The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Productive and Unproductive Labour

  • Guido Montani
Reference work entry


According to Schumpeter the debate on productive and unproductive labour was nothing but a ‘dusty museum piece’ (Schumpeter 1954, p. 628). And indeed, after the achievement of marginal utility theory, there was no need to distinguish between productive and unproductive labour, because all labour producing ‘useful and scarce’ things was to be considered as productive. So the meaning of ‘productive’ covers the whole field of economic goods. Albeit cautiously, Marshall suggested dropping this kind of terminology. ‘Whenever we use the word Productive of itself [says Marshall] it is to be understood to mean productive of the means of production, and of durable sources of enjoyment. But it is a slippery term, and should not be used where precision is needed. If ever we want to use it in a different sense, we must say so: for instance we may speak of labour as productive of necessaries, etc.’ (Marshall 1890, p. 56).

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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Guido Montani
    • 1
  1. 1.