“What does bringing labor back into economic analysis mean? It does not mean knowing where labor is situated between, let’s say, capital and production. The problem of bringing labor back into the field of economic analysis is not one of asking about the price of labor, or what it produces technically, or what is the value added by labor. The fundamental, essential problem, anyway the first problem which arises when one wants to analyze labor in economic terms, is how the person who works uses the means available to him. That is to say, to bring labor into the field of economic analysis, we must put ourselves in the position of the person who works; we will have to study work as economic conduct practiced, implemented, rationalized, and calculated by the person who works. What does working mean for the person who works? What system of choice and rationality does the activity of work conform to? As a result, on the basis of this grid which projects a principle of strategic rationality on the activity of work, we will be able to see in what respects and how the qualitative differences of work may have an economic type of effect. So we adopt the point of view of the worker and, for the first time, ensure that the worker is not present in the economic analysis as an object—the object of supply and demand in the form of labor power—but as an active economic subject.”
—Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics
Forgive me if it seems like I’m beating a dead horse here. I love the passage above. What it does is indicate how neoliberalism goes beyond Marx in analyzing labour. This is because neoliberal domination thinks and acts more and more upon the desiring body.
It takes a lot of apparatuses to produce a given body as a worker and to produce a given multitude as a working class. It is important to recognize that the worker identity and the working class are secondary effects of apparatuses that capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, and secure desiring bodies. The worst Marxist theory and practice says to us, “That fellow is an agent of capital and these are his interests. You are a worker and these are your interests. His interests and your interests are fundamentally incompatible. Declare class war.” As if affirming the worker identity and the working class liberates us! As if we sill are interpolated as workers and part of the working class in the manner described by Marx!
I’ve been arguing that Marxism still imagines that we are dealing with a set of apparatuses and institutions that produce the worker primarily as party to exchange, whereas the apparatuses and institutions that are at play produce human capital. I’ve argued that Marxism has been quick to call the concept of human capital a form of ideological mystification, but that this ignores how the concept of human capital as a form of power-knowledge restructures the field of apparatuses and institutions and is intertwined with new methods of accumulation and exploitation. For instance, I’d argue that it is difficult to properly understand the exploitation that runs through phenomena like internships, student loans, the university without dealing with the concept of human capital, without shifting one’s analysis away from the worker who sells his labor power commodity.
The concept of human capital generates a far more encompassing form of domination than the concept of a worker who exchanges his labor power commodity for wages, a form of domination far more encompassing than the one generated by the concept of the consumer that acted as a crucial counterpoint to the worker in Keynesian Fordist capitalism. Through the concept of human capital, capitalism is able to colonize much more exhaustively of the desiring body.
In Symbolic Exchange and Death, Baudrillard writes of contemporary capitalism,
“Does [it] remain a political-economic question? Yes, in that it is always a question of value and the law of value. However, the mutation that affects it is so profound and so decisive, the content of political economy so thoroughly changed, indeed annihilated, that the term is nothing more than an allusion. Moreover, it is precisely political to the extent that it is always the destruction of social relations governed by the relevant value. For a long time, however, it has been a matter of something entirely different from economics.:
Indeed. It is no longer political economy it is biopolitics. The concept of value, investment, and profit make their appearance in fields where they would once be considered absolutely foreign. We can see this most clearly in the passage below from The Birth of Biopolitics:
“In their analysis of human capital, you recall, the neo-liberals tried to explain, for example, how the mother child relationship, concretely characterized by the time spent by the mother with the child, the quality of the care she gives, the affection she shows, the vigilance with which she follows its development, its education, and not only its scholastic but also its physical progress, the way in which she not only gives it food but also imparts a particular style to eating patterns, and the relationship she has with its eating, all constitute for the neo-liberals an investment which can be measured in time. And what will this investment constitute? It will constitute a human capital, the child’s human capital, which will produce an income. What will this income be? It will be the child’s salary when he or she becomes an adult. And what will the income be for the mother who made the investment? Well, the neo-liberals say, it will be a psychical income. She will have the satisfaction a mother gets from giving the child care and attention in seeing that she has in fact been successful. So, everything comprising what could be called, if you like, the formative or educational relationship, in the widest sense of the term, between mother and child, can be analyzed in terms of investment, capital costs, and profit—both economic and psychological profit—on the capital invested.”
This type of analysis goes beyond political economy, because what is calculated is not just economic profit, but psychological profit as well. Indeed, in another passage Foucault analyzes how satisfaction is treated a form of income produced by one’s human capital.
“[W]e should not think that consumption simply consists in being someone in a process of exchange who buys and makes a monetary exchange in order to obtain some products. The man of consumption is not one of the terms of exchange. The man of consumption, insofar as he consumes, is a producer. What does he produce? Well, quite-simply, he produces his own satisfaction. And we should think of consumption as an enterprise activity by which the individual, precisely on the basis of the capital he has at his disposal, will produce something that will be his own satisfaction.”
Alright. So. What do we do with all this? I don’t want to repeat Marx’s mistake. Baudrillard writes that, “Marx made a radical critique of political economy, but still in the form of political economy.” I don’t want to make a radical critique of biopolitics in the form of biopolitics. Indeed, that’s already been done. Couldn’t a strong argument be made that much of what came out Italian Autonomia (more specifically the stuff you get out of Negri and Hardt) and a lot of the theorization around precarious labor (like Precarias a la Deriva) could be called a radical critique of biopolitics in biopolitical form. How does one think and act against biopolitics?