[Marxism] Value creating and non-value creating labour II

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Sat Jun 26 11:22:18 MDT 2004

As I have said, "value" in the economic sense that Marx uses the term, is an
attribute of the products of human work of whatever kind. This attribute is
a purely social characteristic, and presupposes a community of producers who
share and exchange products. This value exists objectively
(mind-independently), because it really takes a certain amount of labor to
produce the product, and this value reflects the labor-time which is on
average necessary to produce that product in a given place and historical

The existence of value assumes both a relationship between people, and a
relationship between people and their products. Under capitalism, the
value-form begins to dominate everything, and almost everything can be
priced and exchanged. This has enormous consequences for the ecology of the
biosphere, because nature and unimproved land is treated as a "use-value"
for private consumption or trade, and freely available resources (air,
water, vegetation, soil etc.) are used without much regard for the overall
and longterm consequences this has for human life.

When Marx wrote about services, he mainly had in mind mainly direct personal
services such as housemaids and so on, and highly qualified labor of
professionals, e.g. lawyers. The total proportion of paid labor which was
service labor in the 1850s and 1860s was not so great as it is now. For the
clerk's labor to be productive under capitalism, this labor must produce a
product for the market, sold for private profit. And this is possible within
the division of labour, since you can have a profitmaking enterprise, which
supplies clerical services, which you can buy. In this case, the service is
a product.

The general tendency under capitalism is to transform services into specific
marketable products (outputs) with the aim of obtaining surplus-value from
that labor, and, subsequently, to substitute a mass-reproducible material
product for the service.
One example is pop music - first a band might play to live audiences in
pubs, paid by the pub owner. Then they play concerts where the audience is
charged for a ticket. Then they make records and cds and videos which are
mass produced. Obviously, you can make much more money from selling a lot of
CD's than from live concerts, in the normal situation. Marx did not write
much about the political economy of consumption, but Marxists like Aglietta
have done so. The logic of capitalist development is to transform shared
(collective) consumption increasingly into private consumption, and the
consumption of free goods into priced goods.

Over time, Marx argues, the organisation of the division of labor tends to
change in order to make mass-produced goods produced for profit possible.
But it is not always feasible, since it may not be technically or socially
possible to transform something into a commodity - a lot depends on the
existence of the technical ability to do it, on costs, on legal rules, on
demand, and so on. In the 19th century, shopkeepers did their bookkeeping by
hand in books. Nowadays a lot of that labor is no longer necessary because
of automation and bar codes. Machines have substituted for service labor,
which normally saves labor costs and has many other benefits, although of
course new drudgery can substitute for old drudgery.

Thus, the same clerical labor which is performed by a government functionary
on a non-profit basis (non-productive from the capitalist point of view),
can become productive in Marx's sense, as soon as a private firm supplies
the clerical labor to government on a profit-making basis. Some
"intermediate" cases also exist, where work is done on a cost-plus basis but
also partly subsidised.

The basic criterion that Marx applies for capitalistically productive labor
is "does this labor increase the total volume of surplus-value (gross
profits) that can be privately appropriated ?". And in Cap. Vol 1, he says
that even the labor of a schoolmaster can be productive, if the school
operates on a profit-making basis - emphasising that just exactly what kind
of labor is involved or what product is produced, is basically irrelevant,
what matters is whether a product is produced, from which a surplus-value is

However, whereas many labor-services are really just part of producing a
material good, others consist only of operating financial transactions (e.g.
in banks and financial insitutions). Since Marx says, that no net new value
is created through an exchange only, surplus-value obtained from the latter
type of labor represents a "transfer" of surplus-value from other sectors,
which is a deduction from the surplus-value produced by those sectors. A
fraction of the gross income from enterprises is appropriated by banks as
net interest receipts on loans, and so on. In the modern world, there is a
proliferation of "financial products" but Marx suggests they are only really
"pseudo-commodities" or "fictitious capital" since they aren't really
products, but rather claims on products, or claims on surplus-labor.

