Saturday, 24 June 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 109

[15. General Nature of the Polemics against Smith’s Distinction between Productive and Unproductive Labour. Apologetic Conception of Unproductive Consumption as a Necessary Spur to Production]

“Most of the writers who contested Smith’s view of productive and unproductive labour regard consumption as a necessary spur to production. For this reason they regard the wage-labourers who live on revenue—the unproductive labourers whose hire does not produce wealth, but is itself a new consumption of wealth—as equally productive even of material wealth as the productive labourers, since they widen the field of material consumption and therewith the field of production. This was therefore for the most part apologetics from the standpoint of bourgeois economy, partly for the rich idlers and the “unproductive labourers” whose services they consume, partly for “strong governments” whose expenditure is heavy, for the increase of the State debts, for holders of church and State benefices, holders of sinecures, etc.” (p 281)

These unproductive labourers create immaterial products, but consume material products. As Marx has described, earlier, however, it is not this difference between material and immaterial products or services that defines the labour as productive or unproductive. Immaterial products can be produced by productive labour too, and material products can be created by unproductive labour. It is the exchange with capital or revenue that is decisive, i.e. whether surplus value is produced.

There is a similarity, however, in this point about the production of immaterial products and consumption of material products with another aspect of Marx's analysis. That is with the question of the rate of turnover of capital. It is a point also discussed by Bukharin in his “Economics of the Transition Period”. Marx points out that workers employed in the production of commodities with an extended turnover period, put no value into the economy, in the shape of those commodities, but all the time are taking value out of the economy, both in the shape of commodities required for their own consumption, and required for their production process.

For example, take workers building a bridge that takes five years to complete. Once built, it will put value back into the economy. Workers will get to work faster, commodities will get to market faster, and so on. But, during the five years of its construction, the workers building it will need to eat, be sheltered and clothed etc. They will throw money into circulation to buy these things. Similarly, their employers will throw money into circulation to buy steel, machines, paint and other materials required for the construction. But, the recipients of this money, will have no equivalent commodities to buy, with this money, because the equivalent is in the form of the bridge, which is only available after five years. As Marx points out, either this money must be hoarded until that time, or else it will be spent to import commodities.

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