[OPE-L:1145] Re: Re: Re: Unproductive labour income and Marxian social accounts

From: Michael J Williams (michael@williamsmj.screaming.net)
Date: Tue Sep 07 1999 - 19:07:49 EDT

Jurriaan seems a bit cross, so perhaps we should start to draw our
discussion, which is anyway getting a bit repetive, to a close. Anyway, here
are a few responses, in particular where I do not seem to have made myself

> Marx never got around to a rigorous system of social accounts,

I had in mind the logic of his conceptual system, not specifically of social

> Following the Williams argument, security
> forces produce a commodity in the form of a service. Following Marx, they
> normally don't.

Security personnell employed by a capitalist security firm are, in my
interpretation, commodity producers, yes.

> The key import of the separation is twofold: the product is not theirs to
> sell, and the employer can sell it, in the first instance because it is
> separable (alienable).

Does the employer of hairdressing labour sell their product or not? If not,
from where does she generate a revenue?

> The reason why many national accounts inadequately
> represent state production is because the information required does not

Yes, and this is for a reason - not unconnected with the fact that the
outputs are not commodities, and may not be commodifiable.

> 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
> within it.

Of course - but this evades the question I asked: is there a specific
capitalist form of wealth? And is this what you mean by 'material wealth' in
the context of this discussion?
As, for example in:

> I think you can sustain it with reference to a macroeconomic concept of
> material wealth, .
> The value-form hypothesis is yours, not Marx's.

It has been offered as an interpretation and refinement of Marx by Reuten
and Williams in our 1989 book. It seems inappropriate to rehearse that
argument now.

> Marx's
> concept of capitalist wealth is definitely that objectified (reified)
> material wealth, which he contrasts with human wealth.

But, imo, material does not imply 'physical'. Services can be 'material'.

>. I believe Marx would still uphold the view
> that no new value is created in exchange

I have repeatedly agreed with this statement, and my account of
productive/unproductive labour does not depend upon disagreeing with it!
> It is a tension in Marx, because of the dialectics of use-value and
> exchange-value, of abstract labour and concrete labour.

I was suggesting that a fruitless logical contradiction is threatened if we
first make a distinction explicitly independent of any reference to
use-value, and later implicitly seem to need reference to use-value to
sustain it. Nothing 'dialectical' about that; just an indication of
something needing more work.

> It is meaningless to say productive labour is
> labour producing surplus value, that's a tautology.

It's not meaningless, just definitional (answering the inevitable question:
(un)productive of *what*? To which, incidently, the answer is not just
'material wealth'). Of course it has to be spelled out, starting by pointing
out that in principle all labour under capitalist direct product relations
is productive.

> As soon as you want to
> give the definition some bite, you have to spell out what this means in
> terms of concrete labour, specific production processes. Not many Marxists
> have understood this, but capitalists understand this bloody well.

That is precisely the import of 'in principle' above. Of course capitalists
and analysts will want to identify which capitals are successful as such, as
commodity producers, employing productive labour. I thought we were
discussing what could be excluded categorically as unproductive. Concrete
empirical examination would presumably start with companies accounts.
> The thrust of the argument is that Marx considered capitalism would
> supplant services with "vendible commodities" in the long run.

We seem to be talking at cross purposes. In my view, as I have tediously
repeated many times, services produced under capitalist direct production
relations are in principle 'vendible commodities'. They are certainly
'vendible' since they are indeed 'vended'! I would be interested in
citations from Marx to the effect that the capitalist tendency was towards
the reduction of services to physical objects, rather than to the
commodification of 'everything', including services.

>. Further, ask any industrialist worthy of the name and he will
> prove to you he is very concerned with human usefulness. In this respect,
> do not share your notion of value, which seems somewhat mystical to me.
> Marx's critique is not that capitalists or "healthy capitalism" disregards
> human usefulness, rather that a reversion of proper means and ends occurs.
> Extreme attention is indeed paid to the use-value of commodities, but only
> in order to be able sell them for a profit.

I agree with this - indeed I said as much: capital cares about use-value to
the extent that its commodites must have one. I also (at least twice) made a
careful distinction between ahistorical 'human usefulness' and the distorted
and alienated form that it takes under capitalism, as use-value.

> Because, if they don't make a
> profit, capitalists go out of business. Capitalists do not moralise. They
> provide what people want. If people want things that are immoral, that's
> their problem, and that is tolerated within the limits of bourgeois law as
> it happens to be enforced. A socialist society would operate in an
> analogous way, although there would be much better incentives for not
> engaging in mindless consumerism.

Consequently, I am happy to agree with all this.

> The two [rectifying national accounts to make them suitable for Marxist
empirical work and amplifying them to take (better) account of non-commodity
inputs and outputs] are quite compatible.

I did not say they were incompatible - merely, but significantly, different.
So in the interests of brevity I delete your final para without comment - it
doesn't touch relevantly on anything that I have said.


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