Thursday, 9 March 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 3

3. The Duality in Smith’s Conception of Productive Labour. His First Explanation: the View of Productive Labour as Labour Exchanged for Capital

In addition to the correct definition of productive labour, as labour which exchanges with capital, and produces surplus value, Smith also uses another definition of productive labour, which is merely labour which creates value. He intertwines the two definitions, as shown by this quote, cited by Marx.

““There is one sort of labour which adds to the value of the subject upon which it is bestowed: there is another which has no such effect. The former, as it produces a value, may be called productive; the latter, unproductive labour. Thus the labour of a manufacturer adds, generally, to the value of the materials which he works upon, that of his own maintenance, and of his master’s profit. The labour of a menial servant, on the contrary, adds to the value of nothing. Though the manufacturer has his wages advanced to him by his master, he, in reality, costs him no expense, the value of those wages being generally restored, together with a profit, in the improved value of the subject upon which his labour is bestowed. But the maintenance of a menial servant never is restored. A man grows rich by employing a multitude of manufacturers: he grows poor, by maintaining a multitude of menial servants” ([Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,] b. II, ch. III, Vol. II, ed. McCulloch, pp. 93 and 94).” (p 155-6)

So, in this passage, the correct definition of productive labour is given as that labour which produces a surplus value - “his master's profit” - in addition to the worker's “own maintenance”. It is further illustrated by Smith's comment that industrialists could not get rich unless the workers they employed did produce a surplus value, over and above the value required for their own maintenance. But, alongside it, in this passage, Smith also talks about labour being productive “... which adds to the value of the subject upon which it is bestowed”, and “Thus the labour of a manufacturer adds, generally, to the value of the materials which he works upon”. Meanwhile, he writes that, “ The labour of a menial servant, on the contrary, adds to the value of nothing.”

But, as Marx argues, all labour that is expended in the production of use values adds value. The menial servant who cooks a meal for their master adds value to the food, as a consequence of the expenditure of their labour. On this basis, Smith should define it as productive. In fact, what he really means here is that it does not produce any surplus value, i.e. any value over and above the value required for its own reproduction.

If a capitalist employs a cook, who takes £10 worth of food, and adds a further £10 of new value to this food, by the addition of their labour, the capitalist can sell the end product for £20. As a consequence, they can buy £10 of food again, ready to be cooked. Provided the wages of the cook are less than £10, the capitalist can also hire the cook again to cook the food so that it can be sold. However much less than £10, the cook's wages come to, will constitute the capitalist's profit.

If, however, this same capitalist buys the same £10 of food, and employs the same cook to cook this food not to be sold as a commodity, and so as to expand their capital, but only to consume this food themselves, things are quite different. The food they buy will still have a value of £10 and the labour added by the cook will still add £10 of new value to it, but in consuming the end product, the capitalist has consumed this £20 of value along with it. They will have bought the food not as productive constant capital, but purely as a commodity required for its use value, as food, just as they will have bought the product of the labour of the cook, not as productive-capital, capable of expanding value, but purely for its use value as concrete labour, for its ability to provide them with a use value, i.e. the transformation of the food into a meal.

Having consumed the product, they now have no means of producing a surplus value, nor indeed do they have the means of buying food to replace that consumed, or of buying labour-power to replace that used in cooking the meal. This purchase of concrete labour for its specific usefulness is quite different from its use value to capital, as value creating labour.

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