« The trouble with capitalism | Main | Financialization as symptom »

October 06, 2019



not sure what this has to do with Capitalism. All sorts of people get commoditised. Mao, Lenin, Greta Thunberg, Joan of Arc ...

One could argue that commoditisation is essential to the success of the Monarchy. And if Harry doesn't like it, then the example of his cousin Zara Tindall is available.


Certainly we do have commodification, but hard to feel much sympathy Harry et al.

Harry and his Mrs are essentially clothes horses paid to strut around and wow the Daily Mail demographic. This is the quid pro quo of our retaining a monarchy, we pay for the monarchy and they entertain some of us. If they don't entertain then they are falling down on the job and need a kicking. No one is forcing them, they can easily do a Tindall. And yes it is a pretty sickening symbiosis of the useless feeding off the useless.

The universities example brings about the thought that the British followed the American payment model much too late. Had we made unis easier to get into in say the 1950s we could have ridden much higher on a high tech wave than we did. Of course by now the (easy) tech wave has largely gone by and we might be better off making university rather harder to get into.

But then we Brits are expert at doing things long after they made sense, too late in fact and we keep useless things going long after they should have been abandoned. Like a monarchy?

Another commodification is student housing. Way back when you lived in a squalid bedsit, boiled one's egg in the same water as you made the coffee and cooked up baked beans on an upturned electric fire. Cheap and allowed a good beer budget. Now it is all nicey nicey and H&S compliant - and gets billed to the student loans.

Dave Timoney

The irony here is that the monarchy is not just a commodity of the first sort that you describe, despite Harry's understandable beef, but of the second sort.

The 17th century saw the rejection of the monarchy as divine and its conversion into a provider of marriageable units to the elite market of absolutism, which functioned from William & Mary down to Victoria's time. In other words, it became an instrument of the state rather than its embodiment.

The modern commodification of the royals from the 60s onwards is certainly of the first sort, which dehumanises and degrades, but ultimately the monarchy remains a going concern because of its utility to the state, as we recently saw in the prorogation farce.


@rogerh: I still think that we actually stumbled upon a good solution with the monarchy.
Every country needs a "head of state" - someone who can represent the nation at official events as a stand-in for the entire population.
But any system that 'elects' its head of state runs into the problem that this person will almost inevitably be politicised, even if they themselves go out of their way not to be.
Whereas a Royal Family without any actual meaningful political power is less likely to be affected by that.

(I prefer Mark Steel's solution, which was that we should choose our Royal Family through lottery every year. I mean, if sortition is good enough for jury service, it should be good enough for political processes too...)

Jan Wiklund

rogerh: The Germans can do it without much fuss, and without marketable royals.

Marc Ciriani

Did feodalism treat people better? Or communism, for that matter? At least competitive markets lead to a resource being priced according to its value. When no markets are involved, diktat usually does that job, and generally in a worse manner. Not to say, though, that markets are perfect, just that the other economic systems are in general far worse.


Scurra may like to know south africa combines head of state and pm in a single office. A president chosen by Parliament who has a fixed term and can be removed if they lose the confidence of the house. Electing a separate head of state is certainly practical if you define and limit their powers with respect to Parliament. The abolition of monarchy is about rejecting the idea of hereditary power. In practice the benefits for the political system are probably small. The retention like the abolition is a symbolic act. Any problems with the monarchy can be resolved by a new Act of Parliament if necessary. The Prorogation power can be abolished or modified by statute.


@Marc Ciriani: You seem to think that markets are synonymous with 'capitalism. Commodification as discussed here is a process and device used by accumulutors of capital to introduce transaction-based activity where it didn't exist before. Some people lazilly call our current situation 'capitalism', but in truth it is only partially so. But importantly, the market is not a special product of capitalism (properly 'capital-accumulation-ism'; the two things are not related except for co-existing together. The market preceeded capital accumulation-ism, is currently manipulated and rigged by neoliberal capital accumulation-ism and will long outlast capital-accumulation-ism in any future guise the opportunistic system might try to adopt.

Markets are actually indispensible to most available economic systems; karl marx commended them greatly. 'Capitalism' (i.e. capital-accumulation-ism) he didn't.

Jim Morris

Complaining about his mum (God rest her soul) and missus while he himself is the cause of his wife’s commodification seems a bit dissonant. I prefer cosmic dissonance to express the scale of it rather than the more humble cognitive.


Commodification as historical process certainly created the working class, but people our ages might consider how a wretched commodification again was used from the 1970s onwards to force female labour to work. In the 1970s (even before the oil crisis) economic drivers meant many working class workers had to become full-time wage earners to supplement family income. The housekeeping and maternal tasks they’d previously provided without direct charge immediately became socialised commercial activities - preparing meals, looking after children, caring for sick family members, repairing and cleaning clothes, etc., etc. immediately became socialised activates, which, under a predominantly capitalist system, meant purchasable commodities and augmentation of the accumulation of capital by those with the means and the ability.

In marxist terms, commodification is a double edged coin. It augments socialisation and socilisation is good - except under a system where the accumulation of capital dominates, in which case it merely enables commodification and marketisation.

The commodity-cell does not belong everywhere that our uppity economic system places it, and only when we recognise this will we be able to resist it.

Happily, Corbyn's renovating Labour party already recognises that commodification-enabled free market dynamics are thoroughly bad and wrong in Rail, Mail, Water, utilities and Health. How long will it take for banking to be included in the list, I wonder?

Lovely article Chris Dillow.

Nick Drew

"one’s opposite-number marketeers are predominantly seen as possible sources of enrichment, and as threats to one’s success. These are horrible ways of seeing people"

not to mention how members of one hunter-gatherer tribe view members of the neighbouring tribe

or one set of villagers in a desert oasis view the neighbouring villagers (as I know from personal experience in the arabian peninsular)

competition/conflict is often raw, and isn't remotely unique to markets. At least commercial strife mostly reduces the conflict to a non-physical one (mafia activity excepted)


Interesting post and enjoyed the links - especially that on higher education.


Minor comment perhaps, but users of Google and Facebook and not "customers". That it, perhaps, the source of that particular problem.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad