productivity

James Miller jamiller at igc.apc.org
Sun Apr 28 20:06:01 MDT 1996


PRODUCTIVITY

   Rakesh wrote:

>2. It is also possible that if we had the choice, we would choose more
>interesting and challenging work processes even if this meant that total
>output per unit of time would have to be partially sacrificed. This would
>require that productivity not be posited as the external motor or god of
>human history.

   I assume that Rakesh is referring here to stage of society when
production is geared to the satisfaction of human needs, and the
profit motive has been rendered extinct. If that is the case, then
Rakesh's point is well-taken. Remember what Marx said in
_Grundrisse_ (Vintage ed., p. 711), "The saving of labor time
is equal to an increase of free time, i.e. time for the full development
of the individual, which in turn reacts back upon the productive
power of labor as itself the greatest productive power."
   Art becomes integrated into the prodution of "goods" and
"services," and efficiency ceases to be the overriding criterion
for the organization of production. When we observe the way
in which primitive people integrate art and production, we see
how it reflects something about the natural propensities of
human beings.

   Rakesh made some other good points in his post describing
how the conditions of capitalist production tend to undermine
the growth of the productivity of labor, a growth which is itself
derived from the inner necessity of capitalist development. But
I don't have time to respond to those comments now.

PRODUCTIVE LABOR

   Then Doug Henwood submitted this:

>At 12:23 PM 4/27/96, rakesh bhandari wrote:

>>In fact Fred Moseley has argued that
>>even more than the rise in the organic composition of capital, unproductive
>>expenditures have depressed the rate of profit in the US.

>I just got off the phone with Bob Fitch; we were discussing exactly this.
>Much of the investment in the U.S. economy in recent years has been in
>computers and similar equipment for the service sector - unproductive labor
>in the classical sense. Aggregate figures show the productivity of capital
>in the U.S. to be shrinking over the long term. The irony of using capital
>expenditures to boost the efficiency of unproductive labor is very deep;
>are we sharpening the teeth of our own parasites?

   Unproductive labor does soak up surplus value. The capitalists
try to rationalize it as much as possible. Marx discussed this in
connection with circulation costs.
   However, I would argue that most labor in service industries
is productive, not unproductive, labor. When Marxists discuss
"services," we should exclude the financial, commerical and
insurance "industries" as yet another category, and focus on
passenger transportation, health care, entertainment,
communications and government services which actually do
something for people, e.g. mail delivery, libraries, schools, etc.)
   Private sector service industries produce intangible
commodities. These have use value and exchange value. When
they are produced capitalistically, labor is exploited and
renders surplus value.
   Marx, discussing this topic in _Theories of Surplus Value_,
Vol. I, went back and forth on this. He was not satisfied with
himself at all. I have opted for the interpretation that service
labor (initially unproductive labor) has been transformed
into productive labor, for the most part.
   There are a lot of parasites in corporations: principally
in management. Management labor was analyzed by Marx
as having both productive and unproductive components. To
the degree that managers and supervisors play a necessary
role in organizing production, their labor is productive. But
they also perform unproductive labor in regulating the
class struggle. Plus they goof off a lot. The parasitic aspect.
   The stockholders and upper management have good reasons
to reward managers with bonuses, stock options, lots of slack
in terms of their job descriptions, etc. This tends to promote
loyalty. But too much bonuses and slack for these loyal
employees creates a big drain on the surplus value that could
be going into the dividend fund. Thus the demand to cut the
fat.  And we see that going on today. We see the rise of
workaholism, etc.
   Regarding computers: I have seen complaints that the
installation of computers has not had the desired effect
of dramatically rationalizing office and technical labor.
The gains are not as much as people expected. But I think
it depends a lot on the specific circumstances. I know from
my own experience how much computers have boosted
productivity in the machining of metal parts. (And there
are similar computer applications in sheet-metal work,
welding, etc.)
   The idea of using computers to increase output per labor
hour is not wrong. But each specific application has to be
thought through to see if the gains can be realized. Often
there are a lot of glitches and delays people didn't think of
in advance. Plus there is the retraining, etc. I think as time
goes on people will be more educated and competent,
better and faster machines will be installed, the software
will improve, and computers will prove capable of doing
what the innovators expected.

Jim Miller
Seattle


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