Productive and Unproductive Labour - Ecological Critique

Ecological Critique

The ecological critique focuses on mindless "production for production's sake", attacking both the neoclassical notion and the Marxist concept of "productiveness". It is argued noeclassical economics can understand the value of anything (and therefore the costs and benefits of an activity) only if it has a price, real or imputed. However, physical and human resources may have a value which cannot be expressed in price terms, and to turn them into an object of trade via some legal specification of property rights may be harmful to human life on earth. Activities may have non-priced costs and benefits which never feature on the balance sheet, at most in propaganda and advertising.

The Marxian view is also dismissed by ecologists, because it argues only human labour-time is the substance and source of economic value in capitalist society. Again, it is argued a very restricted idea of economic value is being operated with by Marxists. In part, this misses Marx's own point, namely that it was not him, but the growth of commercial trade which made labour-exploitation the fulcrum of wealth creation. Nevertheless, the ecological argument is that for the sake of a healthy future and a sustainable biosphere, a new valuation scheme for people and resources needs to be adopted.

The core of this critique is clearly an ethical one: all the existing economic theories provide no healthy norms that would ensure correct stewardship for the environment in which all people have to live. Markets provide no moral norms of their own apart from the law of contract. To develop a better concept of "productiveness" would require a new morality, a new view of human beings and the environment in which they live, so that harmful economic activity can be outlawed, and healthy alternatives promoted.

Ecologists typically distinguish between "good" and "bad" market trade and production. Some believe capitalism can "go green" (producing in an environmentally friendly way), and that capitalism is "cleaner" than Soviet-type socialism. Others think that capitalism cannot "go green" because of the nature of the beast; so long as human accounting is done in terms of private costs and private profits, many "external effects" (externalities) will be disregarded, and at most legal restrictions and taxation can limit the environmental damage somewhat.

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