On the Origins of: Your 9 to 5 Job

On the Origins of: Your 9 to 5 Job

In the escalation of controversy that has been this #IdealSocieties campaign, we now move into not only an explanation of what is going on in this incredibly complex world of ours, but an exposé of what should or shouldn’t be; at least according to the following, exclusively white, almost both bearded, men: Karl Marx, and

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In the escalation of controversy that has been this #IdealSocieties campaign, we now move into not only an explanation of what is going on in this incredibly complex world of ours, but an exposé of what should or shouldn’t be; at least according to the following, exclusively white, almost both bearded, men: Karl Marx, and Karl Polanyi. Mainly, these thinkers talk about your 9 to 5 job, your boss, and the people or phenomena deciding on all of this.

Karl Marx’s diagnosis is that your job is alienating. It’s the means to the end of earning a wage; and in the division of labour, you feel alienated because you don’t own the means of production, nor the product of your activity, or the organisation of the productive process. In essence, you spend your life doing something for somebody else. In this capitalist system, all relations are reduced to price relations, and human relations are a second-order consideration. With all this in mind, and considering that only a certain group of people own the means of production, capitalist societies are based on the exploitation of workers (yourself) by capitalists (your boss…or your boss’ boss). To be more precise, the exploitation lies in the concept of ‘surplus value’. You need money, so you get a job. You can earn the money you need by working 5 hours a day, and this is the ‘necessary labour’. However, your boss wants you to work 9 hours a day. You can’t really say no, because if you don’t have a job, you can’t survive. Here’s the trick: he/she will only pay you for five hours of work, instead of the nine you’re working. This means your boss will only pay you a ‘subsistence wage’ which you’ve created in 5 hours of work, and get you to work 4 more hours for free. In this, your boss is making a surplus, or profit, out of you. But before you get all mad, and quit your job tomorrow, yelling at your boss like you’ve wanted to do for years, think about the following. Maybe your boss doesn’t want to make your work 4 extra hours. Maybe he wants you to be happy, and pay you what you deserve. But he/she can’t, because of the dark side of competition: If he/she doesn’t extract a surplus, the company will sink, and another capitalist/boss will take over because he/Caytlin Jenner/she was not afraid to extract a surplus from his/her employees. It’s not the fault of individual capitalists; it’s the fault of capital. Individuals are only a product of the social class they belong to: the capitalist class, or the working class. Eventually, society will be polarised in these two classes, and a revolution of the working class will ensue as a result of exploitation. But no big deal.

Despite sharing the same first name, Karl Polanyi was no Karl Marx. At least he really, really didn’t want to be. Capitalism, which he called ‘market society’, is unnatural, and economic institutions need to be socially ‘embedded’. This means that they have to serve social purposes, and not the other way around. In a sense, your job should not be your main preoccupation, but should serve as an emancipation, or enable you to think about bigger and better things. This is only one of the concepts he introduces in his most famous – and poorly written – work, ‘The Great Transformation’. Apart from the embedded economy, he uses two other main concepts: fictitious commodities, and the double-movement. In his view that the economy should serve social imperatives, land, labour, and money, although they are treated as commodities should not be. In the historical scheme of things, the liberal market economy required the commodification of land, labour and money. True commodities are produced and sold for sale on the market. But you, your back yard, and your green dollar bills are not naturally commodities. In commodifying, your sister, your dad’s vineyard, and your rupees, the market undermines social interactions, and risks destroying society. Fortunately, within this context, some people are trying to protect your life from the big evil market. As you’re treated like a number, a product, or a source of profit, a ‘counter-movement’ in society fights back. These are your Ed Millibands (to a certain extent) and your Natalie Bennetts. Your François Hollandes, and your Barrack Obamas (although not really), or Bernie Sanders. These people are trying to resist the spread of the liberal market society. However, in resisting the market, they impair the self-regulating market, making even worse its negative effects on society. At the same time, governments at the international level pursue the liberal project. With these two forces fighting each other, the ‘double-movement’ is born.

So on the one hand we’ve got a bearded man who’s never had a real job (Marx) explaining why you should start a revolution, and on the other hand we’ve got a less bearded man (Polanyi) explaining that although things probably should change, they aren’t because society’s forces contradict each other. Thanks guys, really helpful.

Paul Brans
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