Category Archives: Capital

Property Developers and the Irish State

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Dr Hans Sluga: a thoughtful man, and not a criminal, even though his bio photo looks like he might be.

Dr Hans Sluga is William and Trudy Ausfahl Professor of Philosophy at UC Berkeley, and concerned about the health of our politics. I say our – his concerns are particularly American, but certainly not confined to America. In a recent interview with the gregarious host of Stanford’s Entitled Opinions, Robert Harrison, he extended his comments on the presidency of Donald Trump from a recent lecture Between Populism and Plutocracy. He was critical of both Trump’s populism and tendency to favour the wealth wealthy through tax breaks and reducing regulatory constraints, but particularly concerned with the real estate factor. ‘We have underestimated the political significance of real estate in our world,’ he said.

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Galadriel’s Inversion

Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel from the Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Dir. Peter Jackson, 2001)

On the day when Apple are supposed to be launching a new iPhone with facial scanning capability, the Guardian has delightfully timed a piece warning of the dangers of the technology. Its functions potentially extend to predicting sexual orientation, political disposition, or nefarious intent. What secrets can remain in the face of this extraordinary power! Indeed, it’s two years ago since I heard Martin Geddes talking about people continuing to wear face masks in Hong Kong not because of the smog, but to avoid facial scanning technologies deployed by an overbearing security apparatus. There’s no hiding from the data, no forgetting.

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Neonihilism and the Failure of Liberalism

Do the disaffected know what they want? Agency is one thing: leadership and direction is another.

Do the disaffected know what they want? Agency is one thing: leadership and direction is another.

Ross Douthat in today’s New York Times declares our time a crisis for liberalism, the left having ‘lost its way’, in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. It’s been a popular theme. In 1969, Ted Lowi declared the end of liberalism, in favour of interest group liberalism, in part a kind of elaboration on Eisenhower’s theme of the military-industrial complex. The liberalism of which we speak has long been defined in terms of economics and economic goods, how the distribution of resources and the freedom that comes with fair access to those resources, can allow mankind to flourish. Friedman’s classic Capitalism and Freedom from 1962 defined the concept, which was ultimately routed in eighteenth century enlightenment thinking, and in particular the French Revolution. Its progression through International Law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the twentieth century brought at its end an essential global consensus: Liberal Democracy was it. This was the end of history. Continue reading

The Data Commodity: Fetish or Fiction?

Shoshana Zuboff

Shoshana Zuboff, Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School

Shoshana Zuboff’s ‘Big Other’ and ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ as Future Economic Models

Shoshana Zuboff’s recently published article on what she has termed Information Civilization is a compact and helpful analysis of the kind of internet economies that are emerging in the early twenty-first century. This blog post is a commentary on that text. She takes Google’s Chief Economist Hal Varian as her foil, referencing his two articles Computer Mediated Transactions (2010) and Beyond Big Data (2013).

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Postcapitalism and the State

postcapitalism 2

The graphics on the Guardian piece deserve reproduction. Mason argues no less than the evolution of a new kind of human, based on a ‘postcapitalist’ future.

Paul Mason‘s imminent book ‘Postcapitalism’ is plugged this weekend in the Guardian with an extended essay on the subject.  Accompanied by some excellent graphics, some of which I’ve reproduced here, the broad thesis is that capitalism as we know it is ending, and that we are moving into a ‘sharing economy’, but at its heart is a Marxist argument about information and power.  Mason goes so far as to argue that the changes we are witnessing herald the arrival of a new kind of human being, a sort of cocktail of Marxist proletarianism, social Darwinism, and Kurzweilian posthumanism.

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Platform, Identity, Capital, Regulation: The New State

Stuart Hall, who died earlier this year

Stuart Hall, who died earlier this year

So let’s say the State becomes a platform, like we talked about in the last post.  In order to participate in the State, in order to pay taxes, and get educational accreditation, access healthcare, and to get licensed to own dogs, own a gun, or drive a car, you need to subscribe to the platform.  Let’s say then that the platform allows for commercial entities to participate, to advertise their wares on the State Platform, to ‘compete’ for consumer attention based on big data analysis of citizen behaviour and experience.  What are the other things that are happening with technology that impact upon the evolution of the state?

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Virtualized Capital: Kafka meets Piketty

Capital: a Creature of Bureaucracy and Law. Kafka would be pleased.

Capital: a Creature of Bureaucracy and Law. Kafka would be pleased.

We mentioned in the last post a scenario where capital transcended human ownership, and became – through law – an entity in and of itself, lording it over mere humans.  It sounds far-fetched, but is it? The discourse on inequality is about wealth accumulation of a small number of people, but it is essentially a discussion about the centralization of capital, where fewer and fewer people control that capital. Now, as the number of people controlling the capital decreases, the question arises: what happens if it gets down to two people, or one person, controlling the preponderance of capital?  There are political answers to this, and social answers, but – for now – let’s consider the financial side.

In the West, Capital is generated primarily through the corporate-legal structures of western liberal democracy.  In essence, companies produce goods and services, and accumulate assets and profits.  They grow through acquisitions – other assets – and increase profitability.  However, most companies are moving now towards virtualized infrastructures.  What that means is that companies own less and less of their own assets, and become, essentially, capital generators, rather than capital owners. Let’s take a hypothetical example… Continue reading

Capitalism, Meritoctatic Democracy, and Legitimacy

 

Piketty (top) and Reich have both taken on the subject of Inequality

Piketty (top) and Reich have both taken on the subject of Inequality

Piketty on Capital and Reich on Inequality are both essentially saying the same thing, that inequality is structurally bad, and growing. (We can revisit posts on social mobility and the inevitability of capitalist collapse to understand some of the ways in which this manifests itself.)  In essence, Piketty – and Reich – argue that capital will continue to accrue to fewer and fewer people.  There is a possible alternative, extended, dystopian view that suggests that capital – through the corporation – actually transcends human ownership entirely and become a virtualized entity in and of itself, a creature of law, that exists to perpetuate itself and grow.  Therefore, in essence, capital exists to extract wealth from people, and rather than realising an objective of ‘raising all boats’, it actually pushes all boats into the water to the point of sinking, though not quite. For to sink those boats would be to undermine the source of wealth itself, and the essence of capital growth, which capital needs to survive.

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