[OPE-L:1144] Re: Unproductive labour income and Marxian social accounts

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Tue Sep 07 1999 - 19:32:18 EDT

I have a few scattered comments on Jurriaan's [OPE-L:1143]:

> However he [Marx, JL] would, I
> suggest, still argue against the notion that just any labour subordinated
> to capital is productive labour. Following the Williams argument, security
> forces produce a commodity in the form of a service. Following Marx, they
> normally don't.

I assume that you are talking about private security forces. What is your
Marx reference here?

> This is not quite correct, at least not for UNSNA accounts, which make
> provision for non-market production and advise an imputation of the value
> of these sectors. The reason why many national accounts inadequately
> represent state production is because the information required does not
> exist.

I am very dubious of this claim that this is _the_ reason why state
production is inadequately represented in national accounts. Can you not
think of any other contributory factors?

> I am inclined to say a "bit of both", because you see there isn't any such
> thing as the "purely capitalist society" that Kozo Uno describes. A
> specific capitalist economy contains many elements of a non-capitalist past
> within it.

As I understand Uno, he would agree that a) there is no such thing as a
purely capitalist society, and b) specific capitalist societies contain
many elements of non-capitalist modes of production within them.

I think, though, that Uno felt that the development of *basic* theory
of capitalist dynamics requires one to *initially* abstract from b).

I think, on balance, that the Uno approach is closer to your position,
with your emphasis on what Mike calls "trans-historical" elements, than to
Mike's value-form approach.

> I think you can sustain it with reference to a macroeconomic concept of
> material wealth, although you might find that some productive labour takes
> place within the financial sectors as well (it would be difficult to
> measure statistically).

What might you consider to be an example of productive labour in the
"financial sector"?

> What is true is that Marx lived in the time ofthe ascendancy of the
> bourgeoisie, whereas now this class is becoming a bit rotten, introducing
> new questions and distortions.

I am rather inclined to believe that Marx believed that the bourgeoisie of
his own time was "becoming" a "bit rotten". Indeed, he spent the greater
part of his life -- as a revolutionary! -- advocating communism. This was
not a "goal" that he said would be achieved at some later point in time
when the bourgeoisie became more rotten. It was something that he called
for and fought for in his own lifetime.

It is, of course, true that on some questions (e.g. when discussing
colonies; also see his writings on the US Civil War), he held that -- in
certain parts of the world -- the bourgeoisie could still play a
"progressive" role.

> Capitalists do not moralise. They
> provide what people want.

That sounds like "consumer sovereignty" to me.

Do I have to remind of of the extent to which capitalists -- through
advertising and marketing -- help to determine what people want?

However -- to return to the question you asked -- do capitalists care
about whether a product has a use-value? Of course they do. Since if a
product didn't have a use-value, it couldn't have value or be a

> I might say here that for Marxists the
> environmentalists are merely fellow travelers, and their "critiques" must
> often be taken with a pinch of salt.

Yes, we should take what environmentalists write -- and what other
Marxists write! -- with a "grain of salt". That doesn't mean, though,
that they can be characterized as "merely fellow travellers".

> They [the environmentalists, JL] are culture pessimists, we are
> revolutionary optimists.

Neither optimism or pessimism is required. Indeed, the two are often
opposite sides of the same coin. What is required instead is realism ...
and determination and dedication.

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun Feb 27 2000 - 15:27:08 EST