Re: (OPE-L) accounting for productive and unproductive labour

From: Ian Wright (ian_paul_wright@HOTMAIL.COM)
Date: Mon Nov 10 2003 - 14:29:20 EST

Hello Jerry,

Thanks for your reply. Let me address some of the logical issues,
before discussing the reality of the examples we are discussing.

On the possibility that a single individual can act as both
wage-earner and capitalist owner you wrote:

>Thus, it is possible  for 1 person to be both productive of surplus value
>not productive of surplus value but in those instances those individuals
>are splitting  their time performing  qualitatively different economic

Essentially this was my point -- that concepts such as "capitalist"
or "worker" refer to social relations, not properties of individuals,
and therefore it is logically possible for the same individual to
perform more than one of these roles during the working day.

The further point is that the theory of exploitation does not
stand or fall with the possibility that the labour of capitalist owners
does in fact contribute to the total value of a firm's product
(which I originally thought was your concern). In fact, even if
overnight all capitalist owners were somehow struck
by overwhelming guilt and decided to "muck in" with their workers,
this would in no way alter the fact that these very same owners
own and control all the revenue, and hence receive profit-income.

This profit-income arises from the social relationship between
capitalist and worker, and not from any property of the individual
capitalist, such as entrepreneurial skills or any other heroic
property of the individual. And to get as close to reality as possible,
there is no need to deny the possibility that some capitalists may
indeed make heroic contributions to their firm's success, but the
point is, whether they do or don't, they still receive profit-income,
and hence there is no necessary connection between the labours
of owners and their monetary rewards.

Switching now to the reality of the example of a small business.
You wrote:

>To begin with, what's wrong with this is that you selected a hypothetical
>example (rather than a "concrete" one) concerning  ... small business.  The
>petty-bourgeoisie is not one of the "two major classes" in  capitalist
>society and it is a class which, due to the process of the concentration
>and centralization of capital, become less and less "major" alongside
>the accumulation of capital.

Empirically, small businesses constitute the enormous majority of
firms, although in terms of sales, number of employees and capital
employed, they are, of course, small. The average size of US firm
in 1997 was about 25 employees. I don't agree that there
is a process of increasing capital concentration that results in
the disappearance or increasing irrelevance of small firms. In fact,
firm sizes, whether measured by sales or number of employees,
follow a very stable Zipf distribution that seems to be stable
over a very long period of time (decades). So there is no evidence
that the proportions of small firms in the economy is changing
in any significant way, although of course small firms are subject
to greater volatility in their growth patterns, and new ones form
and existing ones go out of business all the time. In all I think
my original example was quite realistic (and will remain so for many
years to come).

>I can think of _no_ concrete example of
>where any _major_, i.e. non-petty,  capitalist  performs "similar
>tasks"  in the  production process as wage-earners who are productive
>of surplus value.  Yet, they typically _are_ on payroll for the reasons
>I indicated above.

I agree that big capitalist owners do not perform similar tasks to
their workers, and in fact most owners don't even get involved in
the day-to-day running of firms. I wish now I hadn't used the
word "similar" in my example, as the point doesn't rely on the fact
that the labour of the capitalist is similar to that of the worker.
Even if the tasks are highly dissimilar (e.g., strategic decisions
versus manual labour) it is still possible for both kinds of labour
to contribute to the value of the product. For example, I do not
believe strategic decision making will be abolished in a classless
society. It is (potentially) necessary labour.

Switching to the meaning of "productive" labour:
You wrote:

>You write above that you tend to believe that "if someone is willing to
>pay for some labour then it is productive in the economic sense."
>Then you must believe that _state employees_ are productive of surplus
>value since the state pays for their labour time?   (Or -- a less
>question -- what about all of the young people who are employed
>part-time by working-class families to 'baby-sit' their own children or
>mow their lawns or shovel their snow? Someone is  obviously willing to
>pay for their labor -- does that mean that they are productive of surplus

Yes, I am confused and ignorant about the distinction between productive and
unproductive labour. I agree with Rubin that the term "productive"
really needs to be changed, because it has very little relationship
to the normal english meaning of the word "productive". It is very
confusing. But when I wrote rather sloppily that if labour is paid
then it is productive "in the economic sense" I didn't mean to imply
that it is productive of surplus-value. Production of surplus-value
requires a network of enduring social relationships designed to
systematically generate it -- that is, a capitalist firm. So of course
I do not think that paying the local boy scout to wash your car is
systematic exploitation, although it may be more or less fair depending
on how much you pay him!


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