Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

59: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part IV:
The Power of Production

Summary by: Jeff McLaren
The Power of Production
         Production refers to the creative, cooperative, social actions of people.(1) It includes economic production in which a service or a good is exchanged for money but it goes far beyond. Most production does not produce any durable good. Immaterial labour is the productive labour that produces immaterial goods such as services, cultural products, knowledge or communication. Immaterial labour also includes affective labour which is the creation and manipulation of affect. In this sense we are all very productive people; we produce much more than what mere economic production, in the form of GDP, measures.(2)
         Production can be destructive to the status quo while at the same time supporting the status quo depending on what is produced.(3) When capitalists focus on economic production it may be good for their business but it is a huge short sighted collective mistake that may destroy civilization and the world. The Marxist critique of capitalism starts off with the fundamental observation that a successful business must necessarily economically exploit the workers: if there is any monetary profit then the workers have produced more than they were paid (and consequently more than they need to live: ie more than they can afford).(4) Next comes the problem of realization of profit for the capitalist: the profit must be converted into economic terms (into money) but the workers within the capitalist's domain are paid less than they produce so these workers will never be able to consume all economically produced goods (and neither will the capitalist class or there would not be any profits to reinvest). At this point the capitalist narrative starts talking about the good of market competition to eliminate inefficient business.(5) However, what the narrative really means is the destruction of smaller and/or foreign less advanced business so that dominant capitalist's profits can be converted into money by the elimination of competitors and the expansion of market frontiers (that is expanding the realm of capitalism such that the first capitalists into a new market will be able to realize their profits relative to secondary capitalists who will still be competing in a saturated market). Expanding the frontiers of the world market is often much easier and profitable for the capitalist class than competing with other advanced capitalists.(6)
         Thus Empire appears as the latest expansive and administrative tool of capitalism. However Empire is playing an unsustainable game because Empire depends on economic production to survive and economic production may lead to the end of civilization and the world.(7)
         The productive (mostly immaterial but also the economic productive) power of the multitude must be directed against the evils of Empires and used to move Empire back to the benefit of the multitudes. We do this not by leaving Empire or fighting Empire directly (two dead ends) but by transforming Empire with our production that is beyond measure through vital networks.(8) Bearing in mind that most causes can be commandeered by Empire to serve the upper classes, three causes the authors suggest we (in the middle and lower classes) should demand are a right for: 1) universal citizenship; 2) a social wage (ie a guaranteed income for all); and 3) reappropriation (ie free access to knowledge, information and communication).
         (1) This notion of production makes any creative, cooperative or social action productive. Everything from talking to a friend on a phone to building a business can build communicative, knowledge and/or material networks between people. How does this notion of productivity strike you? Could anyone other than a hermit, thief or murderer be unproductive?
         (2) Traditional woman's work such as housekeeping and child rearing has not been considered productive because it could not be measured in terms of a common measure of value (ie money). However if someone gets paid to do that work it is suddenly considered productive because it can be measured. Unmeasurables should not be referred to as zeros rather they should be referred to as “beyond measure” (as in: off the scale). Great injustices have been committed against members of society who have provided production beyond measure and not been adequately rewarded. Do you buy this argument that there has been a great injustice committed by failing to measure unmeasurables?
         (3) Most of what we produce is in the form of immaterial labour (ie the cultural, communicative and affective “goods” we create in bonds of friendship and family). When we go and work in a job we reduce our immaterial labour production in favour of economic production. The authors maintain that in our world today this is most likely a net loss for society and a positive gain for the capitalist upper class. How does this notion strike you? Would your family be better off if you worked at your job twice as hard for twice the money? Or is the reverse more likely true? Would a higher level of immaterial production in the authors' sense be more or less beneficial to your immediate society; to the capitalist class; and to Canada or the world in general?
         (4) The exploitation of labour starts because a great deal of immaterial labour is not counted in the production process. However evidence from productivity differences between normal work regimes and work regimes engaged in a “work-to-rule” action shows that immaterial (unpaid) labour makes up a lot of the economic production of many jobs. Is a certain amount of unpaid effort in a sense stolen from employees? Do you believe all employees are exploited to some degree? What about franchise operators; commission based jobs; high paying union jobs: are there any non exploitative jobs?
         (5) Some say: “Free market completion between business is in everyone's interest because it will lead to better products with better service at better prices; further mistaken and weak businesses will be eliminated and over time more of the needs and desires of the people will be fulfilled.” Does anyone believe this? There may be some truth to the argument but only in very few cases. (It is often easier and more profitable for businesses to cartel and cut services and quality than compete and improve). The authors are concerned with the unequal competing positions of large firms over small and firms in developed markets over firms in developing markets. A well capitalized firm from a developed market competing against a smaller firm from a developing market is analogous to a well trained man fighting a boy: it is not a fair competition. If this is true it would seem that Canada's economic interest are best served by free trade deals with less developed countries; not with advance countries like the USA. Do you think the fate of many Canadian high tech companies such as Nortel, Corel, Newbridge, JDS, Rim are evidence for or against free trade with the USA?
         (6) How far can the expansion of the world market go? Marx and Lenin thought the limit was close at hand. Today it seems that extensive expansion can only occur into Iran, North Korea and Africa. How much more expansion can there be? There is also an intensive expansion in which the population is introduced to new needs and is encouraged to throw away working products to buy the latest fashion or product version. Is there a limit to intensive growth and what could it be?
         (7) Does the idea that capitalist over production and need for an “outside” leads to the end of civilization and possibly even the end of the world sound farfetched or exaggerated? Capital's sympathizers often respond that science with the free market will invent something that will solve any crisis. The authors link this theory to the notions of superstition and a secular version of the second coming. Does the belief that science will provide solutions sound similar to the belief that God will come and fix everything?
         (8) An example of desertion at the service of the people against Empire that transformed Empire for the benefit of the people was the Montgomery Alabama bus strike organized by MLK jr. It did not challenge directly the powers that be – people just stopped using the buses. The bus company and many other business could not survive economically with out the participation of black riders. The system could not survive in the wake of such desertion: Empire will always change rather than die and the crisis lead to the actual betterment of the living conditions of all black people and eventually for almost everyone. Empire was successfully commandeered against the established powers. Can you imagine this happening again?

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