Cockshott (wpc@CS.STRATH.AC.UK)
Mon, 02 Feb 1998 15:41:04 +0000

Allin Cottrell wrote:
> On Mon, 2 Feb 1998, Paul Cockshott wrote:
> > Since the rate of surplus value is determined by the ratio
> > between the working day and the necessary labour time, and
> > luxury production does not enter into necessary labour time
> > ( i.e. not used to make wage goods ), then luxury production
> > can not contribute to the production of surplus value.
> A bold thought, but problematic. Isn't there a micro/macro
> confusion here? A worker producing nothing but luxuries for the
> capitalists is not performing a share of society's necessary
> labour directly. But other workers elsewhere are producing the
> means of subsistence for the "luxury workers" as well as for
> themselves; if the product of the latter is consumed only by
> workers, then in a sense they are performing _nothing but_
> necessary labour. I.e., some workers perform nothing but
> necessary labour, and some perform nothing but surplus labour
> (the luxury makers). The economy-wide rate of surplus value
> then depends in part on the relative weight of these sets of
> workers in the social division of labour.

What I am suggesting, I would not be more definite than that
at the moment, is that the number of workers producing surplus
labour goods ( luxuries and means of circulation ) is determined
by the underlying productivity of a sort of Marxian basic
sector - those industries whose products enter into their
own production either as means of production or as elements
of variable capital.

No change in productivity in the luxury sector can raise the
rate of surplus value which depends only upon productivity in
the Marxian basic sector.

Suppose that the productivity of workers making luxury yachts
doubled when fibreglass replaced wood for hulls. This rise in
productivity could only alter the quantity of physical goods
available to the upper classes, but not their share in the
value product, thus no change in the rate of surplus value.

If the labour required to grow corn is reduced on the other
hand, the value of wages across the economy is reduced, the
necessary labour time in the economy as a whole is reduced
and the rate of surplus value rises.