from Commonwealth / social relations – surplus

Hardt&Negri

These three major trends pose significant challenges to traditional concepts and methods of political economy i n large part because biopolitical production shifts the economic center of gravity from the production of material commodities to that of social relations, confusing, as we said, the division between production and reproduction. Intangible values and intangible assets, as economists call them, pose a problem because the methods of economic analysis generally rely on quantitative measures and calculate the value of objects that can be counted, such as cars, computers, and tons of wheat. The critique o f political economy, too, including the Marxist tradition, has generally focused on measurement and quantitative methods to understand surplus value and exploitation. Biopolitical products, however, tend to exceed all quantitative measurement and take common forms, which are easily shared and difficult to corral as private property.

If we return to Marx in this new light, we find that the progression of definitions o f capital i n his work actually gives us an important clue for analyzing this biopolitical context. Although wealth i n capitalist society first appears as an immense collective of commodities, Marx reveals that capital is really a process o f the creation of surplus value via the production o f commodities. But Marx develops this insight one step further to discover that in its essence capital is a social relation or, really, the constant reproduction of a social relation via the creation of surplus value via the production of commodities. Recognizing capital as a social relation gives us a first key to analyzing biopolitical production.

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