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


Originally published at:


The idea of a future in which the individual’s labour is unneeded is precisely that which is necessary for post-scarcity economics and most plausible ideas of socialist utopias. It’s that which is accommodated by ideas like the universal basic income, and demanded by the basic reality that resource consumption cannot increase indefinitely. What you need to add to that, to make ‘surplus humans’ a problem as opposed to a goal, is the idea that doing necessary work is what defines a human being’s value.

Therein lies the mistake, and both the left and right make it.

Anyway. Google aren’t the ones jailing black people. Racist governors who represent low-education white working class are. A cursory examination of the current situation would also undermine the notion that the new, automated capitalism “doesn’t need people” - services like Google, Amazon, Tumblr, even BoingBoing are absolutely fixated on the need to grab eyeballs, maintain userbases, hold on to communities. Capitalism no longer requires a lot of people to produce, that’s true, but they require people to consume. What good is being big, powerful, and productive, without people? How many authors would write if readers didn’t exist?


An excellent point and remarkably well-said, kudos.

Well, yes, but a remarkably large percentage of the wealthy/powerful have no real conception of this basic fact or its corollary: If you don’t make sure people have enough to spend in general, no one will have the money to pay for your product.


Indeed! The idea that institutionalized racism is the result of a trend that only appeared in the last few decades is laughable. Unless the managerial capitalists have time machines.

We have to ask - what motivates these people to seek wealth? Most people, when becoming wealthier and wealthier, would hit a point of diminishing returns and say to themselves, “Well, I don’t really care about making more money now, I’d rather have more time to do something that I like doing.” If you have a billion dollars and you need another billion you are presumably motivated either by a desire to run up a high score just for the personal achievement, or a desire to dominate other people.

Without other people, who is there to dominate?

I ran into a similar comment recently about despotic leaders who rob their countries for their personal wealth. Though they often pick fights with the wealthy west, they also need the wealthy west. What is the point of having all that money if there isn’t an advanced society to spend it in?

Anyway, the issue for the rich with automation is that they need to realize that while they might be able to create a society where they don’t need the poor, they would also simultaneously create a society where the poor have absolutely no use for them. We know how that ends.


I’m puzzled. Who are the “liberals” that think BLM is “divisive”? No doubt there are some, but to say “Liberals” do? Like it is a party platform?


Interesting piece. A few comments:

  1. The lack of an anchor for the managerial class’s neoliberal ideology is more strength than weakness. Unlike the proponents of earlier ideologies they’ve convinced large swaths of the planet, including significant portions of the nation-bound non-managerial 80%, that neoliberal capitalism is not merely an ideology but the natural order of things. Whether they’re embracing it, putting up with it, or constantly angry with it, most of those in the managerial 20% are fish swimming in the same water. They’re using their economic and memetic power to make sure most of the other 80% are in the same ocean.

  2. The managerial 20% class, being by their nature some of the most clever and well-educated and well-connected (domestically and internationally) and self-aware leaders of any ideology, won’t just “commit suicide.” To use my favourite example, they may be forced to enact a UBI to keep the unneccesariat and precariat from going homeless and starving but it will be a UBI that’s designed by the managerial class to preserve that comfy ocean.

  3. The “free” market extremists could gain and exercise power to the point where they destroy traditional capitalism due to their own myopic greed and excess, but while they’re coming close enough of them still seem to recognise the benefit of having an opposition within their meritocratic class that pulls them back from the self-destructive brink.


Traditional economic figures such as the GDP measure only a fraction of the needful work that is done, and much if that in a grossly distorted fashion.

  1. Mowing my lawn = $ (small cost in fuel, wear-n-tear on mower, etc)
  2. Having a neighborhood kid mow my lawn = $$
  3. Having a yard service take care of the lawn in front of the county courthouse = $$$
  4. Having a legal system incarcerate people, and have prisoners provide courthouse lawn service = Well that depends

Either $$ because prison labor is hugely discounted or $$$$$$$$$$$ because arresting, convicting, and incarcerating part of the population is enormously costly.

