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precarity: value chains or poverty chains: challenges posed by digitisation



a preparatory version, needs revision and editing: The present contribution is crosscutting, mainly theoretical and global in orientation. The aim is to make against the background of digitisation a contribution towards the changing world of the organisation of work. During the era of 'industrial capitalism' the tension between market and society was by and large processed and channelled via the firm – a conclusion we can draw from reading R.H. Coase and Karl Polanyi. However, looking at some of the current trends as they are tied up under keywords of gig-economy, sharing economy, collaborative consumption, collaborative production, on-demand-economy and the like, we are facing at least in some areas of the economy some changes which can be captured by two keywords: • de-firmisation of working frameworks • hybridisation of work or to be more precise employment] What are and what can be the answers? We see precarisation as one route, not suggested but actually taken. But it is a route based on two questionable presumptions: the first is that work has to be organised as labour and the second is that society has to and can bear and even accept major inequalities.
peter herrmanni
corvinus university. institute of world economy. faculty of social sciences and international
relations, budapest, hungary; university of eastern finland (uef), department of social
sciences, kuopio; finland; eurispes – istituto di studi politici, economici e sociali, rome italy
currently: research fellow at the max-planck-institute for social law and social policy munich,
precarity: value chains or poverty chains: challenges posed by digitisation.
The present contribution is crosscutting, mainly theoretical and global in
orientation. The aim is to make against the background of digitisation a
contribution towards the changing world of the organisation of work. During the
era of 'industrial capitalism' the tension between market and society was by and
large processed and channelled via the firm a conclusion we can draw from
reading R.H. Coase and Karl Polanyi. However, looking at some of the current
trends as they are tied up under keywords of gig-economy, sharing economy,
collaborative consumption, collaborative production, on-demand-economy and
the like, we are facing at least in some areas of the economy some changes
which can be captured by two keywords:
de-firmisation of working frameworks
hybridisation of work or to be more precise employment]
What are and what can be the answers? We see precarisation as one route,
not suggested but actually taken. But it is a route based on two questionable
presumptions: the first is that work has to be organised as labour and the second
is that society has to and can bear and even accept major inequalities.
Point of Departure
R.H. Coase, in a small essay written in 1937, looked at something that
seemed to be a dud: The Nature of the Firm (Coase, R.H., 1937: The Nature of
the Firm; in: Economica, New Series, Vol. 4, No. 16: 386-405;; 11-06-2017). As much as around that time
everybody seemed to know what a firm is about, it seems today a dud as it is
still seen in many respects as ineluctable institution, though we see its meaning
in front of our eyes disintegrating. – We surely have to be alert: such statement
is easily misleading. Taking a birds eye view, old patterns prevail: traditional
mass-production in large plants is in a global perspective very much dominant,
and we may say that we are not dealing with the dissolution of industrial work
but are perhaps for many still even in the starting gates, on a long road to
modern industrial relations. What we see is too often more like ‘Manchester
capitalism’ of the 1800s, or also a bit like the paternalist workshops of the craft
guild, emerging in the 16th century, largely forced back with the emerging
industrial capitalism. Important is also that digitisation is reaching far beyond
the small area that is at the centre of the present contribution, namely gig-
economy, sharing economy, collaborative consumption, on-demand-economy
and the like. Estimates vary hugely the share is surely not the same as the
growth rate, the distortions of an entire area due to some large and specifically
defined players, country and branch-specific views and the like the lack of
clarity in the distinctions and applied definitions is systematically misleading,
making futile even to discuss the variety of information. One of the major
problems is the lack of agreeing on a clear reference. The qualifying terms – gig,
sharing, collaboration are emerging from and implanted into different
contexts. As result we arrive at a use of terms that is as kaleidoscopic, as such
lacking substance. Barbara Hartl and others highlight that ‘[v]arious terms are
used in the literature referring to collaborative consumption or similar concepts,
such as “sharing economy” (Heinrichs, 2013) which is often used synonymously
for “collaborative consumption,” “sharing,” “access-based consumption,” or
“anti-consumption.” Engaging in collaborative consumption actions is, contrary
to sharing, not necessarily altruistic, but is rather underlined by economic
exchange (Bardhi & Eckhardt, 2012). The concept of collaborative consumption
is also related to “access-based consumption” (Bardhi & Eckhardt, 2012), which
contains elements of both collaborative consumption and sharing (Belk, 2014),
and anti-consumption (Albinsson & Perera, 2012), as the sharing of resources,
for instance, in toy lending libraries (Ozanne & Ballantine, 2010; Ozanne &
Ozanne, 2011), reduces the consumption of new goods (c.f. “reduced levels of
consumption,” Shaw & Newholm, 2002).’ (Hartl, Barbara/Hofmann
Eva/Kirchler, Erich, 2015: Do we need rules for “what's mine is yours”?
Governance in collaborative consumption communities; in: Journal of Business
Research 69 (2016) 2756–2763;;
13/06/17; see the original for the references made by the authors; also as
selection of documents with definitional and empirical focus for instance, in
alphabetical order: Brynjolffson, Erik/McAfee, Andrew, 2014: The second
machine age: Work, progress, and prosperity in a time of brilliant technologies;
New York: W.W. Norton; Codagnone, Cristiano/Abadie, Fabienne/Biagi,
Federico, 2016: The Future of Work in the ‘Sharing Economy’. Market
Efficiency and Equitable Opportunities or Unfair Precarisation? Institute for
Prospective Technological Studies, JRC Science for Policy Report EUR 27913
EN, doi:10.2791/431485;
df; 2.1.2017; Degryse, Christophe, 2016: Digitalisation of the economy and its
impact on labour markets, Brussels: ETUI; Derobert, Martine
(rapporteure)/Conseil, 2016 : La coproduction a l’heure du numérique. Risques̀
et opportunités pour consommateur.rice et l’emploi. Avis du CESL sur le
rapport présenté par Mme Derobert au nom de la section des activités
économique; CESL1100012X; Journal Officiel de la République Française.
