Pavlos (pavlos) wrote,

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PTOD: A little capitalism in my head

Political Thought Of the Day

I work as a technical expert and small team manager in a technology company. For this I get a salary that's an obscene 5-6 times higher than the national minimum wage (UK). The minimum wage is admittedly obscenely low, but it's not a fiction. Many people earn it and presumably it was introduced because previously they earned less. So how can this be? I don't own any part of the company, and yet I cannot explain this situation by assuming I am a "worker". If I were selling my labour I'd have to be working 5-6 times as hard as a minimum wage earner, which I certainly don't. So, I conclude I must be a filthy capitalist.

A capitalist is someone who has invested some genuine wealth, at least in the distant past, to buy some machinery or other tool of production (an "investment", for short). Thereafter the capitalist operates the investment, consuming labour and material resources as needed, to produce goods that greatly exceed the value of the resources being consumed. But key to this is the fact that the investment is not being consumed. It stands there always whole, towering over the ephemeral labour and resources that it consumes, while the equally eternal capitalist occasionally turns the handle, at best.

My own capitalist investment is, conveniently, small enough that I can carry most of it in my head, along with the eardrums, the tongue, and the ability to poke fun at idiots. Over the past nine years or so, by investing my own effort and sometimes making mistakes at the expense of the company, I've acquired some pretty good expert knowledge of a particular technical field. Before that, by investing effort and a good amount of money from my family, I got good academic training in computer science. Throughout this time and before, by investing my own effort and taking the help of everyone around me, I've built up the ability to think in a way that (amongst other uses) technology companies find productive. No small investment, and no less an investment than if I had instead build a small hotel or a porn web site.

There's a bit more to it than that. If I went to a new company with this skill set I'd get maybe 20-25% less than I do now. The last part is an investment in reputation. I've been in the same company forever (since both it and I started out in the labour marketplace) and so I have a certain intangible investment in knowing everything about the technical workings of the company, and them knowing me. But again, this is clearly an economic investment, in the same way that gaining from rising property values or smooching with the labour party would be an investment.

Now, this investment does have certain properties that are humane and positive for society. I carry most of it in my head, so it's difficult to lose it through some kind of economic mishap. It's probably not possible to accumulate many times more investment of the technical type than I have now, because of limited space in my head. Although I can to a certain extent use the labour of others to operate the investment (by managing them) I can't be totally idle and exploit it. My own labour is needed, because no-one else can get into my head and reach it. Most importantly, I can't directly bequeath it to any descendants. But in every other respect, it's an investment. I chose to put my life's investment in my head rather than on my grandfather's plot of land, but an investment it is. No more, no less.

I think this is a rather serious indictment of the practice of Capitalism. I am not a wealthy middle-class worker. I am a combination of poor and rather exploited labourer and wealthy middle-class capitalist. To whatever extent mine is a success tory, it is a success story for Capital, not for Labour. If I had neglected or rejected investment to pursue something else in life, if I didn't have the good fortune to be given masses of aid along the way, and if when I started working I earned only enough to subsist and not to invest, I could easily be selling twice as much labour and I'd be very poor.

Remember, kids: Capital rules and Labour just gets exploited. If middle class professionals tell you otherwise, and claim that everyone can make it if they work hard, they're lying to make you shut up and work hard.


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