Perhaps this thread is running out of steam. Perhaps I am in danger of
becoming a 'fanatic' ('someone who cannot change their mind, and will not
change the subject').
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Monday, September 20, 1999 3:49 PM
Subject: [OPE-L:1304] Re: Re: Re: Advertising and productive labour
> On 09/20/99 at 03:54 PM, "Michael J Williams"
> <email@example.com> said:
> >>If it [a mortgage] is to be a commodity, where is ANY labor power
> >>involved (remember the banking system as intermediary is abstracted
> >>from the question) whether productive or unproductive
> >I do not agree that there is no labour involved in producing a mortgage
> >package. And if, as is typical, that occurs under capitalist direct
> >production relations, it is in principle productive.
> You once accused me of not reading you carefully, but I suppose I now have
> to throw it back--"the banking system [they are the ones who prepare a
> mortgage package] as intermediary is abstracted from the question" (see
If one assumes there is no labour involved in producing something, then
clearly there can be no (un)productive labour involved. It is clear to me
that a Mortgage (even with no other banking facilities attached) does
require labour to produce and deliver. It is clear to Paul Z. that it does
not. If he is right, I will cash in my pension funds and set up (whoops, I'm
performing some labour) an internet mortgage lending system and make my
fortune with my virtual perpetual motion machine.
Put another way, a Mortgage is a commodity produced by bank intermediary
labour. So if you abstract from the latter, you abstract from the former. We
can all agree that 'not-a-mortgage' doesn't require any labour to produce.
Sorry if this is a bit flippant, but for the moment I guess Paul Z and I
will just have to agree to disagree. He has already chosen to leave to one
side large chunks of my arguments to the conclusion that no coherent Marxist
distinction between productive and unproductive labour under capitalism can
be drawn on the basis of use-value considerations. In the language of the
class ideological enemy, if there is (or can be generated) adequate demand
for something, *whatever the basis of that demand*, some capitalist will
employ labour to produce it, putatively extracting surplus value from that
Just one more thought (isn't there always ...), in the 1970s Bacon and Eltis
(two orthodox - I guess Keynesian - growth economists revisited the
classical (un)productive labour distinction, for reasons analogus to those
that motivated Jurriaan to start this thread. They wanted to be able to
extract from national accounting data reasons to explain the UK's relatively
poor rate of growth. They meandered around, but plumped on the
service/physical product distinction, which they claimed was based on Smith.
About the same time, William Baumol was elaborating his 'differential
productivity growth model' that argued that state provided services would
absorb more and more of GDP, because it was inherently more difficult to
increase productivity in the production of the kinds of services that tended
to gravitate to the state sector, whilst state sector wages would tend to
rise paru passu with comparable market sector wages.
In trying to make sense of these models with my students, it became clear
that they each rested on 2 basic arguments:
1. It is intrinsically more difficult to innovate productivity enhancing
technology in the service sector.
2. Services are intrinsically less tradeable internationally.
Even at the time, these arguments were existing on a wing and a prayer. Now,
I would submit, it is clear that they have no general validity at all.
Turning my students' attention to Marx(ist) accounts of the distinction
(remember this was the time of raging debates on the issue, oriented in
particular about the (un)productive nature of domestic labour), it became
clear over several years that the only robust basis for the distinction was
what I have been arguing on this thread: all labour that works under
capitalist direct production relations is putatively productive of surplus
value. I would add that *relative* productivity between different sectors
does not map validly onto the service/physical object distinction either.
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