As I have said, the definition of capitalistically productive labor is not
fixed and static, but is changed and modified in the course of capitalist
development. Specifically, changes in the social organisation of the
division of labor and job designations (functional specification of tasks)
mean that the valuation of specific types of labor changes also. The tasks
necessary to create a product may be split up in many different ways, and
new products create new divisions of labor, forcing statisticians to change
their statistical classifications of sectors and occupations. There may be
conflicts about what a specific kind of labor-power is worth, but ultimately
it depends on what employers are prepared to pay or can pay for it, and in
turn that depends a lot on how much profit he can make out of utilising that

Marx's does not say that "the worker's labour power is transformed into
value in the goods he is
transporting". Rather he says that the enterprise owner or manager buys
labour-power, and that the living labor applied then conserves value and
creates new value. This living labor-power functions economically as
capital, called the variable capital of the enterprise, because it creates
net new value.

In the case of physical transport of goods or people from one place to
another, the labor which this takes, enters into the value of the
commodities bought by the consumer. Machines create no new value, only
living labor, as the subject of the work process, creates new value using
machines. But it may look like that machines create value insofar as the
workers are mere appendages of the machine.

If a worker creates a product out of materials, he is effectively conserving
and transferring value from the materials to the new product by his living
labor activity. But what really determines the value of the new product is,
what it currently costs to produce it, or replace it under capitalist
conditions, a cost measurable in money or average labor-hours. This is the
"market valuation of labor".

Marx claims that in a competitive market prices paid for that product will,
in the normal course of events, oscillate around that objective product
value - under capitalism, that objective product value consists of the
equivalent of an average cost-price (the average value of inputs used up,
plus an average amount of surplus-value, which applies to the production of
that product).

Was this kind of development (or something like it) necessary? Marx says yes
and no. Yes, because in a society where the vast majority of products is
produced for the market, the accumulation of capital begins to dominate the
whole social organisation of society, and the division of labour is more and
more transformed to conform to the requirements of the accumulation of
private capital. And, as long as the production of output is conditional on
the accumulation of private capital, this process will necessarily happen.
But also no, because people can resist the transformation of human
activities into profit-making activities, they can block profit-making, or
change the rules for the production and distribution of wealth.

When Marx talks about productive labour, he is talking about what is
productive from the point of view of the capitalist system as a whole, from
the point of view of the whole capitalist class - the imperative of
maximising the appropriation of surplus-labor in the form of profits. Marx
says, that this implies a specific way of looking at human labor - does it
conserve and create value ? Does it create, or does it enable somebody to
claim, profits ? That is the commercial way of looking at labor. Thus, it is
clear both that the concept of capitalistically productive labor is not
"neutral", and that it is subject to struggles about the actual way human
labor-activities are actually organised. Capitalists or managers seek to
make as much of the labor-power they buy as productive as possible -
productive, that is, of surplus-value and productive in the sense that it
increases the stock of their capital.

But what is "economic" from the point of view of one capitalist, is not
necessarily "economic" from the point of view of other capitalists, because
it might imply a larger cost for them. There is competition between
enterprises, and consequently competition also about what is really
productive labor. That is why conventional economics rejects any general
concept of productive labor as hopelessly biased, or else impossible; and in
national accounts, any activity performed by an identifiable enterprise,
which generates an income by creating an output of some kind, is considered
"production" and "productive".
Statistical classifications of wage labor in the economy often do not enable
us to identify very clearly that fraction of wage labor which is productive,
unless we know much much about the actual social organisation involved.

Is the service industry a means to stretch the possibilities of capitalist
expansion? Yes and no. Yes, because as I said services can be turned into
marketable products sold for profit, and that opens up new possibilities for
economic growth. It creates a lot of new possibilities for the exploitation
of surplus-labor, and new ways for obtaining surplus-value from labor. No,
because there are also limits to this process, because, if services which
were previously treated just as an inevitable cost to producers, or provided
free, or funded by tax revenue, are turned into products created for maximum
profit, then people must be able to buy those service products. To buy them,
they must have money income. For the vast majority of workers, however,
disposable income is limited, and they can buy only a limited number of
services. So, the expansion of the market in services, depends very much on
monetarily effective demand for those services. If workers' real incomes
stagnate or fall, they are able to buy fewer services. If you have a lot of
money, you might go and eat at a restaurant every day. If you haven't, you
are more likely to buy some cheap groceries and cook at home (although some
restaurants can actually supply food cheaper than you can cook it yourself).
If more and more money is charged for services, a struggle breaks out to
find cheaper substitutes or alternatives for those services to reduce costs,
which means service-providers go out of business because the demand is gone.
Especially in the case of information products, this can happen very
radically and suddenly if alternative information sources are found.

