[OPE] "Parasitism"

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Sat Feb 14 2009 - 16:47:54 EST

Hmmmmphph. In general, I agree with Dave Zachariah's comments on Paula's view. Actually, Marx's own concept of productive labour is different from the usual Marxist one - Marx means, that labour is capitalistically "productive" if it increases the value of the capital assets owned by the employer of that labour. The Marxist view is really closer to the socialistic views of John Gray, Sismondi and Thomas Hodgskin in the 19th century. For example, John Gray calculated that productive laborers in Britain constituted a third of the population, but received barely a fifth of the national income, and argued that to eradicate poverty one should redistribute income according to productive contribution.

The analytical question is then, well, how do you know that the labour is productive in Marx's sense? Can you definitely identify the kinds of labour, which contribute to net additions to total capital holdings, and distinguish them from other kinds of labour which don't? This raises a whole lot of conceptual, epistemic, economic and technical issues. (see my simplified article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Productive_labour for some initial aspects ). This problem has never been satisfactorily solved in Marxian economic theory.

In the Zachariah/Cockshott model, the expanded reproduction of capital depends on the production of "basic goods" (specific kinds of use-values) and thus the labour which produces those kinds of commodities is productive. However, it can be shown, that capital accumulation depends just as much on some "non-basic goods", or, that these are just as essential. The problem is, that "the production of more capital" is not simply a technical process, but also a social process - there are both technical and social prerequisites. Once we gain a more sophisticated understanding of the dependencies of different kinds of labour on each other, the "basic and non-basic" distinction is much more difficult to sustain.

It is tempting to say, that productive labour is simply labour which makes a net addition to the total mass of new value. However, you can mathematically easily show that the total value product (V+S) can fall, although S/V increases, and the capital stock K increases also. From a capitalist point of view, the labour is then more "productive" than it was before - capital is even growing faster - except that the total amount of new value produced is declining.

But in reality, as I have said many times before (1) there is no neutral concept of productivity and productive labour (2) the boundaries of what is productive, are constantly changing as the divisions of labour are modified (3) the managers themselves do not even completely agree themselves about what labour is "productive" because it is often impossible to attribute an increase in profit objectively to any particular categories of labour.

What Marx aims to do, I think, is to say that in reality the "productivity of labour" and its interpretation is a pivot of class conflict, because it is a synthetic index of the degree of labour-exploitation. He describes capitalism as a chrematistic trading system aiming to appropriate as much of the labour of others without compensation, using bourgeois property rights.

In Marx's view, there is nothing institutionally or organizationally in capitalism which is going to guarantee that the expanded reproduction of capital occurs in such a way, that physical outputs grow in a balanced way. Instead, the process of expanded reproduction is a rather haphazard, trial and error process, with constant after-the-fact adjustments. The aim of the system is capital accumulation, not output growth per se.

If productivity is intrinsically a "fuzzy concept" (see my article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuzzy_concept) as I have argued before on OPE-L, then logically this means, that the meaning of the concept is context dependent, and that a series of different, linked definitions of productivity are required, to do justice to the relevant relationships. In that sense, an "engineering" concept of productive labour is simply one concept among others, which may be useful and relevant for certain purposes.


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Received on Sat Feb 14 16:49:52 2009

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