[OPE-L:1189] Unproductive Labour Income and Marxian Social Accounts

From: Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Date: Sat Sep 11 1999 - 13:35:54 EDT

HI Michael

I am feeling a bit calmer and saner, although I haven't solved my
extra-0-pel PROBLEM, so am trying to reply to mail. It is not a good idea
for me to participate in complicated theoretical disputes when I am
emotionally turbulent !

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

I am suggesting that if security forces install security devices they are
productive, but that if they only look after the security of people or
property it is not productive in Marx's sense. But I am also convinced
Marx's distinction between productive and unproductive labour is not
adequate anymore.

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

Marx is forced to argue a transfer of surplus-value takes place, or to
argue that the income of the hairdresser is paid out of revenue. But to
argue that it is paid out of surplus-value is hard to sustain when workers
buy haircuts. The argument about transfers of surplus-value can only really
be sustained where capitalists buy from capitalists.

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

I come from New Zealand, though I live in Holland. In New Zealand they
privatised most state operations. And when they did that, the question
was, what are they worth ? It turned out for instance that there were no
adequate capital accounts and they had to get in consultancies to value
state property.

>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?

Roughly, Marx's concept of material wealth is the total product of the
transformation of the physical world by human labour. That is a
transhistorical concept of material wealth. The suggestion is, that
capitalist wealth is the total of commodities produced, whereas monterary
and financial phenomena are only claims to that material wealth.

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

Marx's distinction between material production and spiritual/mental
production is not completely clear. It is essentially the difference
between production of ideas and the production of tangible things. But that
distinction if we do a philological analysis of it (and really it comes
from Hegel) cannot be sustain today. Because you can produce information
and package it as a commodity (Kenneth Boulding had some interesting things
to say about that).

>>. 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!

I think I see what you mean, the question however is where the incomes
generated in the financial sector come from and how they enter into the
cost structure of production.
>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.

The point is, Marx never satisfactorily defined the boundaries of commodity
production, which of course shift over time. My interpretation of Marx has
been that generally he had in mind "physical vendible commodities" as
distinction from services. The are no quotes in Marx which suggest the
substitution of physical vendible commodities for services as he defines
them. That argument you will find in Mandel's book Late Capitalism.

To conclude this post, social accounting is important chiefly for two
reasons: to establish empirical trends, and to provide a basis for a
realistic conception of what a socialist economy must look like.
Personally, my chief intellectual concern in the future in economics, apart
from finishing uncompleted projects, will be with the theory of the
socialist economy. My reason for that is simply this: it is a
psychological law that you cannot achieve a goal if you cannot adequately
specify what it is. Few attempts have been made to specify the nature of
socialist economy, although of course we have a range of literature on
post-capitalist societies and so on, and some work in the West ranging from
Mandel to Nove, Lange, Brus, Roemer, Horvat, Ellman, etc. etc. not
forgetting Makoto Itoh and some Japanese scholars.
My radical thesis is that failure to specify the goal adequately has been
one reason why socialist economy has failed so far to materialise. This is
why I am very appreciative of people like Paul Cockshott, Allin Cotrell,
David Laibman and other who are really concerned about this issue.



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