We could say that the first age of commodification occurs when merchants learn how to buy cheap and sell dear. This was the beginning of the creation of a particularly capitalist form of time and space. You would either buy some product such as grain and sit on it until it became scarce so that you could sell it at a higher price (the creation of capitalist time, the specifically capitalist form of waiting), or you would buy in one place where the commodity was abundant and sell it elsewhere where the commodity was scarce (the creation of capitalist space). The second age of commodification occurred when the capitalist learned how to buy labor (-time) and manipulate production so as to get more profit out of production than was put into paying for that production. Pay each laborer $5 an hour. You own their bodies for this hour and whatever their bodies produce. Purchase the time of 6 laborers for an hour each. $30. Create an assembly line. Each laborer can produce 4 soup cans worth $2 each. Each laborer produces $8 an hour, for a total of $48. You’ve defied the laws of physics, that nothing can come from nothing, that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. You’ve magically created $48 out of the labor you’ve paid for, or an $18 profit. You say this is just because you put up the capital and paid for the infrastructure. You hope that no one ever asks why the laborers don’t pay back the owner at some point in time and therefore take ownership of the system of production.
2a. Make your workers buy the product they produce so that the snake eats its own tail and creates a perfect system. Depress their wages through getting them to compete with one another for jobs, but make sure they don’t compete too much so you don’t run the system into the ground by making the commodity they produce something they can’t buy with their wages. Often owners miss this step due to a lack of foresight and the system collapses. Somehow it always rises again. Make sure they’re always fighting with one another on religious, ethnic, or gender grounds so they don’t organize to ask for more. Meanwhile, while their fighting, pick their pockets. This strategy is even more effective if the alternative of not addressing these struggles, antagonisms, and conflicts is unthinkable. Force people to choose between just equality or complete misery so they can’t address the shared injustice. Look, squirrel! Make sure they’re always chasing the squirrel and not you.
Now the third stage. Laborers are working 18 hours a day, using the rest to eat and sleep and take care of their families. Make sure they never ask the question of why they don’t own the system once they’ve paid back the capital the owner invested to start the system in the first place. They ask for more leisure, which the owner can afford to do because the owners make enough money through their manipulation of the time of production to grant this leisure without cutting too much into their profits. Besides, leisure– sports, films, television shows, gadgets, NASCAR racing –keeps the natives peaceful. Why fight the owners when you can get worked up about the Cubs versus the White Sox. New problem: how can leisure be turned into a source of profit? How can it be a form of production? The purpose of television is not to entertain or inform, the purpose of the new is not to tell us what is going on in the world. Rather, the purpose of news and television is as a commercial delivery device. Everything is upside down. The viewer thinks the aim of a blog, a newspaper, the news, or a show is to inform and entertain. From the producer’s standpoint, it is to deliver commercials, making profit both from the selling of add time and the hook that sells products. Now the consumption of entertainment becomes a form of production creating surplus-value.
Fourth stage: how to turn labor itself into a commodity? Labor, of course, was always a commodity because as workers rather than capitalists we all sold our labor as a commodity for a wage. We sold our time, which was a way of selling our life. They said time was money. We thought, time is life. We gave up more and more life… Even our leisure became a selling of our life. But was there a way of making labor even more of a commodity? Create a system where one must pay for ones training to become a suitable labor commodity on the market. Place everyone in debt so that they are indentured to the system of production, each for decades, paying back the loans they took out to get that education. Now the workers no longer work for a wage simply to sustain their lives and families, but they work to pay back the debt they accrued to be capable of working in the first place. People no longer work to sustain themselves, but are instead sources of interest in their labor, working to pay that interest. The Matrix, where everyone is a battery to run the machines, is not a fictional entertainment, but a documentary. At this point we reach total commodification.