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Showing posts from April 11, 2010

Reply to critics - three formulations of productive labor

I have been following what I take to be an inconsistency in Marx’s application of the notion of productive and unproductive labor – for which I’ve received rather puzzling feedback by two commentors, Duncan and Chuckie K., in my next to last post. I find it puzzling because the response doesn’t address the argument at all – that is, doesn’t deny the inconsistency – but simply insists, in spite of numerous textual instances in Marx that I’ve included (from Capital 2 and from the Theories of Surplus Value) that Marx only and always identifies productive labor as follows: (A) “Where all labor is partially recompensed by itself as is the agricultural labor of sharecroppers [Fronbauern] for example, and is partly exchanged against revenue as the manufacturing work of cities in Asia, no Capital exists and no wage labor in the sense of the bourgeois economy. These determinations, thus, do not derive from the material routine [Leistung] of work nor from the nature of their products nor the ro


It strikes me as an odd thing that our econometricmaniacs have never considered whether there is an average point spread at the heart of republican government – that is, a spread between the richest and the poorest. I was struck by this thought reading a passage in Orwell’s The Lion and the Unicorn where Orwell presents a six point program for Labour. Here is the second point: “Limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one.” Has any well known public intellectual in the West said anything remotely as radical in the last twenty years? And yet, it isn’t really radical at all. Orwell is simply putting a figure on one of the oldest strains in democratic culture, going back far before, say, Babeuf in the French Revolution. It would do infinite good to the disparate, small and more radically inclined grouposcules to settle on a figure and try to impress this into the public mind. What is the curre

if the service worker is a servant, the service economy is the servant economy

In the Library of Babel, no doubt, one can find all the books that drifted through the projects of the great writers – Nietzsche’s book on the Eternal Return of the Same, for instance. Among these books, the one I’d love to read is Marx’s book on Balzac – which, Engels told some correspondent after the Old Moor’s death, was among the projects that were to come after the works on the political economy. How well we know the utopia of "after", the project that is coming up next! I think the so called “fourth” book of Capital, which Kautsky edited from the notebooks – otherwise known as Theories of Surplus Value – may be Marx at his most Balzacian. For instance, in considering unproductive labor, the example that comes to mind is the mistress – a most Balzacian figure. Whose labor is classically unproductive, in Adam Smith’s sense – it is labor paid entirely out of revenue, or the excess [Ueberschuss] deriving from productive labor. I’ve been building a case – as my readers ma

on an essay by Louis Dumont

In the fifties and sixties, there was a certain amount of interest in Jasper’s “axial age” – the period in which, supposedly, the Greek, the Indian and the Chinese civilizations all established a founding distinction between the transcendent and the temporal. Left out of the axial age are the Africans and the Mesopotamians – Egypt and Sumer. Daedelus held a symposium on this idea in 1975 to which they invited an article by Louis Dumont. This post is going to be about his essay, “On the Comparative Understanding of Non-Modern Civilizations”. Alan McFarlane’s essay on Dumont is helpful – it is here. Dumont is doubtful about the suggestion that there was either a hidden connection between the axial civilizations, or that we should us the term from a perspective in which we have chosen “our” civilization – the Greek. His essay is, in part, a standard plea for the primacy of the emic understanding of culture in any comparison of cultures. “Professor Momigliano has set the basic, ind

class and the economy

I’ve been pondering, evidently, productive and unproductive labor, which I have come to think do not function as economic explanations so much as explanations of the intersection between capitalism and the production of new class categories. Or perhaps I should say this: that Marx’s remark, in The Communist Manifesto, that the tendency in bourgeois society to shrink the fundamental class structure to just two – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – does not express itself, in the social world of the nineteenth century, as a simplification, but rather as a complication. Dumezil’s notion of the trois functions – priests, warriors and producters – or clerks, nobles, serfs – defining traditional societies is prefigured in the proto-sociologists of the 18th century. In the three estates system, the estates are easily recognized and identified with. Under that system, class analysis is easier because it is written on the very face of any representation that emerges in that sphere. The destru

what is the sound of one hand clapping - more on productive labor

“Due to the claque, a play is made now like they used to make a commercial operation: and soon one will set oneself up as an author as one sets oneself up as a banker, a bookstore owner or a cloth merchant.” My translation. Quoted from an anonymous pamphlet in Theater in Balzac’s La Comedie Humaine, by Linzy Erika Dickinson 98.] The “science of reception” was, of course, studied by the “generals” among the claqueur. There’s something fascinating in this branch of emotional labor – that is, the production of emotions in others for the purpose of sale. It did not, of course, escape the eyes of the literati – after all, they were rubbing shoulders with the claqueur. They were, so to speak, simply on different ends of the industry. There were authors who did not like this. Hugo, for instance – who, as Amie has reminded me, I need to work on! – was supposed to have refused to allow the claques to attend Hernani – although alas, as Graham Robb shows in his biography, this legend isn’t true.