Mandature 2015-2020 Séance du 25 octobre 2016; Paris : Direction de
l’information legale et administrative Les éditions des Journaux officielś ;
n_numerique.pdf; 25/06/17 ; De Stefano, Valerio, 2016: The rise of the «just-in-
time workforce»: On-demand work, crowdwork and labour protection in the
«gig-economy»; Geneva: International Labour Organization; Conditions of
Work and Employment Series No. 71;
travail/documents/publication/wcms_443267.pdf; 21.1.2017; DiMaggio,
Paul/Hargittai, Eszter, Summer 2001: From the 'Digital Divide' to 'Digital
Inequality': Studying Internet Use as Penetration Increases; Center for Arts and
Cultural Policy Studies Working Paper #1; Drahokoupil, Jan, Ed., 2015: The
outsourcing challenge. Organizing workers across fragmented production
networks; Brussels: ETUI; Frey, Carl Benedikt/Osborne, Michael, A.,
September 2013: The Future of Employment: How Susceptible are Jobs to
Computerisation?; Oxford: Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and
Employment; Working Paper;
ment.pdf; 12.7.2016; Hunt, Abigail/Machingura, Fortunate, December 2016: A
good gig? The rise of on-demand domestic work; London: Overseas
Development Institute; Huws, Ursula/Spencer, Neil H./Joyce, Simon, December
2016: CrowdWork in Europe. Preliminary results from a survey in the UK,
Sweden, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands; first draft report to FEPS/UNI-
Europa from Hertfordshire Business School;
content/uploads/2016/12/2016-12-Crowd-work-in-Europe.pdf; 22.1.2017;
Leimeister, Jan Marco/Durward, David/Zogaj, Shkodran, 2016: Crowd Worker
in Deutschland. Eine empirische Studie zum Arbeitsumfeld auf externen
Crowdsourcing-Plattformen; Dusseldorf: Hans-Bockler-Stiftung, Studie der̈ ̈
Hans Boeckler Stiftung 323; Manyika, James, et altera, October 2016;
Independent Work: Choice, Necessity, and the Gig Economy ; McKinsey Global
Institute; /Global
Themes/Employment and Growth/Independent work Choice necessity and the
gig economy/Independent-Work-Choice-necessity-and-the-gig-economy-Full-
report.ashx; 20.6.2017; Pimpf, Siegfried, Februar 2017: Zum Verständnis von
Digitalisierung. Dossier „Digitalisierung“ Part 1 of a Mini-Series in the
framework of the Commission "Labour of the Future“; Pompa, Jan, 2013: The
Janus face of the ‘New Ways of Work’. Rise, risks and regulation of nomadic
work; Brussels: ETUI; Working Paper 2013.07; Schmid-Drübner, Marion,
October 2016: The Situation of Workers in the Collaborative Economy;
European Parliament; Directorate General for Internal Policies. Policy
Department A: Economic and Scientific Policy; European Parliament, PE
2016)587316_EN.pdf; 21.1.17; Smith, Aaron/PEW Research Centre; May 19,
2016: Shared, Collaborative and On Demand: The New Digital Economy;
Economy_FINAL.pdf; 7.3.2017; Sorge, Petra, 2017: Für ein paar Cent, in: Der
Freitag, edition 1517. 26.04.2017;
freitag/fuer-ein-paar-cent; 15/06/17; Valenduc, Gerard/Vendramin, Patricia,́
2016: Work in the digital economy: sorting the old from the new; Working Paper
2016.03; Brussels: ETUI: 7 f.;
gital+economy+EN+Web+version.pdf; 22/08/16)
Although pragmatic approaches, namely the explicit inclusion or
exclusion of certain actors, are helpful in some respect, they do not allow to
identify easily the underlying pattern. However, such a broad brush is helpful as
it highlights the need of distilling the core of the topic and urges us to think
through the variety provides some direction for doing so. One approach is to
look for commonalities Russell Belk, though looking at a different list,
suggests ‘[t]here are two commonalities in these sharing and collaborative
consumption practices: 1) their use of temporary access non-ownership models
of utilizing consumer goods and services and 2) their reliance on the Internet,
and especially Web 2.0, to bring this about.‘ (Belk, Russell, 2013: You are what
you can access: Sharing and collaborative consumption online; in: Journal of
Business Research 67 (2014) 1595–1600;; 13/06/17) Continuing to argue
on this level, one might add the hybrid character of work/labour, conjoined with
the hybrid character of the ‘product’. In particular the latter has to employ us at a
later state.
A brief methodological consideration
Looking at the mutually complementing and supplementing features, we
are facing the need of an integrated approach that allows developing an
understanding of the interplay of political, social and economic reasoning.
Confronted with a multitude of challenges matters of the organisation and
management of work, the increasing divergence between productivity and
income, the reshuffling of the dimensions of production, the changed life styles
as matter of supposed The Silent Revolution (Inglehart, Ronald, 1977: The
Silent Revolution; Princeton: Princeton University Press) and others we see
the crucial issues for global governance.1 In some way at least it undermines the
traditional power of the nation state and has also profound influence on people’s
everyday life. In this context we have to explore the new meaning of
development. This implies the necessity of shifting attention from economic
growth within a system of competing national interests towards securing global
sustainable development as driving force. Methodologically this is following the
line proposed by Robert Cox, distinguishing between problem-solving and
critical theory (Cox, Robert W., 1981: Social Forces, States and World Orders:
1 leaving their specific local and national meaning aside
Beyond International Relations Theory; in: Millennium Journal of
International Studies 1981; 10; 126-155 DOI:
10.1177/03058298810100020501). He contends ‘[c]ritical theory is directed to
the social and political complex as a whole rather than to the separate parts. As a
matter of practice, critical theory, like problem solving theory, takes as its
starting point some aspect or particular sphere of human activity. But whereas
the problem solving approach leads to further analytical sub-division and
limitation of the issue to be dealt with, the critical approach leads towards the
construction of a larger picture of the whole of which the initially contemplated
part is just the part one component, and seeks to understand the process of
change in which both parts and whole are involved. Critical theory is theory of
history in the sense of being concerned not just with the past but with a
continuing process of historical change.’ (ibid., 129)
Against this background the thesis of the present contribution is that we
have to start by clarifying the property and property-transfer rights and look
from there at the dispossession as matter of going beyond the contract, knowing
that the latter is defined as agreement based on free will between two free,
formally equal partners, mutual obligations, mutual benefits, and limited to the
expressed obligations. Adding to this one leg of the argument, we have to add as
second leg the socio-economic localisation of such contract-defined relations
which is here understood as one crucial part of the wider process of
socialisation. This, in turn, is defined as dispersion, constituting ‘larger entities’,
by segmentation of given entities and the re-combination of the functions.
