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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded

Summer 2014

First Advisor

David Kotz

Second Advisor

Gerald Epstein

Third Advisor

Deepankar Basu

Fourth Advisor

Thomas Roeper

Subject Categories

Econometrics | Economic Theory | Growth and Development | Income Distribution | Political Economy


My doctoral research addresses the question of how productive and unproductive forms of capital accumulation interact in the United States. My contribution is to first develop a new understanding of the labor theory of value in order to better explain how financial and rentier forms of revenues relate to the wealth created in productive activities. Second, I offer an innovative analysis of historical trends regarding unproductive accumulation in the postwar United States economy. For that purpose, I propose a new methodology to estimate Marxist categories from conventional input-output matrices, national income accounts, and employment data. A core feature of my methodology is the idea that the production of knowledge and information is an unproductive activity. Third, I employ time series econometric techniques to formally evaluate the coevolution between productive and unproductive forms of capital accumulation. My methods therefore consist of a combination of theoretical arguments, descriptive empirical analysis, and econometrics.

The way in which productive and unproductive capitals interact has changed substantially throughout the postwar period in the United States. The accumulation pattern observed during the 1947-1979 phase, which prioritized productive accumulation, gave way after the 1980s to a contrasting pattern prioritizing unproductive accumulation. Unproductive activity has been growing significantly in terms of incomes, fixed assets, and employment. Among all forms of unproductive activity, finance and the creation of knowledge and information have constituted a rising share of total unproductive income and capital stock. Furthermore, productive stagnation and unproductive accumulation have been closely related to greater exploitation of productive workers and to overall income inequality.

The objective of my econometric study is to answer two questions: Does unproductive accumulation hinder or induce productive accumulation, in terms of both short- and long-run effects? Conversely, does productive stagnation lead to faster unproductive accumulation? I provide an econometric assessment of a question that other scholars have so far considered mostly through verbal or descriptive approaches. The main results are as follows. First, productive and unproductive forms of accumulation share no common trend or no stable long-run equilibrium relationship. There is, hence, no self-correcting mechanism that brings these two forms of capital accumulation back into a stable long-run equilibrium. Second, productive and unproductive forms of accumulation tend to be mutually reinforcing in the short term. Despite consuming the surplus from productive endeavors, unproductive accumulation still has a net positive effect on productive accumulation. Third, I find evidence of an absolute crowding-in effect (or positive level effect) coupled with a relative crowding-out effect (or negative share effect) between productive and unproductive forms of capital accumulation. The total value produced in productive activities grows faster when the unproductive capital grows, but slows down when the unproductive capital stock grows faster than the productive capital stock. Fourth, I find evidence of reverse causality indicating that the share of unproductive capital stock grows faster when there is a slowdown in the total value produced in productive activities.

The combination of theoretical analysis and empirical findings in this study provides a new assessment of how unproductive accumulation and productive stagnation have been core features of the postwar United States economy. Predicated on the concepts of knowledge-rent and of autonomization, I offer a theoretical explanation of unproductive growth that builds on and expands Marxist political economy and the Marxist labor theory of value. The concept of knowledge-rent reveals that the commodification of knowledge expands rentier capitalism. The principle of autonomization uncovers how unproductive activities have a tendency to generate abstract forms of wealth that are increasingly separated from the production of surplus value in productive activities. Even though unproductive accumulation occurs together with rising levels of exploitation of productive workers, capitalism in the United States is an economic system that generates unproductive incomes that gradually obscure the source of new wealth in the exploitation of labor.