[OPE-L:5896] Re: Shaikh & Tonak

jurriaan bendien (Jbendien@globalxs.nl)
Sun, 28 Dec 1997 17:34:23 +0100

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Alan Freeman suggests using Shaikh as a basis for international
comparisons. Having just studied Measuring the Wealth of Nations I was
very impressed by the research effort, but there are some things I would
quibble with. A few points:

(1) Productive labour. It isn't possible to measure Marx's pure concept of
productive labour. For a start Marx's concept refers to labour performed
and not to the worker who performs it. Thus for instance a worker engaged
in otherwise unproductive tasks may also engage in some productive tasks,
and the notion of "productive worker" assumes that the labour s/he performs
is mostly (mainly) of a productive kind. Secondly workers who perform
productive labour, and produce a commodity which cannot not sold aren't
capitalistically "productive" from Marx's point of view - no addition to
surplus-value results. Thirdly statistical classifications do not allow us
to make all the relevant distinctions.
Be this as it may, Shaikh's and Tonak's inclusion of some services in
productive labour such as health and educational services seems dubious to
me. If those services were supplied on a capitalist basis you might be able
to argue that they are "productive" but even so I think it more appropriate
in that case to treat the surplus-value realised as a transfer, and not as
an addition to the value product. That is to say, health and education are
macroeconomically speaking (from the standpoint of capitalism as a whole) a
kind of "faux frais of production" just like insurance is. What is really
missing in Shaikh & Tonak's story is the tendency of the capitalist mode of
production to substitute commodity production for services, and that the
product of labour must be alienable from the producer in order to
constitute a commodity.

(2) Shaikh and Tonak's concept of "necessary product" and "necessary
labour" does not seem consistent. While they correctly distinguish between
the rate of exploitation (applicable also to non-productive workers) and
the rate of surplus-value (applicable only to productive workers), they
sometimes apply "necessary labour" to all workers performing surplus-labour
in the capitalist circuit (e.g. p. 129) and sometimes they equate the
necessary product with variable capital (e.g. p. 323). It seems to me that
in a specific society the necessary product cannot be straightforwardly
equated with variable capital, and that necessary labour cannot be equated
straightforwardly with productive labour (just as the value of
surplus-labour cannot be equated with total surplus-value). The reason is
that necessary labour must includes all the labour required to sustain the
population in a specific society at the given level of consumption.
Necessary labour therefore involves also non-capitalist labour (e.g. simple
commodity production) and capitalist labour which is not capitalistically

(3) Shaikh & Tonak don't really say how to allocate the wages of
unproductive workers in the Marxian account. Clearly though, they are a
component of circulating constant capital.

(4) Shaikh & Tonak do not include either variable capital or inventories in
the total capital stock when measuring the rate of profit. They don't
mention variable capital at all there, but they do say that consistent
inventory (stocks) data is "not readily available" (p. 122n) . Arguably the
stock of fixed capital dwarfs the stock of inventories and variable
capital, so that therefore this omission does not influence the trend
significantly. However, this ought to be shown and not assumed. At least
for manufacturing, where inventory stocks are the largest in value,
inventory data is available and you can calculate an average stock level
for the year. As regards the stock of variable capital, as distinct from
the annual flow, this is more difficult. Real business practice shows that
the variable capital tied up (reserves) at any point during the year is far
less than the annual amount paid out as wages. That is to say, workers are
paid out of the current revenue returned from of the sale of the output
they produced at various points in the year. But how to estimate the stock
level of variable capital (as distinct from the flow) remains a contentious
issue in Marxist economic theory.

I think Shaikh & Tonak have made a very impressive contribution but I think
their presentation of their methods and results in their book leaves
something to be desired. We seem to be still some way off from an
integrated system of Marxian accounts !