We are witnessing already at an early stage in history of humankind a
process of separation of different dimensions of the productive process
originally emerging from the process itself in somewhat technical terms, only
later translating into what Émile Durkheim analysed as Division of Labour in
Society (Émile Durkheim, 1893: De La Division Du Travail Social; Paris:
Librairie Felix Alcan;1926 5
/The Division of Labor in Society; Illinois: The Free
Press of Glencoe, 1933), and Georg Simmel analysed under the heading Social
Differentiation, directing his attention to Sociological and Psychological
Investigations (Simmel, Georg, 1890: Über Sociale Differenzierung:
Sociologische und Psychologische Untersuchungen’; Leipzig: Verlag
Duncker&Humblot). For us, the relevant points are linked to the disaggregation
of the productive process, constituting production in the strict sense,
consumption, distribution and exchange as distinct, although not separate
spheres. In part founded in this process, in part as its consequence we find the
commodification, namely also the separation of use value and exchange value.
Exactly this stage of development is of relevance as we reach the point of
establishing new ‘classes of activities’ of course, this has to be discussed as
well as matter of social structuration and social class. Here, however, at the
moment we are preparing the ground for something else: a different take on
socio-economic division of labour, importantly centrally concerned with the
definition and organisation of capital: at the core we find the establishment of
the ‘firm’: an entity that both, separates the process of production from the
process of individual consumption and simultaneously combines the different
‘elements’ of the productive process fully captured by Adam Smith, writing
about the production of the pin (see Smith, Adam, 1776: An Inquiry into the
Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations; London: Methuen&Co.; 1930: 6
f.). Already this brief overview shows the complex and contradictory process of
socialisation, particularly reflecting aspects as separation, individualisation,
addition, combination, reshuffling and complementing. At some stages, this
establishes at least for some time a reasonably stable socio-economic
constellation which is akin to the understanding of accumulation regimes in the
perspective of the French theory of regulation. Alain Lipietz, for instance,
defines such regime as ‘stabilization over a long period of the allocation of the
net product between consumption and accumulation [which] implies some
correspondence between the transformation of both the conditions of production
and the conditions of the reproduction of wage earners.’ (Lipietz, Alain, 1986:
New tendencies in the international division of labor: Regimes of accumulation
and modes of regulation. In A. J. Scott and M. Storper (Eds.), Production, work,
territory: The geographical anatomy of industrial capitalism;
Boston/London/Sydney: Allen and Unwin: 16-40; here: 19) If we continue the
argument in this line, we see two underlying components of the mode of
regulation, namely (i) the system of legal regulations which for the
contemporary era consists of a varied and multilevel system of contracts2 and (ii)
the power, reaching from the ‘Hello Effect’ that establishes a ‘Vanity Fairto
violence. Referring to a ‘Hello Effect’ on a ‘Vanity Fair’ as first and soft
methods before, alludes of course to the two ‘gossip journals’ that are backing
the perversely excessive wealth of a tiny minority, satisfies the so-called middle
classes and places them into a somewhat uneventful permanent strive, following
the Protestant work-ethics. Simultaneously it pushes the self-assessment of the
unemployed towards feeling guilty, while praising those who are ready to
redefine their status towards entrepreneurship, gig-performers, sharers and the
The Condition of the Firm: The Nature of Diffusion
Coase sees the nature of the firm mainly as organisational and
management strategy, aiming on cost-reduction. In other words it is at the very
core a container for the capital, enclosing ‘a capital’, marking of a specific
territory and securing the effective appropriation of the produced value. It is not
by accident that a major component of the reception of Coase’s work is
highlighting the matter of transaction costs as the kernel of the firm. In a wider
economic perspective Coase’s work is thus concerned with maximising the seize
2 Reaching from the suggestion of ‘social contracts’ as constitutive for the body politic to the more or less detailed and explicit
individual contracts. In this context we should underline that hic and nunc even supposedly social regulations are more or less explicitly
rooted in and established as systems of individual contracts.
of production units, encompassing manufacturing, productive consumption and
distribution. However, as significant as Coase’s contribution was, it is in some
respect limited since it does not make sufficient reference to the true purpose,
namely organising and securing the framing of the production of added value.
When looking at the production of value in connection with digitisation [in the
limited area approached here], a few major points of a wider range can be taken
Centrally we are concerned with the composition of capital and a suitable point of departure is
the concern with the two departments of the economy, and within which the different forms of
capital are located.
The total product, and therefore the total production, of society may be
divided into two major departments:
I. Means of production, commodities having a form in which they must, or
at least may, pass into productive consumption.
II. Articles of consumption, commodities having a form in which they pass
into the individual consumption of the capitalist and the working class.
…. The aggregate capital employed in each of these two branches of
production constitutes a separate large department of the social capital.
In each department the capital consists of two component parts:
1) Variable capital. This capital, so far as its value is concerned, is equal to
the value of the social labour power employed in this branch of production;
2) Constant capital. This is the value of all the means of production
employed for productive purposes in this branch. These, again, are divided
into fixed capital, …, and circulating constant capital… .
(Marx, Karl, 1885: Capital Volume II, in: Marx&Engels Collected Works.
Volume 36; Lawrence & Wishart, 2010 [Electric Book]: 395; highlighted in
the original)
So we arrive at C + V or more precisely C fixed and C circulating, thus arriving
at (C fixed + C circulating) + V.
We could also say that the different forms of capital are related to each
other. This provides one framework for the allocation of different ‘components’
of work in the part we are looking at, namely the world of gig-economy, sharing
economy, collaborative consumption, collaborative production, on-demand-
economy and the like.
