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Adam Smiths concept of productive and unproductive labour: An Interpretation


  • Roy Grieve

    () (Department of Economics, University of Strathclyde)


This note explores Smith’s employment of the concept of ‘productive labour’, a concept which commentators have frequently found problematic. We suggest that Smith’s difficulty in formulating a satisfactory definition of ‘productive labour’ stems from the fact that he seems to have had in mind - and to have tried to combine - two different (but only independently valid), concepts of productive labour: one (anticipating Marx) in respect of labour whose employment yields surplus value to the capitalist, the other (presaging Sraffa) focusing on labour employed in certain necessary or ‘basic’ industries within the economy.

Suggested Citation

  • Roy Grieve, 2008. "Adam Smiths concept of productive and unproductive labour: An Interpretation," Working Papers 0805, University of Strathclyde Business School, Department of Economics, revised Feb 2009.
  • Handle: RePEc:str:wpaper:0805

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Siegfried, John J. & Sanderson, Allen R. & McHenry, Peter, 2007. "The economic impact of colleges and universities," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 26(5), pages 546-558, October.
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    Adam Smith: Productive and Unproductive Labour; Surplus Production;

    JEL classification:

    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)


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