Traditional capitalism needs "extra" people, but managerial capitalism has no use for them

Monday, May 29, 2017
Boing Boing

The Nation's outstanding roundtable What Will Kill Neoliberalism? has many admirable interventions (including a notable one from Paul "Postcapitalism" Mason), but the one that got me right between the eyes was William Darity, Jr's " A Revolution of Managers."

Darity points out that historic capitalism can put unemployed workers to good use: they put downward pressure on wages and working conditions ("if you don't like it, there's plenty more behind you who'll take your job") and form a reserve of workers who can be called up during periods of growth.

But we've entered an age of "managerial capitalism," from by "intelligentsia and intellectuals, artists and artisans, as well as state bureaucrats," who identify with all points on the political spectrum, but are united in designing a technocratic future in which many people are simply unneeded, a problem to be solved rather than the solution to human prosperity.

This is expressed in ways that are most brutal where race meets class, as in the mass incarceration of African Americans, and explains the transpolitical opposition to Black Lives Matter. Liberals decry it as "divisive" and conservatives as "subversive" but both are just providing cover for the removal of millions of "surplus" people from the public sphere.

Darity is crisply articulating something that I've been struggling to put into words, though this doesn't necessarily originate with him. I tweeted a quote from this an hour ago and my tweeps have been providing useful commentary and further reading ever since.

A surplus population under capitalism has a purpose: It exists as a reserve army of the unemployed, which can be mobilized rapidly in periods of economic expansion and as a source of downward pressure on the demands for compensation and safe work conditions made by the employed. Therefore, capital has little incentive to eliminate this surplus population. In contrast, the managerial class will view those identified as surplus people as truly superfluous. The social managers consider population generally as an object of control, reduction, and demographic administration, and whoever is assigned to the “surplus” category bears the weight of the arbitrary.

To the extent that identification of the surplus population is racialized, particular groups will be targets for social warehousing and extermination. The disproportionate overincarceration of black people in the United States—a form of social warehousing—is a direct expression of the managerial class’s preferences regarding who should be deemed of low necessity. The exterminative impulse is evident in the comparative devaluation of black lives that prompted resistance efforts like the Black Lives Matter movement. The potential for black superfluity in the managerial age is evident in prescient works like Sidney Willhelm’s Who Needs the Negro? (1970) and Samuel Yette’s The Choice (1971), both published almost 50 years ago.

The assault on “big” and invasive government constitutes an attack on the managerial class by both capital and the working class. Despite endorsing military spending, receiving lucrative government contracts, and enjoying the benefits of publicly provided infrastructure like roads, highways, and railways, corporate capital calls for small government. This is a strategic route to slashing social-welfare expenditures, with the goal of reducing the wage standard and eliminating all regulations on corporate predations. Despite benefiting from social-welfare expenditures, the working class gravitates to a new brand of populism that blends anticorporatism with anti-elitism (and anti-intellectualism), xenophobia, and a demand for a smaller and less intrusive state. Since “big” government constitutes the avenue for independent action on the part of the managerial class, an offensive of this type directly undermines the “new” class’s base of power.

What Will Kill Neoliberalism? [William Darity Jr/The Nation]