Interrogating the Interaction between Relative Surplus Population and Forms of Economic Production: A Case Study on Platform Capitalism


The following paper interrogates how the nature of a phase of capitalism impacts the structure of the workforce. In Nick Srnicek’s book, Platform Capitalism, he posits that the world has entered a new phase of capitalism that is dominated by the “platform” form of firms. Platforms are unique in the history of capitalism because of the confluence of a few key factors: the centrality of data in sociality, the keen power to monetize information, the ability to leverage the positionality of the platform as transaction mediator for profit, as well as other “network effects” that make platforms more desirable—and lucrative—as they get bigger. This study explores the question of how a capitalist economic structure like Platform Capitalism could impact the structure of a given society’s relative surplus population, specifically the stagnant and floating subcategories of workers. Platform Capitalism features five subcategories of platforms, each with its own distinct approach to value production. To conduct this analysis, the paper explores two subcategories of Platform Capitalism: on-demand and lean platforms. The central question here is, could Platform Capitalism function most efficiently under a certain proportion of latent, floating, and stagnant populations, and shape the labor force accordingly? This question is important because the rise of Platform Capitalism could, merely by its operation in society, change the structure of the relative surplus population if its firms require a different proportion between subpopulations than the preceding dominant structure. If so, this could lend a unique facet of competition between subcategories of firms. Karl Marx was clear that relative surplus populations play an indispensable function for capitalism. The research at hand explores the incentives and disincentives a given stage of capitalism provides for firms vis-à-vis a certain relative surplus population structure

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