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Re: <nettime> The $100bn Facebook question: Will capitalism survive 'val
Jonathan Marshall on Wed, 7 Mar 2012 10:02:00 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> The $100bn Facebook question: Will capitalism survive 'value ab...


Mark writes:
 
>Jon (Michael):
>
>> Let me ask a slightly different question, whether
>> capitalism can survive its necessary generation
>> of abundance?
>
>Two questions (implied by yours) -- what do you mean by "capitalism" and why do you presume that
>whatever-that-is has "survived"?
>
Good point, but that is why i then wrote:
 
"Would either of these results of dealing with abundance still be capitalism?"

and asked

"whether it can do any of this within whatever we decide are the fundamental relations of capitalism?".
and

"Capitalism may continue to change as it has over the last 2-300 years, and perhaps what was fundamental at one time is not at another. I don't know."
 
So my answer is the obvious one, that things and processes are in flux and that what we call capitalism in place A at time b is not necessarily the same as what we call capitalism in place A time C, in place D time B and so on.
 
Linguistic categories are not generated by processes of definition - which is a Socratic/Platonic error - they are much more complicated, but yes it makes life confusing and inculcates paradox if you believe human processes should be static or have fundamental unchanging properties.
 
>Many have referred to the 1917-1989 Soviet economy (and now the Russian economy) as
>"state capitalism" -- not "Communism."  Ditto for China's before-and-after economies.
 
Indeed they have, and perhaps that is a better way of describing them than as 'State communism', which Marx might think as a contradiction in terms. The naming also leaves the possibility of improvement open, and possibly points to an inherent paradox in revolutionary process, that after the 'disorder' generated by the revolution, the revolutionaries are vulnerable to counter revolution and the easiest solution to that problem is to impose a powerful and oppressive state, which then impedes the revolutionary process.  Certainly it might be worth bearing in mind.
 
>While this may make "communists" feel better about their favorite "utopia," it clearly raises questions
>about our terminology (as well as, why "grammar" matters, why "equations" don't work and why
>language is inherently *equivocal*!)
 
I agree. lets remove grammer from the equation :)
 
>If you don't mind, could you consider the possibility that INDUSTRIALISM is really what happened
>in the "developed" economies -- both those we call "Capitalist" and those we call "Communist" --
>and, indeed, is what is still happening in the BRICS + TEN?
 
Again, the name is bit of a problem - personally I'm not in favour of terms which suggest technology is the sole determining factor - although industrialism can imply a mode of organisation as well as a technology.
 
But yes, for what it is worth, I've often toyed with the idea of calling the 'present day' in the West, 'information industrialism' or 'digital industrialism' as it implies the displacement of most knowledge, art and symbol work to an industrial process in which most workers don't own or control the products of their labour and are disposable and offshorable, and proft acrues to managers and share holders. and this is were what is determined to be valuable by the more powerful is not always what is sold.
 
But i also suspect that the 'capitalists' or the Right or whatever you wish to call them, would seize on the use of the term industrialism and declare that industrialism is already dead, and we just need more business (or managerial) sense to sort everything out....
 
Capitalism is still a term of controversy and disturbance, and therefore still retains an analytic and politically valuable edge - as long as we don't get too caught in definitions that are superseeded.
 
Personally and naively i'd say that in capitalism profit becomes the whole point of activities and exchange.
 
>In other words, can *industrialism* survive abundance?  I don't think so.  In fact, is has already "expired."
 
It is more likely possibly expiring and taking most people with it in its abundance of waste, but it is still expanding.  The mining industry is booming, the coal industry is growing, industrialism is flourishing in what used to be called the third world, with massive suppression of working people (as in the latest Apple scandal), there seems to be little sign of industrialism currently expiring as a mode of operating. We might even think it is expanding.
 
