Monday, November 17, 2014

The Age of "Capitals".

Plastilina plasticine from VEB Varia-Chemische Fabrik Mügeln from the GDR [A]

Matt Bruenig (h/t MNE) notes the proliferation of "capitals": human, social, and cultural capitals; plus organizational, institutional, intellectual, and even gender capitals.

While focusing on "human capital", Bruenig writes about the effect of this general tendency:
"However, one of the problems with the late 20th century academic fad of calling everything capital is that it can and does generate some serious confusion via category errors."
I couldn't agree more; in fact, I'd go one step further: it renders the category of "capital" meaningless for, if everything is "capital", then there is nothing specific about capital; by implication, there's nothing specific about labour and wages.

That's how you find people who can remain straight-faced and say things like this:
"Profit can be seen as the wages of profiteers for their ability to organise the means of production. In a lot of larger companies that is quite literally the case - salaries for managers with bonuses."
And why reminders like this are necessary.

But other examples of this bad habit are not hard to find. Exactly the same thing happened with the word "value", to the extreme that our fashionable cognoscenti (many of whom, I'm sure, Bruenig have confronted over the net) react to the word "value" with either laughing or hissy fits (often both, in an apparent display of schizophrenia).

Another example: "middle-class". Apparently, its contemporary definition goes something like this: "Conceptual plasticine; used in pseudo-socio-economic discourse". The consequence? Everyone thinks they're "middle-class".


Image Credits:
[A] "Plastilina plasticine from VEB Varia-Chemische Fabrik Mügeln from the GDR (East Germany)". Author: Richard Seefeld (23-11-2004). My usage of the image does not suggests the author's endorsement of me or my work. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikipedia.

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