January 15, 2012

An arbitrary mechanism of power

"If the old capitalism ideally involved an entrepreneur who invested (his own or borrowed) money into production that he organised and ran and then reaped the profit, a new ideal type is emerging today: no longer the entrepreneur who owns his company, but the expert manager (or a managerial board presided over by a CEO) who runs a company owned by banks (also run by managers who don't own the bank) or dispersed investors. In this new ideal type of capitalism, the old bourgeoisie, rendered non-functional, is refunctionalised as salaried management: the new bourgeoisie gets wages, and even if they own part of their company, they earn stocks as part of their remuneration for their work ('bonuses' for their 'success').

This new bourgeoisie still appropriates surplus value, but in the (mystified) form of what has been called 'surplus wage': they are paid rather more than the proletarian 'minimum wage' (an often mythic point of reference whose only real example in today's global economy is the wage of a sweatshop worker in China or Indonesia), and it is this distinction from common proletarians which determines their status. The bourgeoisie in the classic sense thus tends to disappear: capitalists reappear as a subset of salaried workers, as managers who are qualified to earn more by virtue of their competence (which is why pseudo-scientific 'evaluation' is crucial: it legitimises disparities in earnings). Far from being limited to managers, the category of workers earning a surplus wage extends to all sorts of experts, administrators, public servants, doctors, lawyers, journalists, intellectuals and artists. The surplus they get takes two forms: more money (for managers etc), but also less work and more free time (for - some - intellectuals, but also for state administrators etc).

The evaluative procedure that qualifies some workers to receive a surplus wage is an arbitrary mechanism of power and ideology, with no serious link to actual competence; the surplus wage exists not for economic but for political reasons: to maintain a 'middle class' for the purpose of social stability. The arbitrariness of social hierarchy is not a mistake, but the whole point, with the arbitrariness of evaluation playing an analogous role to the arbitrariness of market success...."

Slavoj Žižek

Posted by richard at January 15, 2012 7:39 PM