costs of unproductive labor

Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 12:05:39 -0500 (EST)

I want to respond to Murray's recent posts and in
particular to his interpretation that the costs of
unproductive labor are included in the constant capital
component of the price of commodities, rather than the
surplus-value component (good to hear from you again,
Murray).

First of all, I certainly a agree with Murray that this
interpretation (originating from Mage) deserves further
discussion. When I said in a recent post that this
interpretation is a minority view, it was not meant to
discourage discussion, but rather was in response to
Jurriaan's earlier comment that "clearly" these unproductive
costs are a component of constant capital.
I only meant to make a factual statement that this
interpretation has not been "clear" to the majority of
authors who have discussed this issue. Murray himself
has described the opposite interpretation - that the costs
of unproductive labor are "deductions from surplus-
value" - as the "near consensus view." And I also did not
mean to imply that Mage and Murray and Jurriaan are
the only ones who hold this interpretation. I only said
that these were the only ones I have read who have
presented this interpretation in print. So, on to further
discussion - although (as always) without as much time
as I would like.

1. Jurriaan had earlier asked for specific references
where Marx stated that the costs of unproductive labor
are "deductions from surplus-value."
(Similarly, I wonder what references Jurriaan has in
mind to support his interpretation.)

Murray responded with two such quotations, the best
known and most important the following passage from
C.II., Chapter 6 (p. 225-26), where Marx stated:

The general law is that ALL CIRCULATION
COSTS THAT ARISE SIMPLY FROM A CHANGE
IN THE FORM OF THE COMMODITY CANNOT ADD
ANY VALUE TO IT. They are simply costs involved
in realizing the value or transferring it from one
form into another. The capital expended in these
costs (including the labor it commands) belongs to
the FAUX FRAIS of capitalist production. The
replacement of these costs must come from the surplus
product, and from the standpoint of the capitalist
class as a whole it form a DEDUCTION OF SURPLUS-VALUE
or surplus product ... (last emphasis added)

It seems to me that this passage, written late in Marx's
life (in 1870) is a definitive statement: The costs of
circulation do not add any value to the product.
Therefore, they must be recovered out of surplus-value
and in that sense are a "deduction of surplus-value".

2. The other passage cited by Murray is the following
from the Grundrisse (p. 548):

The costs of circulation generally, in so far as
their merely economic moments, circulation
proper, are concerned ... are to be regarded as
DEDUCTIONS FROM SURPLUS VALUE, i.e. as an
increase of necessary labor in relation to
surplus labor. (emphasis added)

Marx said essentially the same thing earlier on the same
page and on p. 543.

3. There is also another important and revealing
"deduction" passage from the Grundrisse, on pp. 632-33:

Similarly, when I transform a commodity into
the form of money, or money into the form of
the commodity, then THE VALUE REMAINS THE SAME,
but the form is changed. It is clear, therefore,
that circulation - since it consists of a series
of exchange operations with equivalents -
CANNOT INCREASE THE VALUE OF THE CIRCULATING COMMODITIES.
Therefore, if labor time is required to undertake this operation,
... i.e. if circulation entails costs, and if circulation time
costs labor time, then this is a DEDUCTION FROM, a relative
suspension of the circulating values; their DEVALUATION BY
THE AMOUNT OF THE CIRCULATION COSTS... These
costs of circulation, costs of exchange, could appear
only as a DEDUCTION FROM THE TOTAL PRODUCTION AND
VALUE CREATION ... Circulation costs as such, i.e.
the consumption of labor time or of objectified labor
time, of values, in connection with the operation of exchange
and a series of exchange operations, are therefore a
DEDUCTION either from the time employed in production,
or FROM THE VALUES POSITED BY PRODUCTION. THEY CAN NEVER
INCREASE THE VALUE. (emphasis added)

3. The same point - that exchange can never increase the
value of commodities - is made in Volume 1 of Capital in
the important Chapter 5 (p. 260):

If we consider this in the abstract ..., all that
happens in exchange ... is a metamorphosis, a mere
change in the form of the commodity. THE SAME VALUE,
i.e. the same quantity of objectified social labor,
remains throughout in the hands of the same
commodity-owner, first in the shape of his own commodity,
then in the shape of the money into which the commodity has
been transformed, and finally in the shape of the commodity
into which this money has been reconverted. THIS CHANGE
OF FORM DOES NOT IMPLY ANY CHANGE IN THE MAGNITUDE OF VALUE.
(emphasis added)

4. In sum, I think these passages provide strong
evidence for the standard interpretation that the costs of
unproduction labor are ≥deductions from surplus-value -
i.e. that they must be recovered out of the surplus-value
produced by productive labor (and are not part of the
constant capital component of the price of commodities).

5. Murray argues against the standard interpretation in
part by interpreting the meaning of "deduction" in these
passages as a "RELATIVE" deduction, rather than an
"ABSOLUTE" deduction (this argument is presented in his
Science and Society paper, but not in his recent posts).
By "relative" deduction, Murray means that the same
amount of surplus-value is related to a larger amount of
capital invested, because the costs of unproductive labor
are included in constant capital.

However, I do not see how the word "DEDUCTION" can be
interpreted in this "relative" sense. I could see how the
words "reduction" or "decrease" could perhaps be
interpreted in a relative sense, but not "deduction." As I
understand it, "deduction" means SUBTRACTION - one
amount is subtracted from another amount. This is the
way Websters defines "deduction." And this seems to me
is Marx's meaning in the above passages. There is no
mention of the word relative (or a hint of this meaning)
in any of the above passages where Marx stated that the
costs of unproductive labor are a deduction from surplus-
value.

4. Murray also presents three other passages to support
his interpretation that the costs of unproductive labor are
part of the constant capital component of the price of
commodities, and are therefore not part of the surplus-
value component. Before I discuss these passages in
detail, I would like to see Murray's and others' responses
to the above argument about the meaning of "deduction".
Because if I am correct, then these "deductions" passages
are strong evidence in favor of the standard
interpretation of the costs of unproductive labor which
would have to be weighed against these other passages
that Murray presents to support his interpretation.

I look forward to further discussion.

Comradely,
Fred