Nearer to Straffa than Marx: Adam Smith on productive and unproductive labour

Preprint OPEN
Roy Grieve (2013)
  • Subject: Productive/unproductive labour; basic/non-basic goods; surplus production
    • jel: jel:B12 | jel:E11 | jel:O11

We investigate Adam Smith’s analysis of the properties of what he called “productive†- as against “unproductive†- labour, a concept which commentators have frequently found problematic. Puzzles have been noted and inconsistency alleged. A question arises – did Smith confuse two different concepts of productive labour? We believe that, despite the apparent problems, a coherent reading of Smith’s account of productive and unproductive labour is in fact possible: if “productive labour†is understood to refer comprehensively to labour which not only maintains but, through producing a net surplus, adds to the community’s stock of wealth – as regards either the financial or the real resources which make possible economic growth – the difficulties with Smith’s treatment largely disappear.
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