Marxist writers are often vitriolic and prone to hyperbole when discussing their favorite subject: Capitalism. Slavoj Žižek is not one of those guys. He is a dialectical-materialist philosopher and researcher at the Birkbeck School of Law, University of London. In the latest issue of The London Review of Books he teases apart some bits and pieces of modern capitalism. As I read the piece (WikiPedia at the ready!), this struck me as particularly insightful when considering the former role of Mitt Romney at Bain Capital.
The context here is the link between the rise of productivity and the rise of unemployment and the role of the new form of, what I'm calling, diffuse capitalism plays in that synergy.
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 from it, 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 members of the new bourgeoisie get wages, and even if they own part of their company, earn stocks as part of their remuneration (‘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). 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 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 appropriation of surplus labor value from employees is now run through the normalizing filter of "wage" collapsing the distance between manager and the employee. The distinction is now only a question of degree (wage) and not of kind (capital v labor). Clever, no?
So Romney, the classic example of a capitalist, becomes just another wage slave. I'm impressed...