Saturday, 17 June 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 102

[13. Say’s Conception of “Immaterial Products”. Vindication of an Unrestrained Growth of Unproductive Labour]

Marx then turns to an analysis of Say. Say also focusses on Smith's definition of productive labour deriving from its material substance. Say criticises Smith for denying that those services and immaterial goods constitute products. But, Marx points out that Smith makes no such assertion.

“Smith does not at all deny that these activities produce a “result”, a “product” of some kind. He even expressly mentions “the protection, security, and defence of the commonwealth” as “the effect of their labour this year” (the labour of the servants of the public) ([Wealth of Nations], O.U.P. edition, Vol. I, pp. 369-70] Smith, t. II, éd, Garnier, l. II, ch. III, p. 313).” (p 266)

Say calls those use values which are consumed in the instant of their production “productive of immaterial products”. By so doing, he seeks to avoid describing them as unproductive, simply by using a different terminology. But he writes, 

“...“that they do not serve to augment the national capital” (t, I, p. 119). “A nation in which there were a multitude of musicians, priests and officials, might be pleasantly entertained, well educated and governed admirably well, but that would be all, Its capital would not receive any direct increase from all the labour of these industrious men, because their products would be, consumed as fast as they were created” (l.c., p. 119).” (p 267)

Say ends up in all sorts of confusion and contradiction by focussing on the most restrictive sense of unproductive used by Smith. Say has argued that one kind of labour is as productive as another, but then argues that these various kinds of labour add nothing to the national capital.

Marx writes,

“And why not, if one kind of labour is as productive as the other, and the increase of productive labour is in general “advantageous for a nation”? Why is it not as advantageous to increase this kind of labour as any other? Because, Say replies with his characteristic profundity, because it is not at all advantageous to increase productive labour of any kind above the need for this labour. But then surely Garnier is right. For it is equally advantageous—that is, equally disadvantageous— to increase the one kind of labours as to increase the other kind above a certain quantity.” (p 267)

Whether labour is expended in producing material or immaterial products, only that labour which is necessary should be expended, and as Marx sets out in Capital III, that applies not just to the individual commodity unit, but to the social production. For example, linen might be produced by the most efficient means available, so that each metre contains only the necessary labour, but if 1 million metres of linen are produced when only 800,000 metres are demanded at its price of production, then 20% of the labour expended was not socially necessary. As Marx sets out, this definition of socially necessary means that the various commodities must be produced in the right proportions, so that they can be exchanged with each other. This applies equally to immaterial products as material products. A society may require a given amount of production of education or healthcare, for example, relative to the amount of food, clothing and shelter produced.

Say's logic, Marx says, is this.

“It is not so useful for a nation to increase the “producers of immaterial products” as to increase the producers of material products. Proof: it is absolutely useless to increase the producers of any kind of product, whether material or immaterial, beyond what is necessary. Therefore it is more useful to increase the useless producers of material products than those of immaterial products. It does not follow in both cases that it is useless to increase these producers, but only the producers of a particular kind in their corresponding branch of production.” (p 268)

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