Importantly, any analysis of capitalist and even more general: exchange-
based economies has to keep in mind that there are two dimensions inherent in
most of the products excluded only those that are solely and directly used by
the producer:3 it is about use value and exchange value. This setting is, however,
3 In a strictly economic perspective we should add that in such case there is no scarcity allowed and producing and consuming
would by definition not cause opportunity dilemmas – an unlikely setting as long as there is always something else a person can do.
deceptive. Apparently we find exchange as social dimension and in strictly
economic terms this is true: successful exchange is validating abstract labour as
socially useful and necessary. Divesting the matter from an implicit economic-
reductionist notion, however, we see that the social aspect is essentially not a
matter of exchange value but defined by the use value although this
contradicts at first sight the basic assumptions of political economy, it can easily
be seen that the wider picture is different as ‘[a]t Marx’s conception of the world
lies the notion of an appropriation of nature by human beings in order to satisfy
their wants and needs.’ (Harvey, David, 1982/1999/2006: Limits to Capital;
London/Brooklyn, Verso: 5; see also Engels, Frederick, 1884: The Origin of the
Family, Private Property and the State. In the Light of the Researches by Lewis
H. Morgan; in: Marx&Engels Collected Works. Volume 26: Engels 1882-89;
Lawrence & Wishart, 2010 [Electric Book]: 129-276; here: 131 f.) In other
words: it is the real life of real people as social beings – people who are shaping
everyday’s life, with this defining the social as ‘an outcome of the interaction
between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural
environment. Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and
reproductive relationships.’ (van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan, 2012:
Conclusion: Social Quality and Sustainability; in: van der Maesen, Laurent
J.G./Walker, Alan (eds.) Social Quality. From Theory to Indicators, Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan: here: 250-274; here: 260). Only from here the parameters
for any ‘good’ and ‘product’ in the perspective of exchangeability are defined.
This is only the prelude to another issue that is of interest taking a
shortcut, we can simply refer to the four types of goods as presented by Elinor
Ostrom, reproduced in Overview .
(Ostrom, Elinor, 2010: Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric
Governance of Complex Economic Systems; in: American Economic
Association (Ed.): The American Economic Review. Vol. 100, No. 3 (June
2010): 641-672; here: 645;; 23-06-2015
Overview : Characterising Goods
Presenting the centrality of two criteria goods being (non-)rival and
(non-)substractable stands at the core and not less important is that Ostrom
speaks about the difficulty of excluding potential beneficiaries, thus emphasising
that this is not a matter of nature or technology but equally a matter of political
decision. As such the classification of goods and products follows along the
lines of
their ‘inherent character’ of public/non-public
in connection with the attribution of use and exchange value
and in connection with the character of the category of capital to
which they belong (v and c respectively).
Underlining the political dimension does not aim on throwing a value-theoretical
approach over board. Instead it aims on strengthening this perspective by
revisiting the category value (i) in the context of understanding the mode of
production as form of socialisation, while (ii) understanding socialisation as
process of tuning individuals into their relationship to others and to the ‘rest of
the world’ – be it built or natural, be it ‘communitarian’ or ‘societal’.4 As much
as this is a matter of ‘people’s interrelated productive and reproductive
relationships’, it is also a matter of defining value, i.e. what is socio-
economically apt. Such appropriateness can only be understood in the triangular5
perspective of the constitution of power structures as legitimate rule and the
mode of appropriation (which is to some extent also a socio-technological
dimension of the mode of production). We find this reflected in the never
completely overcome landlordism even if it is today a matter of private
ownership of urban land (Sassen, Saskia, 1991: The Global City: New York,
London, Tokyo; Princeton: Princeton University Press; Sassen, Saskia, 2005:
The Global City: Introducing a Concept; in: Brown Journal of World Affairs;
Winter/Spring 2005; Volume XI, Issue 2: 27-43;
affairs/files/private/articles/11.2_Sassen.pdf; 04/06/17; Davis, Mike, 2006:
Planet of Slums; London/New York: Verso) –; the making of the market
(Johnson, Paul, 2010: Making the Market: Victorian origins of Corporate
Capitalism; Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press), and with
this The Making of the Working Class (e.g. Thompson, Edward Palmer, 1963:
The Making of the English Working Class; New York: Vintage Books); and as
late followers after more or less oblique dealing with such issues, blurring
them behind concepts concerned with integrational issue of the bureaucratic,
consumer or leisure society of the ‘levelled middle-class society’ (see e.g.
4 With the latter formulation alluding to Ferdinand Toennies, though many by and large similar references could be made.
5 Referring to the dialectical triad, not a holy-trinitarian formula of consolation.
Braun, Hans, 1989: Helmut Schelsky’s Konzept der "nivellierten
Mittelstandsgesellschaft" und die Bundesrepublik der 50er Jahre; in: Archiv für
Sozialgeschichte Ed. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in connection with the Institut für
Sozialgeschichte, Braunschweig/Bonn; Band XXIX; Bonn: Verlag Dietz Nachf.:
199-223; Theodor Geiger, Theodor, 1951: Die Legende von der
Massengesellschaft; in: Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie; Vol. 39, No.
3: 305-323; Published by: Franz Steiner Verlag;; Geiger, Theodor, 1969: On Social Order
and Mass Society, ed. and with an Introduction by R. Mayntz; Chicago, IL and
London: University of Chicago Press; Galbraith, John Kenneth, 1958; The
Affluent Society; Boston: Houghton Mifflin) the emergence of a seemingly
arbitrarily-self-proclaimed group of plutocrats, surrounded by the subservient
servants (e.g. Freeland, Chrystia, 2012: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global
Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else; New York: The Penguin Press), the
precariat as new class (Standing, Guy, 2011: The Precariat The New Dangerous
Class; London: Bloomsbury Academic) and even the cybertariat (Huws, Ursula,
2003: The Making of a Cybertariat, New York).
