Unproductive Labor and the 'New Economy'

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mhou
Unproductive Labor and the 'New Economy'
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I'm exploring the concepts of productive vs unproductive labor and its relationship to what they're calling the 'Smart Economy' or 'New Economy'- growth in industries like Information Technology, Education, Health Care, Distribution & Retail, Transit, 'smart manufacturing', R&D, FIRE sector, etc.

I think we're all in agreement to start with that regardless of whether or not a person is employed in productive labor (direct production of surplus value at the point of production) they are still proletarian:

"...with the growth of capitalist production all services become transformed into wage-labour, and those who perform them into wage-labourers..." Marx,  Results of the Immediate Process of Production

An argument by one of the accompanying texts on the Marxists Internet Archive tries to make the connection that workers in service are simply a continuance of the value production process- in that the service to commodities is implied at purchase and just an extension of the production process.

"If you buy a car, that’s a good; but if you lease the same car, that’s a service. The line between “hire purchase” and leasing is hard to draw. It may be that additional labour (regular servicing for example) is combined with the manufacture of the car by socialising labour which would have been carried out by the owner themselves, but hire remains simply a means of effecting a sale.

Socialisation of labour may involve replacing activity formerly carried out outside the market with manufacture, but then later the manufactured labour is incorporated into a “service”. For example, during the second half of the 20th century, cooking in the domestic environment was largely replaced by manufacture of food products, and increasingly take-away, fast food and the restaurant trade – services – supplant the sale of prepared food. Thus manufacture and service here mark stages in the process of socialisation of labour.

The growth of what is called the service sector sometimes takes place through the break-up of enterprises, with separate firms, which would previously have been divisions of the same enterprise, instead of simply collaborating with each other, selling their services to each other. For example, clerks doing the salaries in a manufacturing company, may find themselves as employees of a firm selling salary services to the manufacturer. Exactly the same work, first manufacture, now a service. In the case of labour hire firms, workers doing good old fashioned factory work are magically transformed into employees in the service sector!"

http://www2.cddc.vt.edu/marxists/glossary/terms/g/o.htm#goods-and-services

Is the distinction between productive capital and circulating capital part of this discussion?

Is it necessary for Marxists to have a better understanding of the exploitation process in jobs (which are now a majority of the national economies of the central capitalist nations) which are not directly producing value?

 

jk1921
Interesting questions mhou. I

Interesting questions mhou. I don't think the distinction productive/unproductive worker or productive/unproductive workers is very useful for analying the sociological conditions of the class, although it may be the case that those who are involved in productive labor are more likely to continue to hold onto the dwindling number of "Fordist" jobs. Consequently, I am not sure everyone would agree the distinction is not important. I remember one article in an early issue of Internationalism that went out of its way to make the case that teachers really were proletarian, because their labor helped train the future generation of the working class and was therefore "productive."

I think where the distinction might come into play is in analyzing the overall objective direction of the economy. Is it the case that there is more unproductive labor today then in previous epochs of capitalist development? How does this relate to the crisis, etc.?

Demogorgon
Off the top of my head, the

Off the top of my head, the usual differences offered between productive and unproductive labour is this: labour that directly contributes to the accumulation of either constant or variable capital (parts and raw materials for factories, food for workers, etc.) vs labour that is necessary but serves only to facilitate that accumulation (e.g. accountancy, book keeping, banking, marketing, sales).

It might also be worth considering that what may be productive or unproductive labour may change as the economy and its technological base. It's also important to distinguish between the perspective of individual capitals (an accountancy firm can, of course, make a very nice profit out of being unproductive) and global capital (counting up the total number of beans in the world does make any more beans).

Louis Boudin, in his Theoretical System of Karl Marx, touches on some of these aspects when he describes the formation of price but it's been a while since I've read it.

Nonetheless, I don't these distinctions are ever completely unproblematic; and I certainly don't think it's as simple as dividing between "production" and "service" industries. What counts as productive vs unproductive may also change as capitalism continues to transform itself.

"Is it the case that there is more unproductive labor today then in previous epochs of capitalist development? How does this relate to the crisis, etc.?"

I wonder this myself. On the one hand, if there is more unproductive labour how is this actually paid for? If banking, for example, functions by leeching surplus value out of the productive economy, this implies that there is surplus value to be leeched. Of course, more bonuses spent by bankers on private yatchs is less money going to expand factories, etc. Although someone naturally has to build the yatch ...

mhou
Quote:I think where the

Quote:
I think where the distinction might come into play is in analyzing the overall objective direction of the economy. Is it the case that there is more unproductive labor today then in previous epochs of capitalist development? How does this relate to the crisis, etc.?

That'd be the most important part of it I think. As far as the composition of the working-class goes, I think it demonstrates capitalism acting as one integrated world system: manufacturing has been zoned to sections of Asia (China, India, Bangladesh, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand), while the end-point for commodities and services is the central capitalist nations, and so the proletariat of each region 'looks' the way this plays out. If the service of commodities is part of the sale price (included before purchase; the way a capitalist sets aside capital before production to account for moral depreciation), it would tell us a bit more about the extent of the omnipresent nature of capital.

Quote:
I wonder this myself. On the one hand, if there is more unproductive labour how is this actually paid for? If banking, for example, functions by leeching surplus value out of the productive economy, this implies that there is surplus value to be leeched. Of course, more bonuses spent by bankers on private yatchs is less money going to expand factories, etc. Although someone naturally has to build the yatch ...

That's the dual side of how it appears to me- the other side being, "how are technically unproductive wage laborers exploited if they are not producing surplus value at the workplace/point of production?"

Luxemburg talks a little about all this in Chapter 4 of Accumulation of Capital; Bukharin generalizes about the changes in the central capitalist nations starting at the end of the 19th century (1870's-1900) of a larger and larger public sector (forewarning of the coming epoch of state capitalism) in 'Toward a Theory of the Imperialist State'. In Capital & Community, Camatte analyzes Marx's writings on the productive vs unproductive phenomenon, but if I'm reading him correctly places all workers who are not within 'traditionally industrial' settings and making things, a la growing trend for the central proletariat after the 1960's, they are now 'middle class'- in the same category as civil servants. Luxemburg kind of makes that connection as well in AoC.

I'm not much of a math genius so I'm very underread on the various equations used by Marx and others when analyzing capitalism. Camatte uses some in his discussion of productive vs unproductive- though when it comes to the non-civil service public sector workers, 'service industry' workers, etc. I can't figure out either the exact means by which value is added to commodities or groundrent/land (?) or as you put it, how they are paid wages (from where and in relation to what?).