[OPE-L:1297] Re: Re: Advertising and productive labour

From: Michael J Williams (michael@williamsmj.screaming.net)
Date: Mon Sep 20 1999 - 07:23:46 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: Ajit Sinha <ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in>
To: Michael J Williams <michael@williamsmj.screaming.net>
Sent: Monday, September 20, 1999 10:12 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L:1288] Re: Re: Advertising and productive labour

> The implicit assumption behind Paul's argument is that as far as use-value
> concerned both coke and pepsi are identical products. Thus pepsi and coke
> such are not use values but rather the soda drink is the use value.

As you will see from my most recent response to Paul Z, I, like you (see
later) don't find this a plausible assumption. And, see next below, it is
not, im*humble*o, not relevant to the (un)productive labour distinction.

> The adds are
> basically about the turf war for the dividing of the total market between
> two companies. Thus in the equation of the production of this particular
> use-value, i.e. the soda drink, the expenditure on adds will not appear on
> side of the input of production. And as far as outputs are concerned, it
is not
> a joint product since the outputs of the ads are not considered use-value
by the
> consumers. That's why it is an unproductive labor. The example of the
> fits this case extremely well. The "rather special case" is generally used
> clarify conceptual point. Both the labor are doing exactly the same
> thing--trying to maintain a market share against competition. The reason
> labor spent on maintaining market share is unproductive is because market
> is not a use-value. The role of a capitalist is that of a producer and not
> consumer. The capitalists don't produce market share and sell it to
> There is no industry called market share industry. Market share is neither
> input nor an output.

1. There is, though, a thriving capitalist market in advertising services.
2. What underlies the use-value of those services for their buyer (e.g.,
protection/extension of market share) is of complete indifference to their
producer. Margerine capitalists don't care whether I buy their product to
spread on my toast, grease the axles on my bike or to enhance my sex life.

> An individual capitalist may need his/her market share to
> survive as s/he may need her domestic cook for survival, but that's no
> for determining a labor productive.

A (directly employed) domestic cook does not produce a commodity. His
employer is not employing him to produce a commodity (or to contribute
towards the production of a commodity), but to provide directly a service.
Put more generally, domestic servants are not (typically) employed under
capitalist direct production relations.

> This very well shows how you have completely misunderstood the conceptual
> problem. How do you know that the guard employed by the capitalist at the
> factory gate produces surplus? I can easily say that the labor of the
guard is
> unproductive and his/her salary comes out of the surplus produced by the
> workers. Thus my accounting will simply give a different rate of profit
> yours.

An analyst (whether a Marxist or an orthodox 'marginal productivity'
theorist) may well have a problem 'knowing', certainly in any quantitative
sense, what is the contribution of *any* particular concrete labour
component of the collective labour that produces any commodity. Managers in
the capitalist corporation may also have some difficulty, and they have
managerial techniques (including out-sourcing if necessary) to try and cope
with these difficulties. (I believe that some firms try to get a handle on
this by investigating in some quantitative detail what 'world-class' rivals
do in similar production processes, by-passing monetary accounts and going
straight to the concrete labour realm.)
But the point is that the difficulty of identifying the actual productive
contribution of particular concrete labours is the same for in-principle
productive as in-principle unproductive labour. This will go on being a
practical problem for capitalist economic agents and for economic analysis,
unless and until all 'hierarchies' are reduced to disaggregated spot

> That's why the determination of productive and unproductive labor must be
> done prior to the accounting-- a point Paul is making repeatedly but you
> seem to understand it.

Ah but (with all due humility), I do. I have offered an a priori and easily
operationalisable criterion in terms of labour employed under capitalist
direct production relations; and indicated that there remains a de facto
contingent problem of identifying what capitalistically employed labour is
in fact productive of surplus value. This can be managed, fudged,
approximated or whatever, depending on the purpose of the accounting

> Domestic labor hired by the capitalists is also because of "formal
> Why don't you call such labor productive?

See above. That it is a capitalist that hires such labour is contingent. My
family employ a cleaner once a week to help with our domestic labour. She is
jolly useful, but does not generate surplus value.

> How can you tell by looking at one
> firm or even an industry that it is producing surplus?

The management accountants in a firm have some ideas on this, albeit
obscured by their terminology. A Marxist should be able to get a handle on
it by examining those accounts

> > the determination of surplus production can only be done at the
> economy level and not at one industry level, unless you are living in a
> economy' model.

I am not offering to 'determine surplus production', but discussing the
coherence of the (un)productive labour distinction(s).
> You don't seem to understand a simple argument, and go on saying wrong!
> wrong! without giving much thought to what has been said.

I said 'wrong' twice in the post to which you are responding, and in each
case, I provided an argument for saying it. The word is after all only a way
of indicating my disagreement. As it is obvious that we disagree, use of
this word that seems to annoy you is perhaps redundant, so I will try to do
without it in future.

> The point is not
> whether capitalists wanna do good for the world or just make profit.


> A thing has
> economic use-value as long as it is an input in the production of some
> or an output.

I do not quite understand this - but I think that broadly I agree.

> Market share does not figure in as an input in the production of
> any use value nor is an output that is sold in the market.

I agree with this - but see above.

> ps. On the other hand, i would say that Paul's basic assumption about the
> use-value is though true to Marx's notion, it may not be the whole story
in the
> present day world. Coke and pepsi or car commercials are not only fighting
> market share but also create a specific 'use-value'. Drinking pepsi for a
> teenager is not just quenching thirst but also is a statement of belonging
to a
> 'generation'. But this is Baudrillard's territory, not Marx's.

See above. It is not clear why present day Marxists cannot incorporate the
insights of Baudrillard's theories. Indeed the psychological 'utility' of
consumption is much more widely accepted than just by Baudriallard.


> Scientific criteria is not a rhetoric. But I'll spare you all rhetoric if
> you could spare me your arrogance.

If you indicate, preferably off-list, in what you find my arrogance, I will
be happy to try and ameliorate your concerns. I certainly *try* to avoid
phrases that imply that people who disagree with me are thereby
'unscientific', 'childish' (Every child knows that ...) and ... 'arrogant'!
But perhaps that is unnecessarily squeamish of me - perhaps it is all part
of the legitimate rough-and-tumble of debate?

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