[OPE-L:1244] Re: Unproductive labour and unproductive commodities

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@dcs.gla.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Sep 16 1999 - 05:31:40 EDT

At 18:11 15/09/99 +0100, Michael J Williams wrote:

>----- Original Message -----
>From: <zarembka@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>
>To: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
>Sent: Wednesday, September 15, 1999 9:29 AM
>Subject: [OPE-L:1235] Re: Re: Re: Advertising and productive labour
> >
> > Advertising of Coke and Pepsi is not a use value and therefore is not a
> > commodity. It has no more use value than hiring a worker to dig a hole
> > and refill it (Keynes' example). This is not a moral question, as far as
> > I am concerned (at least for this example which I'd like to stay with
> > until we have cleared the topic of advertising or agreed to disagree).
>Such advertising is a use-value for the producers and distributers of these
>drinks - which is why they are prepared to buy the commodity service. If
>that service is produced under capitalist direct relations of production,
>then it is a commodity. On what grounds other than 'moral' do you declare it
>not to be a use-value? That it is not 'useful' in some general humanistic
>sense? But that is true of many of the use-values produced under capitalism.

This focus on use values is, I think, beside the point. There is no doubt that
the Duke of Hamilton, in Marx's day the richest man in Britain, derived use
values from the services of his butlers. But it is also clear that he would
had even more surplus value were he to have employed them in his coal
mines, and that thus they were unproductive.

This is clear both from Smith and from Marx.

Now consider the situation of the current Duke, who, employing a smaller
household establishment hires the services of a catering company on
the occasion of his holding a party. Such catering companies employing
waiters and waitresses on a daily basis provide the same use value as
the former Dukes butlers. The difference is that instead of paying the wages
of the butlers directly, the duke pays the money to a catering company
who pay part out in wages and retain the rest as profits.

I would assert that whilst there has been a change in the employment
relation of the butlers, they are now company employees not personal
employees, this can not of itself convert an unproductive activity into
a productive one. Of itself all that it does is transfer some of the
surplus value which would have stayed with the Duke into the hands
of the owner of the catering company.

Clearly one can make a similar arguement in which the Coca-Cola company
employ their own advertising staff in 1910, but today employ an outside
agency. If the work was unproductive in 1910 it does not, by transfer
to an outside company become productive.

It follows of course from this argument that in addition to there being
unproductive labour there is such a thing as an unproductive commodity.
No labour that contributes only to an unproductive commodity can
itself be productive.

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