[OPE-L:7557] [OPE-L:1100] Re: Re: Re: Unproductive labour income and Marxian

Allin Cottrell (cottrell@ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu)
Thu, 2 Sep 1999 21:58:40 -0400 (EDT)

I think I've said this before on this list, but... it seems to
me there is a certain tension in Marx's definitions of
productive and unproductive labour (under capitalism).

He first offers a very clear distinction, which is independent
of the material nature of the labour in question and purely
concerned with whether or not that labour contribributes to the
production of a commodity for profit. Thus a singer who is
hired for the entertainment of the guests at a private party is
in that context not a productive worker. She is paid out of
"revenue". The same singer hired by an impressario who makes a
profit out of selling tickets to her concert is in that context
productive. It is this context that Marx criticizes Adam Smith
for being too pedantic, too "Scottish", in insisting that
productive labour must materialize itself in an independently
existing and relatively durable "vendible commodity". The
singer's labour, while it is productive (of capital) in the
second case, nonetheless does not produce any _thing_ that
outlasts the performance itself.

So far so good. But then he wants to make a second cut,
depending on whether the labour in question belongs to the
sphere of circulation, or of "production" proper. Labour
belonging to circulation cannot be productive -- even if, it
seems, it qualifies as productive on the first criterion. E.g.
the case of an accountant who works for an accounting firm which
hires out her services at a profit to other capitalists. On the
first criterion it sure looks as if she should be considered
productive (of capital, for the accounting firm), but Marx won't
have that.

OK, this is not flat-out contradiction; one can set up a Venn
diagram and say that only those people falling into such and
such an intersection of sets are productive; but it looks a bit
as if Marx is trying to have it both ways.

Allin Cottrell.