To turn goods, resources, ideas and services into marketable products
requires privatisation - the ability to assert private and exclusive
ownership, and to prevent access to resources to anybody other than the
private producer or consumer who purchases. You cannot exchange or trade
something legitimately, unless somebody actually definitely owns it, and
that ownership is legally secure and enforced. If information and services
become tradeable things, then this creates all sorts of problems and
conflicts about the "conditions of access" to them, and these "conditions of
access" might include the knowledge that they exist, and where they exist.
So increasingly, trade in information and services depends on who you know
and what you know. You may or may not be able to enter an information
market, depending on what you know and who you know. This in turn implies
that people have to market not just their own ability and experience, but
also what they know, and proof may be required that they have certain

The corollary becomes that knowledge itself becomes a tradeable commodity,
in which case communication processes increasingly begin to resemble the
form of an exchange transaction, in which the supply of information or
knowledge is conditional on the receipt of knowledge or information. But the
problem there is, that the value of information may fluctuate greatly, it's
a commodity of unstable value. It may be very difficult to privatise it or
extract it.  Therefore this creates a new business for people who are
intermediaries between producers and consumers, who sell their "market
knowledge" to facilitate access to information. But this is an additional
cost to producers and consumers, and therefore the long-run tendency is to
reduce that intermediation.

To illustrate basic statistical proportions of the division of labor, we can
derive the basic employment categories in the USA in 2002 in approximate
figures from Bureau of Labor Statistics data as follows (ranked by group

American total resident population 288 million
population (16+) 224 million
economically active population 218 million
total civilian non-institutional population (16+) 215 million
population 16-65 years 188 million
civilian labour force 145 million
employed civilian labour force 137 million
wage & salary earners 136 million
employees 127 million
private sector workforce 105 million
employers 10 million (4.9 million distinct firms, 7 million establishments)
self-employed (farm) 1 million
selfemployed (non-farm) 9 million
government employees 20 million
Parttime workers non-farm 27 million
Parttime workers farm 0.5 million
Unpaid family labor 0.03 million
private sector waged employees 95 million
unionised wage earners   18 million

We can then look at the proportions of the whole American population in
terms of
social and occupational status in 2002, in approximate figures (ranked by
group size):

Children (under 16, not working for pay) 64 million
Retired (over 65, not in the labour force) 28 million
Fulltime housewives or -husbands and idle adults 22 million (own estimate)
Industrial production workers 26.2 million
Managers and executives 15.8 million
Clerical and administrative workers 15.3 million
Sales workers 15 million
Reserve army of unemployed 13 million
Engineers, architects, technicians, programmers and scientists 10.5 million
Employers of workers, all kinds 9.8 million
Supervisors of workers, all kinds 9.1 million
Teachers, paid childcare workers and childcare assistants 8 million
Transport workers 5 million
Unskilled labourers, handlers and helpers  4.8 million
Aides, ushers, guides, orderlies, and attendants 4.8 million
Personal care, health and medical workers 4.3 million
Cleaners, janitors, private cooks, maids & housekeepers 3.7 million
Accountants, auditors, underwriters, and financial officers 2.6 million
Adults in institutional care n.e.c. 2.5 million
Specialists & consultants in HR, PR and labor relations  2.1 million
Prison & jail inmates 2 million
Artists, entertainers, designers, athletes, recreational services 1.6
Nursing home residents 1.6 million
Criminals and lumpenised people, not incarcerated 1.5 million (own est.)
Lawyers, judges and legal assistants 1.3 million
Therapists, counselors, welfare workers 1.2 million
Police, detective, and law enforcement officers 1.2 million
Physicians, dentists, vetinarians, optometrists, and podiatrists 1.1 million
Military personnel (domestic) 1.1 million
Groundskeepers, gardeners, animal caretakers (non-farm) 1.1 million
Security guards   1 million
Farmers 1 million
Prostitutes 1 million
Working children (under 16) 1 million
Inspectors (construction, production and compliance) 0.9 million
Editors, writers, reporters, proofreaders, librarians, archivists, and
curators 0.6 million
Adult hospital patients 0.5 million
Religious clergy, and employees of religious institutions 0.4 million
Corrective institution & prison officers 0.3 million
Firefighting, fire prevention and pest control workers 0.3 million
Water, sewage and electricity workers 0.2 million
Hospice inpatients 0.1 million
Adult psychiatric patients 0.2 million