At the very core, this has to be understood as reflection of the process of
permanent restructuration and reshuffling of the capital structure, i.e. the
structuration of the processes of valuation – historically valorisation as matter of
gainification (see Herrmann, Peter, March, 11, 2017: Gainification …;; 18/06/17)
is only one option. It is a very specific option which emerged only recently (see
Polanyi, Karl, 1944: The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic
Origins of Our Time; Boston: Beacon Press, 1957: 30). But even within this
capitalist structure overall and fundamentally a system established on the
foundation of coercion the fine-tuning is based on a specifically shaped
relationality of the capital structure.6 Of particular relevance are
the relative meaning of and relation between constant and variable
expressed as commodification and decommodification of
production, the means of production and the productive factors
specifically defining and shaping the meaning of society, now
redefined in the spirit of the dominance of the market in the overall
6 Gramsci:
1) del consenso «spontaneo» dato dalle grandi masse della popolazione all’indirizzo impresso alla vita sociale dal gruppo fondamentale
dominante, consenso che nasce «storicamente» dal prestigio (e quindi dalla fiducia) derivanteNel ms: «dalla». al gruppo dominante dalla
sua posizione e dalla sua funzione nel mondo della produzione; 2) dell’apparato di coercizione statale che assicura «legalmente» la
disciplina di quei gruppi che non «consentono» né attivamente né passivamente, ma è costituito per tutta la società in previsione dei
momenti di crisi nel comando e nella direzione in cui il consenso spontaneo vien meno.
This refers to the debate of Polanyi’s work and the thesis of disembedding – the present authors considers the dominant take on
this as one-sided, as it is neglecting the fact that the market society is shaping the overall perspective – referring to Gramsci, one could
speak of the market as coercive force by which the wider hegemonic system is shaped, and where this hegemonic ideology itself
includes some mechanisms of coercion as legitimate use of force – forms of workfare may be taken as one example.
thus specifying the structuration of the processes of overall
The latter may be formulated as question of valorisation within the
capitalist market structures, asking ‘Who pays the bill?’; or it may be formulated
by a non-utilitarian suggestion, proposing that a free lunch actually does exist.8
– We arrive subsequently as well at the core of the definition of the socio-
economic definition and location of work, labour and employment proper.
However, before focusing on this we have to look a bit more at the user.
We will now look at (non-)rivalry and (non-)substractability from the side
of the ‘users’ and consumers and their respective relationship to the goods and
services. There is a simple reasoning behind this: we can determine both, the
link between users and producers/products and also the convergence and
conflation of production and consumption. – As much as consumption is always
part of the overall process of social production it is also including the production
of the social constellation itself. We may return to the definition of accumulation
regimes which explicitly makes this reference (see as well Marx, Karl, 1857:
Economic Manuscripts of 1857-1858 [First Version of Capital]; Introduction in:
Marx&Engels Collected Works. Volume 28: Marx 1857-61; Lawrence &
Wishart, 2010 [Electric Book]; 17-48, in particular 27-32). Such interpenetration
concerns the emergence and permanent solidification of hegemonies as
relational matter of accumulation regime, mode of regulation, living regime and
mode of life (see Herrmann, Peter, 2016: Opening Views against the Closure of
the World [Economic Issues, Problems and Perspectives]; New York: Nova
Science Publishers: XV f., 24; Herrmann, Peter, 2016: Social Quality
Regaining Political Economy; International Journal for Social Quality,
International Journal of Social Quality 6(1), Summer: 88–107; though different,
see also Brand, Ulrich/Wissen, Markus, 2012: Global Environmental Politics
and the Imperial Mode of Living: Articulations of State–Capital Relations in the
Multiple Crisis, Globalizations, 9:4, 547-560;
An overall questionable, hugely eclectic study by NESTA, commissioned
by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Internal Market,
Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG Growth) on the Collaborative
Economy with Social Purpose (NASTA, 2016: More than profit: a collaborative
economy with a social purpose. Preliminary review of how collaborative
economy models can help address social challenges in Europe and the
Of course, this is a bit of a pun – the way in Milton Friedman’s picked up on the old story of the ‘free lunch’ in a rather
provocative way of supposing that there is no alternative to individualist contractualism, the suggestion that there is a free lunch emerges
from the present interpretation of socialisation.
characteristics of current activities; Ref. Ares(2016)4889203 - 31/08/2016;
enditions/pdf; 17/06/17) still highlights a useful list of key features of the
collaborative economy:
Asset/resource what is the focus of the collaborative activity? This factor
highlights what types of resources and assets are central to the collaborative
Relation between end users and organisation/platform how does the
organisation interact with its end-users (people who provide or access
services and resources through the platform)?
End user interactions how do end users of platforms interact through this
organisation (including those providing and accessing services or
resources)? Activities could include borrowing/lending, renting,
selling/buying, exchanging, bartering, and gifting.
Scale of operations – how big is this activity? This could include
participation rates, geographic spread, and (when relevant) turnover.
Type of digital technology What types of digital technologies are being
used to facilitate this collaborative activity?
(ibid.:15, emphasis in original; see as well Todolí-Signes, Adrián, 2017:
The ‘gig economy’: employee, self-employed or the need for a special
employment regulation?; in: Transfer, Ed.: ETUI; Vol. 23(2) 193–205; in
paticular: 196)
Not withstanding the fact that this will need further and systematic
elaboration, we can read this as matrix which can be used to assess ‘patterns of
hegemony’ in terms of what we can call ‘appropriateness of appropriation’. This
cumbersome term reflects the accumulation system as we find the reference to
the temporarily stable relationship between ‘both the conditions of production
and the conditions of the reproduction of wage earners’ (Lipietz, op.cit.) as
hegemony as it had been mentioned earlier. Then ‘appropriateness of
appropriation’ simply means looking for the patterns that are in a given society
at a given period ‘accepted’ when it comes to production and reproduction of life
– the system concerned with the tensions between
use value and exchange value;
availability and accessibility on the one hand and “limited choice,”
on the other;
understanding and executive skilfulness;
individual anxiety and social anomy; and
governmentality and the limits of governance
(see already Herrmann, Peter, 2016: Social Quality Regaining Political
Economy; International Journal for Social Quality, International Journal of
Social Quality 6(1), Summer: 88–107; here: 103).
