Omega Capitalism

Whatever the problems of ‘neoliberalism‘ as an ideologicalhistorical category, and they are considerable, ‘late capitalism‘ is vastly worse. It’s unlikely that anyone is truly taking it seriously. The conceptual content can be compressed without loss to “we’ve had enough!” It’s pure expressionism from the communist id.

If the end of capitalism is what you want, then first examine the end of capitalism. That’s what Robin Hanson does, even if he doesn’t make sense of the speculation in such terms.

The Iron Law of Wages was fully implicit in Malthus, given economic form by Ricardo, then politicized by Lassalle, and by Marx (as “the reserve army of labor”). Setting the ‘natural’ exchange value of labor within an unconstrained market-industrial order at the level of bare subsistence, it provides the materialist principle of revolutionary expectation within the tradition of ‘scientific socialism’ — and all attempts to replace it have only underscored its indispensable function. The phased disintegration of this Law, as its object migrated from the Western proletariat through peripheral labor forces to eventual diffusion among culturally-exotic unproductive marginals, has almost perfectly tracked the dissolution of revolutionary Marxism as a whole. A materialist critique of capital has no other realistic source of political-economic leverage, as it is slowly and painfully discovering.

The absurd rhetoric of ‘late capitalism’ has flourished in near-direct proportion to the withering away of communism and its retreat into an academically life-supported Late Marxism. Off the Iron Law of Wages, and on to the Iron Lung. There is no revolutionary subjectivity — in the Marxian sense — without a subsistence-income productive class to support it. Marginalized sexual orientations and stigmatized ethnicities are no substitute. If radical politics is primarily intersectional, Marxism is already dead. (Lest these remarks be misunderstood, I am not here pretending to mourn it.)

Yet real Marxism, with the Iron law of Wages as a spine, might have a future after all, if the forecast of Robin Hanson is even remotely credible. Carl Shulman does all the work here (read the whole thing). To follow, you need to know that an ’em’ is a synthetic worker, based on the replication of high-resolution brain-scans. Shulman sums up:

1. Capital-holders will make investment decisions to maximize their return on capital, which will result in the most productive ems composing a supermajority of the population.
2. The most productive ems will not necessarily be able to capture much of the wealth involved in their proliferation, which will instead go to investors in emulation (who can select among multiple candidates for emulation), training (who can select among multiple ems for candidate to train), and hardware (who can rent to any ems). This will drive them to near-subsistence levels, except insofar as they are also capital-holders.
3. The capacity for political or violent action is often more closely associated with numbers, abilities, and access to weaponry (e.g. an em military force) than formal legal control over capital.
4. Thus, capital-holders are likely to be expropriated unless there exist reliable means of ensuring the self-sacrificing obedience of ems, either coercively or by control of their motivations.

Marxists can take heart. There’s still a chance to replicate the 19th century, and this time take it all the way into Omega Capitalism.

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