[OPE-L:1276] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Advertising and productive labour

From: Michael J Williams (michael@williamsmj.screaming.net)
Date: Fri Sep 17 1999 - 13:04:00 EDT

> Paul Cockshott wrote:
> > Yes the labour of producing Rolls Royces is certainly unproductive,
> > as is all labour in department III ( labour that is devoted to
> > luxury consumption ).

This is where I disagree. I have yet to see a coherent argument how the
(un)productive labour distinction can be made on use-value grounds. What is
needed, rather, is a characterisation of (un)productive labour with
reference to the capitalist imperative to valorise, that is on the grounds
of whether or not it (in princicple) produces value and surplus value.

Since I seem to be repeating myself, let me widen the discussion out a bit
in four ways.

First, as I mentioned in a recent post, it is of course a perfectly useful
critical exercise to identify those amongst the capitalist uses of labour
that are wastefully expendend on the production of socially or
humanistically undesirable products. But this is not what the (un)productive
labour distinction, concerning the categories of capitalism, is meant to do.
Do we agree?

Secondly, there is, of course, a technologically determined (although not
fixed) requirement under capitalism (as under any mode of production) for a
certain use-value composition of output to be produced to meet the input and
consumption requirements of simple or extended reproduction. Input-output
and Sraffian models and derivitives of them, with their fundamental
distinction between basics and non-basics, do a wonderful job of modelling
these technological requirements. But these are a necessary but not
sufficient set of conditions for ongoing capitalist production. A sufficient
set of conditions would also include ongoing adequate valorisation - and it
is to this latter that the (un)productive labour distinction is relevant:
productive labour is that which produces value and surplus value (though
this is a rather redundant formulation - if it produces surplus value then
it must produce value). I guess this is much more controversial. I offer it
here just to indicate what role use-value imperatives *do* play in
discussing capitalist dynamics.

Thirdly, Labour that produces (surplus) value is abstract labour: labour
that is drawn into the value-economy; more concretely that which is employed
in commodity production under capitalist direct production relations. Of
course no labour-process escapes the distorting effects of the value-form in
a capitalist economy, but that which is not performed under capitalist
direct production relations is not (surplus) value creating, however useful
it may (or may not) be to the reproduction of capitalism, and, especially,
however useful it might be to social humanity. Thus unproductive labour
includes state-employed labour (with fuzzy boundaries in which dwell
commercially operating state-owned enteprises, etc), domestic labour, labour
working in voluntary organisations, etc., etc..

Fourthly, it seems to me that this basis for the distinction is, with of
course some boundary ambiguity calling for the exercise of judgement,
perfectly operational for the purposes that Jurriaan intimated at the very
beginning of this thread.

So, in what is this account mistaken or inadequate?

Or, more helpfully for me, what is the coherent basis upon which a
distinction between labour unproductive of surplus value and that productive
of surplus value (redundantly - under capitalism) can be developed by
reference to the category 'use-value'?

Thank you for your patience.

Dr Michael Williams
Economics and Social Sciences
De Montfort University
Milton Keynes

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