[OPE] faux frais of production, services and productive and unproductive labor

From: GERALD LEVY <gerald_a_levy@msn.com>
Date: Fri Oct 01 2010 - 19:49:00 EDT

> Why you consider insurance a 'faux frais' in the first place.

Hi Paula:

Insurance was explicitly given as an example of faux frais by Marx:
see Capital, Volume 2, Ch. 6, Section 1.

"For instance insurance companies divide the losses of individual capitalists
among the capitalist class. but this does not prevent these equalised losses
from remaining losses so far as the aggregate social capital is concerned".

In a sense, insurance 'socializes' the losses of individual capitalists
due to certain unforeseen events where negligence is not involved (e.g.
natural disasters). Individual capitalists certainly come to see faux
frais of production as necessary expenses, but this does not mean that
new value or surplus value is created in the insurance industry. It has more
in common with legal expenses, bookeeping - and even bribery - than it
does with the creation of surplus value.

Since you mentioned car insurance let's talk about that. Cars can
be a form of means of consumption for workers, luxury consumption by
capitalists, or constant capital for firms depending on who purchases
them and why. Whoever buys cars is generally required to purchase car
insurance by the state. One could see these laws as attempts by the
state to foster and expand the usage of automobiles and hence support
auto capitalists since without insurance less individuals and firms
would use cars because of liability reasons.

Whether the insurance is purchased by workers or capitalists for
individual consumption this has no effect on whether the labor employed
in the insurance industry is productive of surplus value. What
exactly does a working-class household - which purchased a car
as means of consumption with monies received through wages - receive
by buying insurance? I.e. what is its use value? The use value of the
insurance is to ensure (no pun intended) that the consumer does not
personally bear the financial/legal costs arising from liability and the private
property of the consumer can be repaired or replaced without additional
financial burden (putting aside the question of deductibles). What
happens here is that the losses of individual consumers are divided
among all car-consumers. [In a sense, one could view this as 'faux frais of
consumption' like putting quarters in a parking meter could be considered
an incidental cost arising from car ownership. Likewise, paying bribes
to cops so that they don't give you parking violation tickets.]

Now let's compare that to an opera singer who is employed for a wage
by a private firm. As in the case of car insurance, this service
can be purchased by workers or capitalists and is a form of individual
consumption. A commodity is produced (the opera) and this commodity
has a use-value and an exchange-value. Although we might call it a
'service' it really is functionally the same as any good which takes
the commodity-form.
Unlike car insurance, one doesn't go to an opera because of legal reasons.
Unlike purchasing guard labor (another service), one doesn't go to
the opera to protect one's private property. One has to consider both
the form of labor and the social reasons/functions for the labor when
considering whether or not the labor employed in that service industry
is productive or unproductive of labor. Was, for example, the worker
employed by the state or by capital? That is a key question. Is the
laborer engaged in production or does the worker, rather, labor to sell
commodities? Both car assembly workers and used car sales people labor
but that doesn't make used car salespersons productive of value and
surplus value. The used car salesperson is not unproductive _because_
that person is providing a service. Service workers can be productive
or unproductive of labor depending on who employs them and what their
function (in relation to the creation of surplus value) is. What might be
viewed as necessary and important labor from the standpoint of their
employer might still count as unproductive labor
if their labor does not increase the aggregate surplus value.
To the extent that capitalists must buy insurance this decreases the
amount of monies that they have left over which can be used for the
purchase of new and more c and v. Its aggregate consequence is to
decrease the potential increase in the accumulation of capital.
To the extent that workers must - for legal reasons - buy car insurance
this lowers their actual standard of living.
In solidarity, Jerry
ope mailing list
Received on Fri Oct 1 19:50:25 2010

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Sun Oct 31 2010 - 00:00:02 EDT