The historical character of employment – and precarity respectively – is in
this light clearly defined, gaining meaning on the general level as reflected in
terms as employment-based society and the like and also in a specified
perspective of the employment related ‘welfare state regimes’.9 Importantly this
opens the way towards rejoining analytically market and society thus posing
also the major challenge to overcome the orientation on moral appeals, aiming
on an ethical economy as alternative and also to overcome the search for simple
political solutions, too often limited on countering especially excesses in some
areas or even individual cases. Without denying the need for both of these
strategies in any way, it is not less important to develop a long-term strategy,
allowing to arrive at a proper understanding of the socio-economic localisation
of ongoing processes. This will be predicated on the assumption that labour is a
fictitious commodity (see Polanyi, Karl, 1944: The Great Transformation: The
Political and Economic Origins of Our Time; Boston: Beacon Press, 1957: 68
ff.). Moreover, with the changes of the composition of capital proper, as
presented in Error: Reference source not found, we are also witnessing a process
that reinforces this fictitious character by conjoining it with another fictitious
commodity, namely the information in form of data. In other words, we face a
development of the socialisation of labour of new dimensions and of a new kind:
whereas socialisation is so far essentially a matter (i) of division and
combination of labour and (ii) verification of the social character ex post, via
selling the product on the market, it is now increasingly visible in its immediate
and direct social character: division and combination is not primarily based in
the firm as ‘external bodice’. Moreover, it is founded in direct, ex ante and uno
actu interaction and cooperation. We can speak of a process that genuinely and
inherently brings together production, distribution and consumption, socio-
technically induced by the network effects and consequently also allowing that
re-merging occurs as emergence of something new: ‘A fundamental feature of
platforms is the presence of network effects: platforms become more valuable as
more users use them.[.] As more users engage with the platform, the platform
becomes more attractive to potential new users. There are two kinds of
network effects: direct network effects (where more users beget more users …)
and indirect network effects where more users of one side of the platform
attracts more users on the other side of the platform‘ (Evans, Peter C./Gawer,
Annabelle, January 2016: The Rise of the Platform Enterprise. A Global Survey;
New York: The Center for Global Enterprise; The Emerging Platform Economy
Series, 1: 6). Already on the level of the production of tangible goods as well as
software etc. composite outputs are increasingly relevant: objects that are a
compound of a variety of more or less small items, often meaningless in their
own respect, ‘valuable’, i.e. economically meaningful only in combination with
Some doubts should be raised when we see differentiation being made between welfare regimes along the line of differences in
the relevance of labour as definiens; Although it deserves special mention that the topic of labour/work as societal phenomenon, going
far beyond the economic dimension, was especially prevalent in a perspective of German thinking (see in particular Arendt, Hannah,
1958: The Human Condition. Chicago – London: University of Chicago Press; Matthes, Joachim,1982: Krise der Arbeitsgesellschaft?.
Verhandlungen des 21. Deutschen Soziologentages in Bamberg 1982; Frankfurt/Main: Campus; Berliner Debatte Initial, Jg. 11 (2000/4)
– also Streeck etc.
others actually the supposed genius of Steve Jobs consisted in exactly this
talent of presenting ‘compositions’, and one may even say that this is a
contemporary form of ‘appropriation of scraps and scams’, indeed junk dealing
making the whole being more than the sum of its part.
What occurred as matter (i) of division and combination of labour and (ii)
ex post verification of the social character, via selling the product on the market,
is nowadays countered by two movements: (α) interactions and dependencies
are increasing and intensified; (β) the fact that various moments and elements
are getting closer together goes hand in hand with their increasing complexity,
often resulting in the fact that they are inscrutable, though surely demanding
more acknowledgement of the connections across long distances.
In consequence we find objectively a highly contradictory process of
private appropriation. Although it does not roll trippingly off the tongue, when
looking at the dominant news and main pillars of the current formation, the
impressions we gain at first sight make us easily overlook some counter
movements and they are easily overlooked as they are actually perfectly
integrated into the mainframe. Mentioning a few has to do suffice the main
point is to underline that there are different mechanisms in place that
systematically relieve private accumulation, the underlying pattern being that on
the one hand cost of private accumulation are reduced by the use of social
capital and on the other hand that common pool resources and public goods are
made available for private accumulative use. Importantly we can summarise all
of them by using a multiple-field tableau in order to allow at least a rough
classification of the ongoing processes. Point of departure and reference for this
undertaking is the reference to the rate of profit as ratio of ‘dead capital’ (c) to
‘living labour (v), where c consists of fixed and circulating capital and v
‘contains’ the surplus value, i.e. it is about the difference between the time
needed to produce the amount of goods the producer needs for his/her
production and the time actually worked. From here the multiple-field tableau
has to look at mechanisms by which the different elements of capital are
(c fixed + c circulating)
v + s
In other words it is proposed to interpret the recent developments not least
contrary to the line of argument as it is also used in the debates of the left where
we find some ‘revival’ of the issue of primitive or original accumulation the
matter was originally mentioned especially by Adam Smith, strongly taken up
by Karl Marx, then again with some modification10 by Rosa Luxemburg and in
contemporary debates it is not least in connection with David Harvey a notion
that is as wide-spread as that of globalisation and neoliberalism.11 Without
denying in any way such subordination of everything under the market rule, we
should not forget hat a proper interpretation of Polanyi’s thesis of disembedding
is actually more precisely captured by saying that the ‘market is the new and
solely decisive bed’ markets being utilised and regulated by society as
complex system of monetary and non-monetary checks and balances was
overturned: a complex system of monetary and non-monetary checks and
balances being now utilised and regulated by the ‘rule of the market’. The
intellectual12 challenge we face is the emergence of a new society by destructing
even the foundations of the old one – this ambiguity is getting obvious when we
look at Polanyi’s formulation suggesting that ‘the control of the economic
system by the market is of overwhelming consequence to the whole organization
of society: it means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the
market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations
are embedded in the economic system. (Polanyi, Karl, 1944: The Great
Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time; Boston:
Beacon Press, 1957: 57) The classification of labour and land as ‘fictional
commodities’ had often been neglected in the perception of his work though it is
a crucially important topic: Taking the given development of the economy as
reference, we see that the two fictional commodities, land and labour, are only
recognised as factors of production their true character, being habitat and life
of people, is omitted. As Polanyi contends, ‘[t]he crucial point is this: labour,
land, and money are essential dements of industry; they also must be organized
in markets; in fact, these markets form an absolutely vital part of the economic
system. But labor, land, and money are obviously not commodities; the postulate
that anything that is bought and sold must have been produced For sale is
emphatically untrue in regard to them.’ (Polanyi, 1944: 72) These statements
suggest that (dis-)embedding is standing at the very core of both the
anthroponomic system, thus (re-)ordering the different dimensions of societal
structures and processes.
interpreted as continuing, a process, permanently renewed on an ‘advanced’ level.
and emerging as standard clause in this way it actually means as ell that it is acquiring a bit the character of a shallow placeholder.
