[OPE-L] Re: Productive and Unproductive Labour

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Mon, 2 Feb 1998 13:10:32 -0500 (EST)

Paul C wrote on Mon, 2 Feb:

> 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.

I'm not sure whether you are defining a "luxury yacht" as a type of
yacht that only the "upper classes" can afford or whether you are
suggesting that all yachts are luxury goods destined to be consumed by
the upper classes.

If you are asserting the latter, let me note that:

a) yachts come in all sizes and are available at a wide range of prices.
Smaller yachts, especially used boats, are well within the reach of many
working-class families (see "p.s.").

b) working-class families can purchase so-called "luxury yachts", but this
may require that they forego the possibility of purchasing many other
commodities. Thus, they may buy a boat but may purchase clothes at thrift
shops. This can also be true, of course, for other "luxury goods." For
instance, when I worked at G.M., a fellow worker and friend of mine bought
a new Cadillac Seville. He couldn't afford much of anything else after
that purchase, but he did get his Caddy. Another example: at Pratt there
was an adjunct faculty member who maintained a "luxury" (translation: high
rent) apartment in Manhattan. This meant, quite literally, that he (and
his cat) were living on bread and water! (and his cat even fainted from
malnutrition and had to be sent to the vet!).

I guess the above relates to a recent discussion that we had concerning
the definition of "luxury" goods and whether some proportion of them are
consumed by working-class families. I would suggest that they are.

In solidarity, Jerry

PS: it just so happens that I recently purchased a used fiberglass
sailboat! (delete now if you are bored by the subject of boats). "She"
(yes, I am aware that this is a gender-specific term and that I will be
accused of commodity fetishism) is a 27 foot auxilliary sloop built in
1968 on the island of Moet in Denmark. She ("Bon Copain") is a full-keel
heavy displacement yacht with an outboard rudder and a conservative rig.
The engine is a 20 hp Yanmar diesel. A previous owner and his wife lived
aboard her for 2 years and sailed from the UK to the Med, across the
Atlantic to the Caribbean via the Canary Islands, then through the Panama
Canal and up to San Francisco. The last owner owned her for 14 years --
sailing mostly single-handed in the Narragansett Bay and nearby areas and
living aboard during many of those years. She sold the boat because she
recently married someone who owned a bigger boat and who is 6'3" (there
is 6'1" headroom below on "Bon Copain"). The boat is currently in
Newport, Rhode Island, and I'm looking forward to sailing her in the
summer! When I was in the hospital I promised myself that I would buy a
boat (hell, you've got to have something to look forward to!) and now it
has happened. None of the foregoing means that I am now part of the
"upper class."