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

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Tue Nov 11 2003 - 08:50:07 EST

Ian W wrote:

> 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 and
> >not productive of surplus value but in those instances those
> > individuals are splitting  their time performing  qualitatively
> > different economic functions.
> 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 point that I was making was quite different:  capitalists _as
capitalists_ are not productive of surplus value and consequently
are not exploited.  However, because 1 individual can belong to
more than 1 class it is possible for a capitalist (especially a petty
capitalist) to also be a worker.

>  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,

No doubt, but simply making "heroic contributions" to the firm's
success does not mean that they are productive of surplus value.

> 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.

I didn't suggest that all small firms are disappearing or irrelevant.
However, the statistics on market concentration show quite clearly,
for all advanced capitalist economies, a long-term trend towards
increasing concentration where the share of output of most markets
are increasingly controlled by small numbers of large firms.  Part
of this process can be historically explained through economies of
scale, barriers to entry, and mergers.  Marx's explanation of this
process begins early on in _Capital_,  e.g. Volume 1, Part Four,
and focuses on changes in the labor process such as an increasing
division of labor, manufacture, and 'modern industry'.  We can
observe this historically not only in industry (most notably, through
the industrial revolution) but also in agriculture and this process helps
to drive small firms in agriculture out of the market and force owners
of small businesses into the ranks of  the proletariat or the industrial
reserve army (or perhaps into the 'petty commodity', i.e. 'informal',
sector).  The advantages of firm size (that also include financial ability)
have to be grasped to comprehend the following statistic: in the US,
approximately 2 out of 3 small businesses will go out of business within
the first 3 years of operation.

> For example, I do not
> believe strategic decision making will be abolished in a classless
> society. It is (potentially) necessary labour.

No doubt there will be strategic decision-making in a classless society,
but in a classless society there is no longer the production of surplus
value and hence the specific meaning under capitalism of 'productive'
and 'unproductive' labor  no longer has relevance. It will then be a
subject of importance only for historians and archaeologists.

> 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!

We have been talking at cross purposes.  No doubt that 'productive'
has more than one meaning, but when _I_ was referring to productive
labor I was _only_ referring to labor which is productive of surplus value
under capitalism.

In solidarity, Jerry

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