Unproductive Accumulation in the United States: A New Analytical Framework

Abstract

In this paper I offer an innovative analysis of unproductive accumulation in the United States economy from 1947 to 2011. I develop a new theoretical and empirical framework to analyze the accumulation of capital in its productive and unproductive forms. I also develop a methodology to compute Marxist categories predicated on the idea that the production of knowledge and information is an unproductive activity that relies on the creation of knowledge-rents. In particular, I provide new empirical estimates to uncover the shifting balance between productive and unproductive forms of accumulation. The accumulation pattern observed during the 1947-1979 phase that prioritized productive accumulation gave way after the 1980s to a contrasting pattern prioritizing unproductive accumulation. Unproductive activity has been growing at a fast pace in terms of incomes, fixed assets, and employment. Among all forms of unproductive activity, my approach places special attention on how the production of knowledge and information has constituted a rising share of total unproductive income and capital stock. Additionally, productive stagnation and rapid unproductive accumulation have been intrinsically related to greater exploitation of productive workers and to widening income inequality.

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