Sunday, 28 August 2016

Productive Labour - Part 15 of 15

Both Sismondi and Ricardo accepted Smith's first correct definition of productive labour as that which exchanges with capital. Sismondi writes,

““The one always exchanges its labour against the capital of a nation; the other always exchanges it against a part of the national revenue.”” (TOSV 1, p 177)

D'Avenant (An Essay upon the Probable Methods of Making a People Gainers in the Ballance of Trade, London, 1699, p. 50) put forward a mercantilist view of productive and unproductive labour. For the Mercantilists, it was activity that created a surplus of trade which was productive. This trade surplus, thereby provided the gold and silver as a surplus value, which could then be used to finance the employment of labour in all other activities. In this regard, D'Avenant quotes the work of Gregory King (Scheme of the Income and Expense of the Several Families of England, calculated for the year 1688) who divided the nation into two classes, the first who were productive of wealth and the second who were destructive of wealth, and dependent on the first.

In the first class, King places “Lords, Baronets, Knights, Esquires, Gentlemen, Persons in Office and Places, merchants in oversea trade, Persons in the Law, Clergymen, freeholders, farmers, persons in liberal arts and sciences, shopkeepers and tradesmen, artisans and handicrafts, Naval Officers, Military Officers. As against these, the “unproductive” class consists of: common seamen, labouring people and out servants (these are agricultural labourers and day wage-labourers in manufacture), cottagers (who in D’Avenant’s time were still a fifth of the total English population), common soldiers, paupers, gipsies, thieves, beggars and vagrants generally.” (TOSV 1, p 178)

D'Avenants justification for this position was that those in the first class not only obtained an income sufficient for their consumption, but also obtained a surplus, which could be used to employ others. By such employment, D'Avenant suggested they were consumptive of the wealth created by the first class.

In fact, what was paid out as wages, and thereby added to domestic consumption was directly seen as destructive of wealth by D'Avenant and other Mercantilists, because what was consumed at home was not exported, and thereby reduced the trade surplus, which reduced the flow of gold into the country.

However, Marx says,

“Incidentally, it must not be thought that these Mercantilists were as stupid as they were made out to be by the later Vulgar-Freetraders.” (TOSV 1, p 179)

Marx quotes D'Avenant (Discourses on the Publick Revenues, and on the Trade of England, etc., London, 1698) where he indicates that he clearly understood that the real wealth consisted not simply in the store of precious metal, but in the productive capacity of the economy.

““Gold and Silver are indeed the Measure of Trade, but the Spring and Original of it, in all Nations, is the Natural, or Artificial Product of the Country, that is to say, what their Land, or what their labour and Industry produces. And this is so true, that a Nation may be suppos’d, by some Accident, quite without the Species of Money, and yet, if the People are numerous, industrious, vers’d in Traffick, skill’d in Sea-Affairs, and if they have good Ports, and a Soil fertile in variety of Commodities, such a people will have Trade, […] and, they shall quickly get among ‘em, a plenty of Gold and Silver so that the real and effective Riches of a Country, is its Native Product” (p.45)” (TOSV 1, p 179)

William Petty also has this conception of foreign trade, which brings in money, being the basis of what is productive wealth, but Petty includes in his definition of who is involved in this productive activity soldiers. This presumably reflects their role, for example, within the East India Company, of securing these colonial markets from which treasure was returned from such trade.

““Husbandmen, Seamen, Soldiers, Artizans and Merchants, are the very Pillars of any Common-Wealth: all the other great Professions, do rise out of the infirmities and miscarriages of these; now the Seaman is three of these four” (navigator, merchant, soldier) ([William Petty,] Political Arithmetick, etc. [in Several Essays in Political Arithmetick], London, 1699, p. 177). “… the Labour of Seamen, and Freight of Ships, is always of the nature of an Exported Commodity, the overplus whereof, above what is Imported, brings home Money, etc.” (p. 179).” (TOSV 1, p 180)

Petty also indicates that with a certain level of trade, a nation can also benefit from the division of labour, so that it can build different types of ships to carry different types of cargo, and to operate in different types of sea conditions, and thereby reduce the cost of construction and the cost of freight.

Petty also adopts a position similar to Smith in respect of a definition of productive being determined by whether what is produced is a material commodity.

“If taxes are taken from industrialists, etc., in order to give [money] to those who in general are occupied in ways “which produce no material thing, or things of real use and value in the Commonwealth: In this case, the Wealth of the Publick will be diminished: Otherwise than as such Exercises, are Recreations and Refreshments of the mind; and which being moderately used, do qualify and dispose Men to what in it self is more considerable” (l.c., p. 198).” (TOSV 1, p 180)

Petty anticipates the analysis of surplus value, but only in the form of rent. He defines value in terms of labour-time – although, as with Benjamin Franklin, he doesn't distinguish between concrete and abstract labour. So, he says that if it takes the same time to bring an ounce of silver from the ground in Peru, to London, as it takes to produce a bushel of corn, then “one is the natural price of the other.”

Marx quotes a further passage from Petty's A Treatise of Taxes, and Contributions…, London, 1662. In this passage Petty says that after a husbandman planted, cultivated and harvested a certain area of land by hand, then after they had deducted from their output what was required to replace their seed, what was required to cover their own consumption, and what had been given to others in exchange for the clothes and other commodities they require, then “..the Remainder of Corn is the natural and true Rent of the Land for that year; and the medium of seven years, or rather of so many years as makes up the Cycle, within which Dearths and Plenties make their revolution, doth give the ordinary Rent of the Land in Corn.” (p 182)

He goes on to ask what the corn and the rent would be in money, and again repeats the argument made previously.

Most of the critiques of Smith, Marx says, focussed on his second incorrect definition of productive-labour, and developed the weak and wrong aspects of Smith's theory.

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