>Yes, the ideology of the US/EUROPE/JAPAN (aka the "Trilaterals") was that what they were doing
>involved "free-markets" and so on -- just as the ideology of the Cold War "opposition" was that they
>were "Communists" (or Stalinists or Maoists) -- but, stepping back from this elaborate ideological
>"cover-story," wasn't what *all* of these economic systems were really about was *industrial* development,
 
They were also about particular forms of 'exploitation' and power distrubution. There is a difference between the ideology of the 50s and 60s, and the 90s and beyond. In the earlier time it was possible to consider the possibility that workers had rights in theory almost equal to managers and business, that earnings should be shared around, and that we would never return to known harms of free market capitalism. Nowadays almost everything has to be be judged in terms of its appeal to corporations and their profits.
 
Cynics could say that whatever its failings as a system, the fall of the possibility of communism has helped this trajectory of power/value intensification.
 
Corporate ascendency seems, to me, to be real at the moment - whether it can survive its own destructiveness or the uncontrolability of the world, i'm not sure.
 
>For the TRILATERALS, this development *stopped* 20+ years ago.  We are all comfortable
>saying that Russia is no longer "Communist" and that China is a "mixed" economy, so why
>do we persist in calling what we are living with as plain-old "Capitalism"?
 
I'm not sure, who does? :) not me.
 
this is also why i talked about feudal economies and structures.
 
>So that we can be righteously (and, therefore, ineffectively) *against* the current state-of-affairs? 
>Or, so that we can ignore what has already happened?
 
My usual suspicion is that most theorists live in a yet to come future. The time when we have a harmonious ideal efficient economy, or ideal digital communism, or ideal autonomous non-consumerism or so on...
 
I would tend to suggest that, in terms of analysis, long term trend is at least as important as fantasised futures made present as if they existed.
 
Anyway, one thing that surprised me when i first read the communist manifesto some 20 years ago now, (long after i'd read other bits of marx) was how it seemed to describe the present day, so much more accuratly than current economic orthodoxy did, or indeed most futurologists (in those days almost nobody seemed to write about the present).
 
>Is the stagnation of middle-class incomes and the rise of the 1% over the past decades *really* the
>result of "neo-liberalism" or "late-stage capitalism" . . . or something else -- like POST-INDUSTRIALISM
>or the DIGITAL/INFORMATION economy (which, incidentally, we have *very* little to say about)?
 
Well in my opinion, people have been talking about little other than post-industrialism or information economies over that last twenty years and longer. It becames so taken for granted that it even became part of Republican politics under the Newt. People seeing the present in terms of an extension, intensification and modification of industrial capitalism have been relatively rare in my experience - although possibly more common on nettime than elsewhere.
 
Not seeing the possibility of a fluxing and changing capitalism, seems to me to almost set out to ignore history, which is not something i would expect you to do! :)
 
>> This issue may or may not be affected by the information society.
>
>Sorry -- but that's the key question we have to answer! 
 
The point of my remark, to be pretentious, was to open to question the idea that information is *the* primary economic fact in the current world, which is why i then proceeded to talk about privatisation of water, and being able to live without facebook but not without water.  A lot of what i'm currently working on elsewhere is the paradoxes of the information society - the 'information mess' as i call it.... things like the generation of inaccuracy, the inability of an economy to exist that soley works in terms of information exchange, etc and to argue that the information economy is largely parasitic. 
 
It cannot survive without other economies (such as food, water, building, industrial production of computers and machines, 'kin based exchange' etc) and simultaneously its ideology devalues or helps to destroy those economies.
 
>Whether you are a *sociologist* (and therefore give "society" priority over economics) or a
>"technologist" (like myself) or even an old-fashioned "political-economist" in your sympathies,
>it should jump out from this thread (along with the parallel comments in the "desire" thread) that
>we are *not* living in KANSAS anymore.
 
I don't think i've ever lived in Kansas (although i do live in Oz).... so i'm sorry i don't know what you mean...
 
But, to me, desire is not just technology, and neither is technology desire made concrete or whatever - its much more undermining and creative of desire than that.... although this point may not be relevant.
 
>And that we really don't know what to say about it.
 
Indeed we don't. That is hopefully what we are trying to work out in this thread and others.
 
>M. Goldhaber (along with others) calls what we are now experiencing an ATTENTION economy.  Really?
>
>He also asserts that "For the most part, within capitalism, advertising merely redistributes how
>consumption spending will occur; it adds little to the totals spent." Really?
 
