I originally encountered Capital as Power (CasP) by googling for "money as power" and then "capital as power". I was (and still am) working on theorizing a technical definition of power usable across the social sciences. My background is cognitive psychology, but I read widely in the social sciences.
I will try to link some of my work to the CasP framework and also provide some signposts to other bodies of work. In so doing I'm hoping to help nail down the material for the essay contest, but above all, provide some material of value for the other CasP researchers.
I hope that my criticisms will be seen as growing pains for a promising body of theory. CasP focused on explaining capital, not explaining power. Explaining power is incredibly difficult. Bridging folk notions of power with technical notions usable in analysis is even harder. Many have tried, many have failed. And so I will take my turn. But first, I begin with a critique of CasP minus the Cas.
CAPITAL AS (CONFIDENCE IN AN ESTIMATE OF) POWER
NB's ground-breaking Capital as Power has a lot to say about capitalization and business, but not much to say about power itself. What power means and how it relates to their cosmology seems to be left as mostly self-evident. On closer inspection, it's neither self-evident nor consistent. The good news is, the problems with their definitions of power hardly impact their insights about the economics of capital.
Their intuitions about power are generally correct: relative differences matter. Differential accumulation can only be understood in the frame of social power. Property is a rival good, and a structure of ownership for a pool of property is a zero-sum game, no matter how it is sliced. Similarly, most theories of power, and our own intuitions about social power, hold it as a zero-sum game.
NB's definition of power is found in the introduction and postscript of their book: power is confidence in control. This seems to be a start at an operational definition, but it's not clearly measurable, nor is it clearly connected with capital. To be fair, within their exploration of capital, it may well be that defining power as a technical notion isn't particularly important: capital is already measurable.
However, power makes many appearances as the force driving processes, behaviors, and structures. A solid theory cannot contain a force this operationally vague, so we must dissect it.
"[Power] represents the certainty of the rulers in the submissiveness of the ruled." (CasP 17) Let us allow that certainty can be a probability, and that certainty, measured, can be essentially the same as confidence. "In modern capitalism, this certainty is manifested in the ability of capitalists to control and systematize the upward movement of prices." (CasP 398)
Let's try to work with these definitions. First, confidence in control and certainty in the submissiveness of the ruled are essentially the same. We can just consider the definition "confidence in control of the ruled." Further, this confidence is "manifested in the ability of capitalists to control and systematize the upward movement of prices." Let's drop the vague "manifested." We are left with NB's definition of power being the confidence of the rulers in controlling prices and maintaining the submissiveness of the ruled.
We already have a problem. Confidence can be, and often is, misplaced. If power is confidence, then it can be the over- or underestimation of an outcome. However, folk notions of power make distinctions between estimations or feelings of power (ex ante estimation) and power itself (ex post outcome).
Power as confidence in control could only be a guesstimate of actual power. This only makes sense: rulers are estimating their power and making choices informed by those guesstimates. It couldn't be any other way. But this is ex ante, not ex post. This is confidence in power, not actual power.
There's another problem. Confidence in something is a sort of certainty (whether probabilistic or otherwise) in a predicted outcome. Ex ante is not an outcome, but a prediction of an outcome; confidence is certainty applied to that prediction of an outcome.
Now we can see plainly the confusion among the three meanings of power: measuring an outcome of a social relationship (ex post); measuring the predicted outcome of a social relationship (ex ante); and measuring the confidence of someone's prediction of the outcome of a social relationship (confidence in ex ante).
Ex post, prior points of confidence in control ultimately has some element of "power hype." This could be either in the extent to which someone was over- or under-confident of some predicted outcome, or the difference between the predicted outcome and the actual outcome, which would be closer to their notion of "hype" for capitalization. It's not clear whether it's better to think of hype being at the level of predicting an outcome or at the level of confidence about a predicted outcome.
QUALITATIVE VS QUANTITATIVE: NOT REALLY THE SAME COIN
Before considering the impact of the three different meanings of power used by NB, we should briefly visit a related cluster of concepts: their distinction between qualitative and quantitative power.
NB distinguish between two related processes: differential accumulation and capitalization. Differential accumulation is qualitative. It occurs in the restructuring of society using capitalist power. However, the capitalist measure of capitalist power is capitalization, which is both quantitative and speculative. Once again we've encountered both ex post (differential accumulation) and ex ante (capitalization).
These aren't really two sides of the same coin at all. Differential accumulation is the ability to control. Capitalization is the speculative quantization of that control.
A third side also appears: a close reading of NB indicates that capitalization includes a measure of confidence in that speculative quantization, called the discount rate. "The greater their uncertainty, the higher the discount rate."(p198)
Our brief visit to NB's qualitative and quantitative aspects of power has run into the same problem as before: different definitions of power are being used.
Control - capitalist power or differential accumulation or actual earnings
Estimated control - expected future earnings
Confidence in estimated control - discount rate
ex post power, or actual power;
ex ante power, or estimated power;
confidence in ex ante power.
Unfortunately, these differences in how the word "power" is used are a systemic problem within Capital as Power, and are too frequent and extensive to cover in this paper. Fortunately, by identifying and distinguishing among different technical notions of power in the CasP framework, we can both increase its rigor and begin to bridge it with other frameworks in the social sciences.
But, enough about capital for now. Back to power. Is there any type of power that's measurable? How do we measure power-related outcomes; how can we begin to measure power ex post?