Somewhere between Karl Marx and Dan Pink, we see a loss of “code coverage” in the behavioral economics of the knowledge worker. On the one hand, postmodern capitalism has largely mitigated the strength of the Marxist surplus labor value argument. Everything is now becoming so progressively commoditized that capitalism has turned rhizomatically back toward shock, grit, and authenticity as a customizable product. Meanwhile, the intrinsic motivation to create exhibited by the knowledge worker leads Pink to conclude that we only need to provide financial sustainability that is roughly triple the poverty line and money ceases to play a motivational role.
Between the two, we see the same problem that has always plagued the time-value of money and the surplus value produced. Some institutions, housing elite knowledge professions well-established as such, understand this remuneration is not monetary. It is not cash that miraculates capital; it is equity, patents, and partial ownership of economic rents. Only a very small number of knowledge workers can trace their right to the surplus value of information-capital, the remaining few that capture it own (or partially own) their company.
This post is not a critique of capitalism and the perplexing behavioral economics of surplus value, socialism has already made immense retributive efforts in that regard and belongs to a separate debate.
No, what’s missing from Marx and Pink is mediocre middle – the knowledge workers with untraceable but recognized value-add that accumulates as surplus despite the reduction of the duration of hands-on time. The salaries of the middle America typically purchase the surplus value of responsiveness, not the active time spent producing new value.
Marx is noticeably, and rightfully, outraged by the coal miner that is all but whipped to chisel and hammer on a death march 16 hours per day, while Pink romanticizes the owner-artist building Apache and Linux for free. In between the are the billions of postmodern knowledge workers who produce value in their availability for 8hrs, not through 8hrs of economic productivity.
Our universal obsession with equating all labor back to hours and dollars is the problem; we haven’t even begun asking the right questions, despite all the passionate fundamentalist rhetoric we hear based on our incomplete assessment of the situation.