[OPE-L:1314] Re: Why I started a fresh debate on productive labour.

From: Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Date: Tue Sep 21 1999 - 17:56:27 EDT

Michael Williams wrote:

>Just one more thought (isn't there always ...), in the 1970s Bacon and Eltis
>(two orthodox - I guess Keynesian - growth economists revisited the
>classical (un)productive labour distinction, for reasons analogus to those
>that motivated Jurriaan to start this thread.

For the record, I would like to distinguish my position from those of
Keynesian growth economists. I am not trying to plot an optimal growth path
for capitalism by trying to establish how the maximum extraction of
surplus-value could be realised, although I may have been interpreted that
way by some.

Rather, I started the debate again because:

(1) I was unclear about how the distinctions governing the creation,
conservation and transfer of new value should really be drawn specifically
with regard to labour traditionally regarded as "unproductive". Businesses
are constantly transferring part of new current income to other businesses,
as well as utilising accumulated profits to purchase from other businesses.
I hoped I might arrive at a better understanding of how the circuits
involved might be presented in a social account of the production of
wealth, and a better political understanding. It is often argued that
unproductive workers are effectively "PAID" by productive workers, but
almost nobody except Jean Marchal, Jacques Lecaillon, and Ernest Mandel
have considered the implications of this for the unity and solidarity of
the working class.

(2) I noticed in reading many discussions about the productive/unproductive
distinction that the authors could not actually say exactly what basic
theoretical categories (such as commodities, use-value and surplus-value)
actually mean in the real world. These "theoretical" concepts appeared to
be "fuzzy" concepts, which seem meaningful at a certain level of
abstraction, but run into difficulties when we actually try to do something
with them to analyse the real world. Having had a certain upbringing,
having studied a considerable amount of philosophy, and having worked as a
research statistician in the area of survey design and classification
development, I HATE FUZZY CONCEPTS. I know they are there, I have to use
them, but I hate them, and I would like to turn them into crystal clear
concepts that can be understood in plain English.

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