Friday, July 30, 2010

"Organizational capital" and immaterial labor

From a post by Arnold Kling outlining his theory of economic "recalculation" -- structural unemployment from unsustainable or obsolete trade patterns.

16. The production process has become more roundabout over the years. Fewer workers are engaged in hands-on production of output. Instead, they are engaged in building what Garett Jones calls organizational capital, as indicated by functions such as marketing communications, management reporting systems, or corporate training. This means that the relationship between output and employment has become looser. It means that patterns of specialization and trade reflect not just what goods and services are produced but how they are produced.

This is not all that far off from Marxist theories of the general intellect and its appropriation by capital, and the significance of immaterial labor and affect, etc., to production. Capital is valorized through increasingly indirect processes rather than the manufacture and circulation of commodities. The nature of the commodity has lost its discrete boundaries (becoming an affect or an experience rather than a good), as has the nature of labor power, which is no longer x amount of work on the assembly line but an integration of variables, the more or less smooth collaboration of workers and their resulting fitness for innovating on the level of information.

And circulation too is no longer a direct thing, a shifting of units from point A to point B. What's increasingly being disseminated is productive knowledge, the general intellect, a habitus of consumerism, etc., that is only indirectly profitable and at less predictable intervals and durations. The commodity-circulation cycle is less predictable, less manageable.

The means of production are no longer bound up with effective operating capital. Lots of noncapitalists have digital means of production; often they are carrying them around in their pockets. But effective capital is increasingly that which can subsume that labor being done with those noncapital goods, that is, it is capital being used productively in a way that requires no wage payments because it has harnessed networks directly instead of the workers that make them up.

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