Thursday, 24 August 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Addenda - Part 46

Marx distinguishes between a commodity and a service on the basis that a commodity is a tangible product, whereas a service is intangible and inseparable from the labour that provides it. But, as described earlier, the labour that provides a service rather than produces a tangible commodity can just as easily be productive of surplus value. At the time Marx was writing, it was more likely that services were provided by unproductive labour, but that is not the case today.

“These services themselves, like the commodities which I buy, may be necessary or may only seem necessary—for example, the service of a soldier or physician or lawyer; or they may be services which give me pleasure. But this makes no difference to their economic character. If I am healthy and do not need a doctor or am lucky enough not to have to be involved in a lawsuit, then I avoid paying out money for medical or legal services as I do the plague. 

Services may also be forced on me—the services of officials, etc.” (p 405)

This again demonstrates the point that labour cannot be designated as productive or unproductive from the perspective of the consumer. From the perspective of a consumer all those commodities required to reproduce or enhance their labour-power are productive, in that they enable them to be able to sell their labour-power. As Marx describes in the Grundrisse, this is an example of the way consumption is at the same time production, just as the labour-power produced by this consumption is at the same time consumed as it engages in production.

If the worker buys gin, however, this may not be necessary for the reproduction of their labour-power, certainly if consumed in excess, it may even be destructive of it. Yet, the worker who produces gin, in a distillery, would be a productive worker, whereas the tutor who provides education directly, as a service, would be an unproductive labourer.

“But the particular utility of this service alters nothing in the economic relation; it is not a relation in which I transform money into capital, or by which the supplier of this service, the teacher, transforms me into his capitalist, his master.” (p 405)

The ability to employ unproductive labour depends on revenue, and so the workers are the least able to employ unproductive labour. But, the employment of a larger number of unproductive labourers does not increase the ability to employ more productive labour. On the contrary, a capitalist who uses a large part of their profit as revenue, to employ domestic servants, thereby reduces the amount of their profit they can accumulate as capital, so as to employ productive labour.

“The first formal act of exchange between money and labour or capital and labour is only potentially the appropriation of someone else’s living labour by materialised labour. The actual process of appropriation takes place only in the actual production process, behind which lies as a past stage that first formal transaction—in which capitalist and labourer confront each other as mere owners of commodities, as buyer and seller. For which reason all vulgar economists—like Bastiat —go no further than that first formal transaction, precisely in order by this trick to get rid of the specific capitalist relation. The distinction is shown in a striking way by the exchange of money for unproductive labour. Here money and labour exchange with each other only as commodities. So that instead of this exchange forming capital, it is expenditure of revenue.” (p 407)

Back To Part 23

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