Jurriaan Bendien (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Fri, 01 Oct 1999 22:42:22 +0100
I realise I did not post my continuing correspondence with Michael re
productive labour on OPE-L recently, and I thought I would do that anyway
in case anybody is interested. So here goes:
----- Original Message -----
From: Jurriaan Bendien <email@example.com>
To: Michael J Williams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Friday, October 01, 1999 3:52 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L:1349] Re: Re: still more on advertising and productive
> In that case I think you will underestimate the value of the gross product
> of the social formation. I think self-employed operators etc. also add new
> value. Actually UNSNA accounts often recognise this by including
> self-employed profits in operating surplus. For Marxists however they
> should be a distinct entry.
I agree with this, but it doesn't speak to the (un)oproductive labour
distinction. Self-employed, partnerships even work co-ops are eventually
driven by the dominance of the value-form to generate surplus-value. They
'exploit themselves' under market pressures.
> In my opinion and experience, because "the system" is as a matter of fact
> not indifferent to the use-values produced.
'Matters of fact' have to be located conceptually: is it necessary to the
reproduction of the captialist sytem that there exists interest in
use-values? or merely an, however ubiquitous, contingency?
> As I have explained, they cannot be.
I must have missed his explanation - anyway I cannot recall it. Could you
run it by me again? I have also indicated a couple of times that the
use-value composition of output technically indispensible to the simple or
extended reproduction of the system is not relevant to the (un)productive
labour distinction. I have nowhere said that it is not a matter of interest
to Marxist investigation. The point is that it is only through the anarchy
of market co-ordination that this technical indipensibility is or is not
met. It does not come about because of the interest of any particulat
capitalist, or committee of capitlal in ensuring that it is met. Think of
Marx's discussion of the indifference of individual capitals to the
reproduction of an adequate labour-power supply.
> an empirical and theoretical fallacy propagated by Stalinists and Marxists
> who have no experience of business and no understanding of capitalist
> culture, simple as that.
Tosh, it is being propagated, inter alia, by me!
> Product innovations and technological revolutions
> indeed modify the whole operation of the system, they create a whole new
> modus operandi for capitalism.
> Your argument here is that capitalist doesn't care whether he produces
> sausages or cars as long as he makes a profit. But I think that is a
> simplitsic view of what capitalists are really like, at least in my
> experience,. What is true, and what I agree with, the the status of the
> capitalist qua capitalist does not depend on producing any particular
And that is all that I am saying. What you call a 'simplistic view' is a
hard-won abstraction to identify the fundamental imperatives of the
capitalist system - that are structurally imposed on most of the behaviour
of most capitalists most of the time.
> The vulgarity lies is not being able to specify what it concretely means
> and to measure it without inconsistency.
I have specified, from very early on in this discussion, a perfectly
statistically operationalisable basis for the (un)productive labour
distinction. *All* such specific, exact unfuzzy classificatory critieria are
in their very nature abstract. Of course, in the process of articulating
these abstractions in order to regrasp the empirical as the concrete, all
kinds of real world ambiguities and fuzzy border regions emerge. That is
just real life, It cannot be wished away with references to what is or is
> He [Fred M] just says, well, Marx said that, and that's how you do
> the account.
Fred can speak for himself here. But I have at no time appealed to the
authority of Marx's work to support my arguments.
> it has a surface
> plausibility but it's intellectually incoherent. In other respects I
My feeling, from memory is that what Marx has to say, taken together, about
(un)productive labour does not appear coherent. Actually, he doesn't say
very much. But, I repeat, all my arguments have been about seeking
internally coherent characterisations that seem congruent with Marx's
overall project, of which I am a staunch defender. They have not been about
examining what Marx has to say on the subject.
> The main reason is that profits in a capitalist economy
> can also arise out of sources other than the surplus labour performed in
> the domestic economy (unequal exchange and profit upon alienation).
OK - I have no problem with this - except a slight qualm about the selective
drawing of the boundaries of an 'economy' in order to be able to show a
*net* profit upon alienation, since overall that is a zero-sum game.
> I am suggesting we could valuate the total surplus product in money terms,
> distinct from total surplus value
For reasons internal to the value-form approach, I see money as the only
possible real quantitative expression of value and surplus value - so this
sentence doesn't make much sense to me.
> For Marx, surplus labour performed by self-employed operators, or by
> non-capitalist producers or by capitalistically performed unproductive
> labour does not result in net additions to total surplus-value. If Marx
> (see Cap 2) is correct, a bank employee performs surplus-labour, but does
> not create any new net addition to total surplus-value by performing that
> labour. Rather, his surplus-labour allows his employer to appropriate a
> fraction of the surplus value (gross income) generated by the productive
> sector essentially in the form of net interest. Of course, the employee
> appears to create surplus-value, because his employer makes profits.
> However, Marx says these profits in the form of net interest are really an
> appropriation of the gross income of the productive sector, and not
> independently by, or related to, bank labour involving in shuffling money,
> calculating placements and printing out bills. For the bank employer, the
> wages outlaid certainly function as variable capital, but from the social,
> aggregate point of view (if Marx is correct) these wages cannot be
> capital because they do not reflect labour directly creating net additions
> to new surplus-value. The question then is whether and how unproductive
> workers wages enter into the value of the total gross product, which
> according to Marx = c+v+s. Since the unproductive workers wages are
> v nor s, they can only be c, i.e. enter into the cost structure (or value)
> of production as a circulating constant capital. If Marx is correct, then
> the value product (s+v) must exclude unproductive workers wages, which are
> then analogous to an "intermediate consumption". This however is denied by
> Shaikh and Moseley, who argue that unproductive workers wages directly
> represent a fraction of current gross profits of the productive sector. On
> that ground they include the equivalent of these wages in new value added.
This is a very thorough account of how we might deal with the problem of
unproductive labour that involved surplus labour and/or product but not
surplus value. But this is a non problem unless and until we have
established the basis for assuming that any commodity producing labour
performed under capitlaist direct production relations is in principle
unproductive. And that we have not (yet) done.
Dr Michael Williams
Economics and Social Sciences
De Montfort University
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