Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Productive Labour - Part 11 of 15

By contrast to Smith's second definition of productive, as labour fixed in a material commodity that does not perish in the act of its production, Marx sets out a number of such activities where this type of labour is productive.

“... an entrepreneur of theatres, concerts, brothels, etc., buys the temporary disposal over the labour-power of the actors, musicians, prostitutes, etc.—in fact in a roundabout way that is only of formal economic interest; in its result the process is the same—he buys this so-called “unproductive labour”, whose “services perish in the very instant of their performance and do not fix or realise themselves “any permanent” (“particular” is also used) “subject or vendible commodity” (apart from themselves). The sale of these to the public provides him with wages and profit. And these services which he has thus bought enable him to buy them again; that is to say, they themselves renew the fund from which they are paid for. The same is true for example of the labour of clerks employed by a lawyer in his office—except for the fact that these services as a rule also embody themselves in very bulky “particular subjects” in the form of immense bundles of documents.” (TOSV 1, p 166)

In respect of this latter we might also refer to other similar types of labour, which on this basis qualify as productive. The financial advisor, employed by a bank or financial services firm, which sells financial advice to clients, on this basis also qualifies as productive labour. The advisor sells his labour-power to the firm, which in turn sells financial advice to customers, and out of the payments received from customers it not only reproduces the wages of the advisor, and any constant capital involved (cost of offices, electricity, etc.) but also produces a surplus value.

The fact that the wages of the advisor, or any of the other categories, such as the prostitute, are paid for out of the revenue of the customer is irrelevant. All commodities bought for personal consumption are bought out of revenue. The food and other commodities sold by a supermarket, for example, are bought out of the revenues their customers received as wages, profits, interest and rent.

“It is true that these services are paid for to the entrepreneur out of the revenue of the public. But it is no less true that this holds good of all products in so far as they enter into individual consumption. It is true that the country cannot export these services as such; but it can export those who perform the services. Thus France exports dancing masters, cooks, etc., and Germany schoolmasters. With the export of the dancing master, or the schoolmaster, however, his revenue is also exported, while the export of dancing shoes and books brings a return to the country.” (TOSV 1, p 166)

Of course, even in Marx's time, it was possible to “export” some of these services in reverse. That is rather than the dancing master themselves moving abroad, their students may come to them from other countries, and bring their own revenues with them. But, today, with the Internet, it is possible for the labour of individuals to be bought directly by the revenue of billions across the globe, without the individual having to move from their own home.

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