[OPE-L:2089] Re: Why is Malthus correct on unproductive labor, according to Marx?

From: Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Date: Tue Jan 11 2000 - 13:27:42 EST

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Dear Paul,

At 11:41 PM 1/10/00, you wrote:
>Theories of Surplus Value, I, Chp. IV.3 (p. 157 Progress) has Marx saying
> "this critical differentiation between productive and unproductive
>labor remains
> the basis of all bourgeois political economy".
>Why does Marx say that? Why is it crucial to bourgeois political economy?
>And, whatever our own differences on this issue, is it not the case the
>Marx himself thought that the differentiation plays a role in his, not
>just bourgeois, political economy?

I don't have the context of the quote handy, but maybe the answer is
simpler than you think. If profit is the "bottom line", then you always
have to be able to distinguish between those activities which contribute to
making profits and those activities which do not, and justify that. In
modern bourgeois economics, this issue is addressed mainly at the level of
micro-economics, and in taxation theories. At the level of bourgeois
macro-economics, the source of profit is (1) pretty much a mystery, or (2)
the sources are many and varied, as in eclectic conceptions, and (3)
typically explained and disputed according to the ideologies of the
dominant fractions of the bourgeoisie at the time. So much is already
evident in social accounting theory: gross profits (netted of depreciation
charges) is called "operating surplus". To put it differently, something is
"left over" but where it comes from exactly, is open to various

Marx wanted (1) sometimes to link profits to something like "the material
surplus product" or "real wealth", (2) to distinguish between income flows
reflecting the value of production and flows of redistributed income, (3)
get away from vulgarities that any old labour, or any old economic activity
is "productive". But basically he is saying conceptions of what is
productive labour vary with the contingencies of capital accumulation and
the evolution of the division of labour. What is regarded as "productive
labour" in one epoch may no longer be productive labour in another epoch.
So there isn't a single definition of "productive labour" applicable to
capitalism in all places and all times, beyond the platitude that
productive labour contributes to making profits for capitalists (generates
surplus-value, however you want to phrase that).

In soldarity


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