Productive and Unproductive Labor

Paul Zarembka ECOPAULZ at ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu
Fri Aug 4 19:01:38 MDT 1995


On Sat, 5 Aug 1995 Steve Keen wrote that an opera
singer employed by a capitalist is productive, as an opposition to my
posting by way of example.  Yet, I did not mean to be taken that an opera
singer employed by a capitalist is anything other than productive labor.
E-mail messaging is sometimes difficult since the potential for a quick
response to a potential misinterpretation is unavailable.

Getting back to Jerry, he argues that Chrysler workers producing tanks
for the state are unproductive, but workers producing Colt 45s for a
private capitalist selling to a potential murderer are productive.

In my view, basic to the historical conception of history is that the
production and reproduction of human life is fundamental to understanding
human history.  This implies that all production is NOT "equal".  The
potential murderer needs food, but the reverse is not true.  The concept
of unproductive labor attempts to grasp this issue.  Frequently I am
reminded of what we tend to take for granted; milk, purified water, the
gas line which heats many of our homes.  I myself only have a small
experience with purifying water, but all of us (every worker) only sees a
small piece of the productive action and we should not forget what we
are sustained by (I'm not saying that anyone on this list is forgetful).

I believe that if we can come to this understanding many of the specific
cases of productive or unproductive labor, but not all, will fall into place.

The issue of selling to the state versus "private" sales is not
compelling to me, in any case.  One can make a genuine theoretical
attempt to define state capitalism (as I attempted for the Soviet
experience) and one can also view many sales to the state as little more
than another realization technique (whether productive labor or not).

Paul Zarembka


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