One may even consider it as mental challenge
Following this thread, the intellectual challenge is to be serious about
understanding capital as social relation[ship], a certain ‘form’ in which the
production and distribution of wealth is organised.13 It easy to understand that
that we are dealing with a relation and relationships that are prone to change
and as such also open to be changed. This, however, also means that we have to
assess the forms of producing and distributing wealth not simply as capital
instead point of departure is determining the value, and this means the social
dimensions that are in fact and thought defining what value is and how its
production is determined. Joseph Schumpeter, in his ‘reading of Marxism’
presents this in a clear way, suggesting that
[w]hat the theory really says may be put into two propositions: (1) The
forms or conditions of production are the fundamental determinant of social
structures which in turn breed attitudes, actions and civilizations. This
stresses the technological element to a dangerous extent, but may be
accepted on the understanding that mere technology is not all of it.
Popularizing a little and recognizing that by doing so we lose much of the
meaning, we may say that it is our daily work which forms our minds, and
that it is our location within the productive process which determines our
outlook on things—or the sides of things we see—and the social elbowroom
at the command of each of us. (2) The forms of production themselves have
a logic of their own; that is to say, they change according to necessities
inherent in them so as to produce their successors merely by their own
(Schumpeter, Joseph A., 1943: Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy;
London/New York: Routledge/Taylor&Francis e-Library; 2003: 11 f.)
The challenge is to translate this in a reformulated formula of value
theory. A first step is a substantially extended version of the formula from above
as presented in the following.
(c fixed + c circulating)
(v capitalised + v decapitalised) + (s capitalised + s decapitalised)
The shortcoming of this, however, is that it remains caught in the thinking
within the traditional form of the capitalist formation, capital as matter of
private investment as source
depending on the capitalised means of production
including the configuration of fictitious commodities
aiming on private gain
the correct, though too cumbersome, formulation would read ‘in which the social production and distribution of social wealth is
realised by establishing value ex post, and limited by the
reductionist grasp of marketability
Finally, all these different levelling mechanisms have to be approached
and offset against each other by considering the level of enterprises/firms, the
departments of the economy.14
Although this is at first glance not least a matter of localising processes of
production in a physical/geographical way, it is substantially a matter of defining
the momentum of valuation and devaluation. This can be interpreted in different
ways, in particular as proposed in the following:
reduction of cost
outilising market advantage
oeconomies of scale and massification of production
increasing productivity
oextension of working day
ointensification of labour
externalising cost
oon other capital
oon the state
o‘on the world and the future’
depreciation of capital
oartificial technological obsolesces
Department I: production of means of production; Department II: Production of consumables – so far we find this in the work of
Marx‘s classification; Department III, following Luxemburg, comprising financial services; Department IV should be added, this can be
seen as non-mediating service
ocertain kinds of tax exemptions and subventions (e.g. car scrappage
In order to understand the overall framework, we have to analyse individual
cases and patterns and the distinct ‘direction’ of each for which we suggest four
main options:
sharing, gig-economy etc.
massification of luxury products
Changing the character of goods inferior, normal, superior …,
making Veblen increasingly normal
also charitybilisation as amortisation at a ‘lower rate’
sharing, gig-economy etc.
hedonist social engagement
In order to develop a more profound framework that allows understanding
the ongoing political-economic and socio-economic development in terms of the
tense character of the relations of the mode of production – blocked in terms of
further unfolding and not yet sufficiently developed as far as the germs of the
new formation is concerned we have to re-establish the relationship (a) in
terms of deriving value from the side of its use and (b) in terms of the factual
character of capital, namely the differentiation between social and private capital
in a genuine understanding. The reasoning behind the latter is that original
accumulation, enclosures and even the simple extension of production as part
and parcel of predatory competition and especially extensive exploitation15 is
historically all ways of privatisation of social goods or the appropriation of
private assets. In this perspective we may also speak of fictitious capital. At least
this can serve tentatively as placeholder for developing an appropriate analytical
framework. With this we arrive at a new formula:
(c fixed + c circulating) + (c fictitious fixed + c fictitious circulating)
(v capitalised + v fictitious com) + (s capitalised + s decapitalised_public benefits)
Though it is proposed to maintain the reference to c, it is not c in the sense
of capital in the understanding of the political economy and it is also not capital
in any understanding that can be conceptually linked to Pierre Bourdieu’s
conception of capital. With this, we arrive subsequently at another major step,
namely the reversal of numerator and denominator:
(v capitalised + v fictitious com) + (s capitalised + s decapitalised_public benefits)
(c fixed + c circulating) + (c fictitious fixed + c fictitious circulating)
The change is fundamental as the goal of the process is now not capital
accumulation but sustaining and enhancing social assets further debate has to
elaborate this. For the time being, it is sufficient to note the two most important
consequences: first, we obtained another foundation to determine value
encompassing social and ‘commons’ value; second, capital is now
reconceptualised – instead of taking its accumulation as goal the process aims on
utilising it in order to enhance the value of the numerator. In other words, the
variable capital is not absorbed and depreciated as it is apparently the case in the
capitalist model. Instead, the fact that it is the only factor that actually generates
value, is now fully acknowledged. Furthermore, also the consequence for
sustainability and growth are obvious: as smaller the use of c is in relation to v
and as, as higher is obviously the relative outcome of v and s respectively and
consequently we see as well a societal benefit – be it now in terms of goods and
services or in terms of common goods [the real wealth of the nations] or in terms
of non-tangible output.16
In principle this applies as well for intensification, though there it occurs in a mediated way.