And then we can look at the basic proportions of the occupational structure
of the employed labour force only (including salaried and self-employed) in
USA in 2002, more specifically as follows (ranked by group size):

Managers and executives 15,800,000
Supervisors 9,100,000
Teaching staff, all kinds  6,600,000
Machine operating and assembly workers 6,400,000
Food & beverage preparing and service workers 6,100,000
Administrative support clerks n.e.c.  5,800,000
Construction trade workers  5,300,000
Aides, ushers, guides, orderlies, and attendants     4,800,000
Mechanics and repairs workers 4,500,000
Technicians 4,300,000
Cleaners, janitors, private cooks, maids & housekeepers 3,700,000
Retail sales workers 3,400,000
Truck drivers    3,200,000
Secretaries, stenographers, and typists    3,000,000
Scientists 3,000,000
Sales representatives in finance and business services  2,900,000
Cashiers     2,900,000
Accountants and other financial officers 2,600,000
Engineers, architects, and surveyors     2,600,000
Freight & stock handlers, baggers & packers, machine feeders 2,400,000
Labourers & helpers 2,400,000
Registered nurses    2,300,000
Financial records processing clerks     2,200,000
Management analysts, specialists & labor relations consultants  2,100,000
Materials recording, scheduling, and distributing clerks    1,900,000
Sales representatives in mining, manufacturing, and wholesale    1,500,000
Childcare workers and childcare assistants 1,400,000
Lawyers, judges and legal assistants 1,300,000
Barbers, hairdressers, cosmeticians, pharmacists, dietitians 1,300,000
Therapists, counselors, welfare workers 1,200,000
Artists, entertainers & designers 1,200,000
Police, detective, and law enforcement officers 1,200,000
Military personnel 1,100,000
Physicians and medical specialists 1,100,000
Receptionists    1,000,000
Security guards   1,000,000
Working children under 16 1,000,000
Prostitutes 1,000,000
Farmers 968,000
Non-financial records processing clerks, 995,000
Inspectors (construction, production and compliance) 955,000
Groundskeepers and gardeners (non-farm) 940,000
Industrial transport operators 898,000
Metal workers 826,000
Farm workers 726,000
Computer programmers 605,000
Bus drivers 605,000
Bank tellers 477,000
Postal delivery workers, messengers & couriers 468,000
Editors, writers, reporters and proofreaders 417,000
Religious clergy and employees of religious institutions 393,000
Personal services n.e.c. 348,000
Taxi drivers and chauffeurs 340,000
Street and door-to-door sales workers 334,000
Corrective institution & prison officers 328,000
Doctor's and dental assistants 318,000
Firefighting and fire prevention workers 262,000
Electrical and electronic equipment assemblers 237,000
Librarians, archivists, and curators 231,000
Butchers and meat cutters 229,000
Dressmakers, tailors and shoe repairers 189,000
Professional photographers 178,000
Animal caretakers (non-farm) 170,000
Interviewers 169,000
Airplane pilots,  airplane staff, air traffic controllers 152,000
Bakers and baking workers 148,000
Recreational services workers 129,000
Telephone operators 119,000
Oil & mining extraction workers 115,000
Railway workers 111,000
Furniture & wood-workers 104,000
Newspaper vendors 103,000
Ship captains, sailors, mates & deckhands, fishermen 98,000
Professional athletes  95,000
Social welfare eligibility clerks 86,000
Sales demonstrators, promoters, and models  77,000
Water and sewage treatment plant operators  77,000
Forestry & logging workers 77,000
Optical goods workers 72,000
Other precision production workers n.e.c 72,000
Pest control workers  63,000
Food batchmakers  54,000
Other plant & system operators 45,000
Electric power plant operators 35,000
Bookbinding workers   35,000
Nursery workers 33,000
Hand molders & shapers 21,000
Patternmakers, layout  workers, & cutters 12,000
Bridge, lock, & lighthouse tenders 3,000
Professional hunters & trappers 2,000


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