[OPE-L:1306] more re advertising and productive labour

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Date: Tue Sep 21 1999 - 05:09:48 EDT

        I'm sorry to be so late in adding to this thread, but I'm just catching up
on things after having lost my computer in a lightning storm.(!)
        I started out completely supportive of the position of Jurriaan and then
Michael that we could consider advertising labour as productive but have
since moved away from this (well, partly) in the course of the discussion.
Initially, it seemed to me that the key issue in determining whether
advertising labour was part of the total labour involved in producing a
commodity under capitalist relations (and thus was productive labour---
ie., labour producing surplus value) was--- what constitutes a commodity
(in contrast to a product)? Given, eg, that labour involved in transporting
products to the point where they are use-values for consumers is deemed by
Marx to be part of the process of producing these as commodities (as is the
labour involved in creating unit sizes desired by consumers within the
apparent retail process--- eg., the butcher in the supermarket), why could
we not argue that advertising is part of the process of producing
commodities insofar as the skilled labour involved in this activity turns
particular products into use-values?
        In short, it seemed to me that far more is involved in advertising than
ensuring the realisation of value and surplus value-- ie., than effecting
the transfer of legal title; rather, it was a matter of production--- in
the absence of "selling the sizzle", no one would want the product (or some
at least). In this respect, I have sometimes argued that "the Emperor's New
Clothes" were a commodity and those "tailors" who produced nothing tangible
at all were nevertheless producing that commodity. (I wouldn't call them
productive labourers insofar as they were engaged in petty commodity
production but if they'd been employed by capitalists....) In the same way,
couldn't we say that those involved in the work of advertising Pepsi and
Coke, similarly selling "new clothes" to consumers were part of the process
of producing the commodities, Pepsi and Coke (which after all are far more
than syrup and carbonated water).
        The problem I now see in this argument was made clear by Paul C's
thought-experiment in which Pepsi and Coke both, by cartel agreement, cut
their advertising budgets and profits increase by this difference. His
premise, clearly, is that the advertising that is occurring does not lead
to any increase in demand (ie that it is not creating a use-value for
consumers where one was not previously present). Accordingly, these
expenditures by definition are only the product of the competitive struggle
of capitals and the surplus value "wasted" on advertising warfare in
another regime might be lost through price wars (until a cartel agreement
ended that). His point is similar in this respect to Ajit's comment that
values spent on protecting one's market share do not produce any use-value
for the economy as a whole. I certainly agree with this--- but I do not
agree with ignoring that advertising also (and in some cases especially)
has the effect of making products use-values. Ie., I think we need to make
that distinction and to explore the relative importance of the two cases
which have quite differing significance.
        On the other hand, I think this points to the problem in Michael's
argument which, if I understand it correctly, states that advertising
labour can be designated productive because capitalists will pay for it.
Capitalists will find this particular labour a use-value in both cases
above but only in one case could we argue that new use-values for consumers
have been produced as the result of this activity.

        in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: Phone (604) 291-4669
        Fax (604) 291-5944
Home: Phone (604) 872-0494
        Fax (604) 872-0485
Lasqueti Island: (250) 333-8810

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