Some of them would traditionally be considered as ‘services’.
Digitalisation, Precarisation and Economies of Chains - A Preliminary
Coming to some conclusion at least – looking at the variety of aspects and
the scale and speed of ongoing changes anything more would be pretentious – it
is significant to begin by emphasising that a relevant part of the situation is
characterised by an at least fourfold hybridisation and reordering to use
another term for relative dissolution. It is about
(i) the understanding of economic values and the role of
commodities/commodity production, i.e. the role of
commodification but also the role of different kinds of goods
(ii) relevant organisational units and the character of their borders,
i.e. ‘the role of the firm’
(iii) the character of work/labour, i.e. the role of employment as
mechanism that secures individual reproduction, private
accumulation and specific social embedding17
(iv) mode of life, i.e. as people’s and peoples ‘strategy to cope’ and
make a living.
One of the issues that arises to a problematic feature in capitalist
economies is the tension between use and exchange value: while the first is
essential nobody will buy anything if it is without use the interest behind
production is concerned with something else, accepting use value only as
inevitable evil. In fact this gives rise for a development that is of increasing
importance: we find a factual demarcation between the two which means in the
extreme case18 a purely exchange based system on the one hand and on the other
hand a ‘subsistence’ economy with barter-relationships.
Marx and Engels suggested class struggle as driving force of history – and
with the enforcement of capitalist hegemony critique had been mainly about the
dysfunctions of the system and aiming on defend rights within the set
arrangement, not sufficiently taking the historicity into account: this
arrangement, progressive at some stage and until a certain point in time, would
at point in history turn into fetters for further development of its own claims. In
fact, however, these ‘own claims’ are actually ambiguous, conflating and
dissolving ends and means. Conflation and dissolution and the way of their
arrangement, and this stands at the heart of this contribution, is the key issue
when we talk about development. And at present, talking about development,
means to look at the distribution of the different elements of societal
reproduction nationally and globally a kind of SWOT-analysis, here oriented
What we can see today by and large as public infrastructure, SGIs etc.
the financial markets
on societal production and the assessment of different available capital-gain-
arrangements. We can refer to the last formula, as presented on page 19, and
redefine (or just re-label) the elements. We thus arrive at Overview : Alternative
Assessment Scheme of the Wealth Production and Formula for Polit-Economic
v capitalised employment influencing large and enterprise
v fictitious com unpaid caring, voluntary
engagement, ‘political
grassroots engagement’
low influence,
‘networking APPs’ are
small scale or indirectly
s capitalised profit, rent
rationalisation and
tendency of the profit
rate to fall
tendency to large scale
s decapitalised_public benefits public parks and
facilities not essential large scale
c fixed machines, buildings varied, in particular
depending on sector
indifferent, tendency to
large scale though it may
with modern IT to
inverse effects
c circulating n.a.
use of ‘hacker systems’,
appropriating private and
public/’commons’ data.
in general large scale,
occasionally using
smaller units as
c fictitious fixed land, public facilities,
information technology
(in particular large)
servers large scale
c fictitious circulating raw material, data and
hugely dependent on
latest tech, as far as
possible ‘avantgardist’
‘by nature large scale’
Overview : Alternative Assessment Scheme of the Wealth Production and Formula for Polit-Economic Demands
This is as such not allowing to a direct and ultimate assessment – be it in
respect of precarity, the effects of the application of digital strategies in the areas
debated as gig-economy, sharing economy, collaborative consumption, on-
demand-economy or the distribution of the effects nationally, internationally and
globally. As such, this scheme should also allow dealing better with the
ambiguities and tensions that are inherent in these developments.
i Dr. [philosophy] (Bremen, Germany) habil [sociology] (Debrecen, Hungary). Studies in Sociology (Bielefeld, Germany -
FRG), Economics (Hamburg, Germany - FRG), Political Science (Leipzig, Germany - GDR) and Social Policy and Philosophy (Bremen,
Germany - FRG).
Currently he lives in Rome, Italy and works as social philosopher in various contexts within the EU and globally. He is also adjunct
professor at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF), Department of Social Sciences (Kuopio, Finland), honorary associate professor at
Corvinus University in Budapest, Faculty of Economics, Department of World Economy.
He had been teaching at several Third Level Institutions across the EU; currently correspondent to the Max Planck Institute for Social Law
and Social Policy (formerly MPI for Foreign and International Social Law [Munich, Germany]). He holds positions as for instance that of a
senior advisor to the European Foundation on Social Quality (The Hague, Netherlands), member of the Advisory Board of EURISPES
Istituto di Studi Politici, Economici e Sociali, Rome, member of the Scientific Board and its coordination committee of ATTAC
Association pour la taxation des transactions financières pour l’aide aux citoyens, Associate Member of the Eurasian Center for Big
History and System Forecasting, Lomonosow Moscow State University, Russia. He is also full member of the European Academy of
Social Science and Arts.
He held various positions as visiting professor at different universities within ad outside of the EU. He also had been research fellow at
National Taiwan University, Taipei; The Cairns Institute, James Cook University, Australia; Visiting Scholar at Orta Dogu Teknik
Üniversitesi (ODTU), Ankara, Turkey; Visiting Scholar at the Max-Planck-Institute für Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik, Munich, Germany;
Visiting professor at Zhejiang University [senior foreign expert], HangZhou, PRC; Founding Professor at Bangor College CSUFT,
ChangSha, PRC.
His areas of teaching comprise economics, political science, sociology and law.
He started his work in researching European Social Policy and in particular the role of NGOs. His main interest shifted over the last years
towards developing the Social Quality Approach further, looking in particular into the meaning of economic questions and questions of
law. He linked this with questions on the development of state analysis and the question of social services. Since recently his interest
shifted towards political economy, globalisation and formational change. I this context he is in particular interested in questions around
change of labour/work (“precarity as seedbed of a new political-economic formations”, sustainable socio-economic growth, socio-
economic sustainability …). He published widely on the various topics.
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