It adds to the totals spent on advertising :)
 
But the quotation does seem to ignore the generation of increasing household debt as a result of consumption and as a result of encouragement of consumption. However as i have not read this stuff (a frequent refrain) i will again not criticise it.
 
>If MASS-MEDIA (driven by advertising) -- a phrase that, according to the OED is the origin of our
>current usage of the term "media," which originally named a kingdom "in-between" Persia and Assyria --
 
and presumably got clobbered continually....
 
>did NOT "take-over" Western society in the late 19th century, then what would have happened to
>the massive scaling of production/consumption that we today categorize as "Fordism" etc? 
>Would it have been possible?
 
Ben Anderson's argument about national identity and media seems plausible, but again it is hard to tell, as we can't rerun history....
 
perhaps it was industrialsm that allowed the creation of mass media - mass replicants of the same text and opinion?  so it could have been a positive feedback loop not a causal chain.
 
>Since Bernard de Mandeville specified that political-economy depended on the exploitation of PRIVATE
>VICE (i.e. *desire*) for PUBLICK BENEFIT (i.e. industrial-scale expansion) in the early 1700s,
>does the history of "capitalist" economics show any *breakthrough* in the required "consumption"
>(i.e. _expression_ of that *desire*) that can be separated from ADVERTISING?
 
It does point to why current conservative moral politics is incoherent - as current capitalism can be said to increase public vice, and make virtue private.
 
>And, what happens in "Kansas" when more-and-more people (like most on this list) ignore those ADS? 
>What if people tend towards only buying what they need and not what they (have been told by
>psychology-primed advertising that they) want? 
 
Indeed what would happen?
But what is need?
Does need exist independently of a social, interactive, conversational, ideational backdrop? I personally suspect not.
 
Likewise, i'd need some evidence to agree that people are not affected at all by advertising, even if they consciously ignore it. This development may mean that saturation advertising of the kind which can only be engaged in by the powerful is truly successful as it becomes subliminal and part of life, and that other advertising is not noticed.  In that case we get a feedback loop in which the more succesful something becomes the more succes it generates and the more it suppresses potential rivals.... I don't know if that is the case... but its possible. But a monoculture is generally not adaptive to change.
 
>What if GREED and the other VICES -- like Gluttony, Lust, Sloth, Envy, Rage and Pride --
>go out of "fashion"?  What if PSY-WAR on the "civilian" population doesn't really "work" anymore?
 
What if they don't go out of fashion and what if psy-war does improve its capabilities?

What if people and societies are destroyed by their virtues as much as by their vices?
 
>Consumption slows (or even declines) and we enter what many economists have called the
>"nightmare scenario" . . . in which Mandeville's 300 year-old inspiration *stops* driving GDP growth.
 
indeed many things can stop expansion (growth is a term which seems to imply info-industrial-captalism is a good organic and necessary thing) and possibly need  to - that does not mean that this will happen outside of collapse.
 
>Maybe TUMULT also declines?
 
I'm sorry, but maybe it doesn't? Maybe tumult is as much part of human and bio processes as harmony? and that attempts to remove tumult, actually intensify it?  Tumult could be a public good, and efficiency a public bad.....
 
>Might that be exactly what has already happened?  Perhaps "capitalism" has already stopped "surviving"?
 
Indeed, but to me it has not yet collapsed or transmuted
 
>Your question about "abundance" is one way of asking "what happens to people when they have enough"?
>
>My questions about VIRTUE and VICE are, in fact, the way that (your) question was originally posed 300 years ago.
>
>Look around.  We have indeed "met the enemy and it is us (i.e. our own "manufactured" *desires*)" . . .
>so what are we going to do about it? 
 
but again are people separate from their society, and social interactions? are desires inherently manufactured?
 
>Stop "conspicuously" consuming -- obviously.
 
and consume unconsciously :)
 
>My further suggestion is that figuring out what language we need to describe the world we already live in --
>what McLuhan called "pattern recognition, under conditions of information speedup" --
>would also be a good place to start.
 
as good a place as any :) but not if we expect order in language to correspond to order in the world. the world escapes, disorder is always present - neutral or not.....
 
jon
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