A similar argument can be made for managerial capitalism.


It’s certainly not an official party platform, but many wealthy self-identified liberals either pay only nominal lip service to movements like BLM or actively speak against it as being unnecessarily divisive. Some liberals who aren’t wealthy also feel this way, although in my experience most of them are white, male, and comfortably middle class. I have a friend who is unquestionably liberal, but who frequently posts things on Facebook questioning the need for women only spaces or affirmative action programs, usually with some statement about how we’ll never truly be rid of discrimination until we stop doing things like that. It’s a result of privilege, and I’ve tried to explain this to him, but he doesn’t get it.


Intriguing analysis, which to me reads as a contemporarized restatement of Marx/Engles critique of capitalism. And that is not at all a bad thing…


I don’t really understand one of his basic theses. It makes sense that excess, unemployed labor serves a purpose under classical economics. But how is that no longer the case? Don’t they still compete for jobs, drive down labor costs and so on?


I don’t think this is necessarily true. Consumerism is a method for extracting the value of the work retained by the worker. If the method of creating value excludes the worker, there will be no reason to recuperate that value. It will stay with the capitalist though all the stages of the process.


We can’t raise taxes on the thing creators - if they make less stuff, whose garbage are we going to pick through?


I doubt that this analysis is correct. For example the collusion of workers to reduce the influence of the central state only happens in the USA and not in Europe. Yet the article presents the analysis as universal.


But isn’t the kind of capitalism that leaves most people out in favour of allowing a small group to have everything also rampant mostly in the states, and not so much in Europe?


But, in the USA, wealth does not derive from the manufacture of products any more. I mean: the great humorist Dave Barry once said “The entire US economy is made in China”…
Wealth for the USA 1% derives from finance, manipulation of the markets, which may actually be easier if no real product is manufactured. And if there is no product, people with enough money to buy it are not needed. Granted: some are needed for the economic construct to be believable, but not many.


Unfortunately, no. Europe is not as bad as the USA as far as inequalities are concerned, but the inequalities sharply increased in the past years to a worrying level in Europe as well.


Some liberals are wrong to presume that all -isms are the product of economic inequality. By doing this, they self-limit the universe of solutions only to the economic. Race may have been invented 400 years ago to divide labor, but the racist person born today doesn’t know that; all he knows is that he hates people who don’t look like him. He was born into that mindset and he accepts it as true. Increasing his wages or affording him more wealth won’t necessarily make him less racist. (And, indeed, there are many wealthy people who are racist.)


There is the idea of the zero marginal product worker. Basically the thesis is that due to advances in technology, some large number of people are no longer useful as workers in any way, or at any rate their contributions would be small enough that they couldn’t earn minimum wage. It’s not clear that this is true - we’ve certainly had armies of unemployed people in the past just due to financial catastrophes. But it’s possible. Certainly there are a lot of jobs out there that require moderately specialized skills.


Okay, I can stipulate this idea exists. Does it have real political clout?


This sort of highlights the absurdity of the whole way of measuring value. Surely a person’s life and actions are of some use to someone. Someone wants to have their help or hear them speak or whatever. Therefore their work has value. But since the market assigns value, it only has value if someone is willing to pay for it.

So if you have 5 people with all the money and a million people with no money, then those million people end up doing nothing of any value as they farm and eat and build homes for themselves and whatnot, because none of them can assign any value to any of those things by being willing to pay for them. We’ve completely mistaken the metric for the thing we were trying to measure.

If the reason a person has no value to contribute is because their food and their homes and their clothes and so on and so on are all taken care of by an automated production system then maybe their labour is useless? But again, maybe someone else would like their poetry. To imagine someone would have actually no value is basically impossible. We assume people are of value, and if the system doesn’t assume that, there is something really wrong with the system.