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.
The Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) recently doubled its budget, and is busy hiring and building capability. It’s an encouraging sign, the function had been significantly under-resourced in recent times; but one wonders whether there needs to be more done. The DPC is responsible for three areas right now – privacy in relation to Internet Services companies like Facebook and Google; privacy in relation to state organisations like the Gardaí; and privacy in relation to private national companies who possess data. That all three domains are vested in this single organisation says something for the breadth of work that these guys have to take on. But nowhere in their mandate does it suggest that they may have a role in commercial or security issues, for which there is no competent authority in the state, and certainly no strategy to address them.
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?
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…
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.
In the early part of the twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson‘s America decided upon an Isolationist Foreign Policy concentrating their efforts on the battles at home. It wasn’t a new strategy – since the days of George Washington, the country as it emerged tried to distance itself from foreign entanglements, notwithstanding repeated encroachment on its borders by regional competitors and the death throes of European Power. The German ascendancy in the Atlantic finally forced their hand, and in order to protect the interests of America the country was forced into the war, and away from its isolationism. America, it appeared, could only advance her domestic interests if actively engaged on the International Stage.
Serge Halimi is the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, a kind of internationalised politico-philosophical publication from LeMonde featuring articles on international affairs and globalisation. He is unrepentantly left wing, and in his May column, he unloads both barrels into what he perceives as a global elitist hegemony, The Tyranny of the One Per Cent. His analysis is unusual in one respect, however. It is an attack on a system, rather than its people; it is not lamenting greed (a kind of anti-Gordon Gekko) and is not so much bitter as it is critical. Throughout the piece he constructs a compelling argument in the French Republican tradition – that eighteenth Century revolutionary philosophy that has – perhaps unintentionally – led us all to where we are today.