Jonathan Marshall on Tue, 6 Mar 2012 10:49:49 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

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

Please excuse me for massive skipping here and the confusion.

Prem writes:

>this thread started with the question of whether capitalism will
>survive a world of "value abundance". To begin with this, my sense is
>that it will.

Let me ask a slightly different question, whether capitalism can
survive its necessary generation of abundance?

ie abudant CO2, abundant pollutants from the making of computers and
other things, abundance of food ripped from the world faster than
that world can replace it, abundance of hugely destructive weaponry,
abundance of inaccurate or misleading information, abundance of
fictive wealth through debt or deception..... I'm sure other people
can add further destructive and productive abundances.

Of course we might deny that all this is 'value abundance' (whatever
that is), but often value can depend on waste. Profits seem to be
increased by waste, or by 'ordinary people' picking up the cost of
that waste or simply having to live amongst it. So waste and its
poison has value to someone - even if its only because, apparently,
others have to deal with it. Similarly, the value of 'truth' or
relatively accurate information depends upon the possibility of others
not having it, or of them having 'falsity', or being mislead... and
this is so, even if we give out what we think is truth.

We should not forget that the value of property can depend primarily
upon others not having it.

>See Kevin Kelly's essay "Better Than Free" at
>While I do not agree with all that Kelly says, I concur with the
>thrust of the argument which is that in a world of value abundance a
>different set of activities will get monetized.

The other part of his argument is that what cannot be copied (easily)
will come to have, or produce, the important values.

The simple and obvious form is curtailment of abundance. such as
legal effort put into the prevention of copying, or into preventing
resemblance (because difference is not clear when anything can be
altered just a bit..) and such a move may mean that property only
exists for those who have the pre-existing wealth to be able to use
the law and the State to prove and enforce their claim. This could be
a crippling proposition, as nearly everything can be said to resemble
everything else in some way or another. Capitalism becomes a legal

Another possibility (not mutually exclusive of course) is that we
could regrow a feudal/aristocratic economy, in which one-offs, display
items, palaces, human obedience and so on become the only major
products of value, and of course are confined to a small wealthy/power
group - which is what makes them valuable in the first place.

Would either of these results of dealing with abundance still be

>So it is not likely that scarcity will disappear, it is just a
>question of what are the new activities that will be scarce.

I'm repeating myself, i'm afraid, but for me an important issue in
whether capitalism can survive 'value abundance', depends upon whether
a) abundance of waste, fraud and carelessnes does not cause it to
crash and b) what it can make scarce and how, and c) whether it can do
any of this within whatever we decide are the fundamental relations of

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. Perhaps it is better to think in terms of exploitation and
hierarchy rather than just of capitalism?

This issue may or may not be affected by the information society.
Think of privatisation of water - the economy does not just depend on
easily duplicable information. Sadly, although i can live without the
distractions, or networkings, of facebook, I can't live without water,
or just off the local rain (especially if the rain is privatised as
well as it is in some places).

>Moving on to the issue of where the thread has moved: I am not sure
>whether it is productive to see the problem in terms of labor. Lets
>imagine a couple of pre-internet physical-world instances to explore
>this further:

>INSTANCE 1: A well-known anthropologist, tenured at a famous
>university, publishes a study on the cultural life of a tribe on a
>little-known island in the Pacific Ocean. The study becomes widely
>known both in academic and general circles. The anthropologist earns
>substantial royalties from the book rights.

Yes this instance is obviously set a long time ago. Who bothers with
anthropology any more? Who reads ethnographies? How many academics
gain substantial royalties from books about 'marginal' people :)

>The resultant fame creates highly paid opportunities on the lecture
>circuit, and also increases the wages that the anthropologist could
>demand at any reputed university. So you can clearly say that the
>anthropologist has profited very well out of this activity. Where
>does the life and labor of the Pacific island tribe fit into this?
>Have they been exploited?

Certainly one could argue that the pacific islanders have been
exploited by the anthropologist, or perhaps we could hope that the
anthropologist gave them value in their own terms, participating
in exchange, doing culturally appropriate things as best they can,
helping the islanders to survive against the colonisers, helping
them to engage with another part of the world that appears exotic or
incomprehensible to them etc etc. It may be that the people get the
value long after the anthropologist is dead when they go back to the
texts as they are the only surviving records of their ancestors (who
were perhaps considered beneath cultural notice by the literate of
their own world).

Exchange is a complex process, often symetric and assymetric
simultaneously, and commenting upon it would depend on all kinds
of criteria and evaluations from different points of view and at
different times, and ideally it would be ongoing - as in practice
it often is for anthropologists. But, as i kept saying it might be
both or neither, or at one time one thing and at another time another
thing. It might be unresolvable. We would have to look at the specific
chains of instances and meanings to tell anything, as we would in any
set of relationships.

Slogan: no morality outside of context, and its not certain then

>INSTANCE 2: There is a well-known coffee house in a large
>metropolitan city....[cutting like mad] How do the patrons of the
>coffee shop react when they see this man on the platform observing

Don't have much to say here, except 'yes', so more snipping.

>The problem is that in an unregulated space power gravitates to those
>with the greatest economic opportunity.

And similarly in a regulated space - there is possibly no human space
without regulation/nomos, even if its spontaneous. I don't think
freedom is just freedom from 'rules', as i can't write or speak
without some implicit rules and grammer.

And it is easily possible that economic oportunity is not the only
form of action that is important - we might think of military
opportunity (training/weapons etc) as well - and as we know that
is not only guarranteed by economic might. possibly religious

>Asymmetries of opportunity create asymmetries of power. And in this
>asymmetry of power, the notion of human engagement (friendship) is
>shifted from its central position of being one of the building blocks
>of culture towards the margin where it is just a zone for economic

to go back to the paradoxical, this is likely to be true, but
inequality of opportunity is sometimes part of the aim of the
building blocks of culture, and capitalism (or any revolutionary
activity) can destroy these and sadly replace them with other forms
of inequality.... and, to me, its important to recognise other forms
of exclusion and appropriation - although in capitalism perhaps these
exclusions often translate in to economics

>The allure of the coffee shop may be its anonymity; you go there to
>find relief from the other spaces where you spend most of your time:
>the spaces of home and work where you are always under the judgmental
>or expectant gaze of parent, spouse or boss. You find the coffee
>house is a space where you are freed from any gaze, and therefore you
>can engage with your fellow beings with a level of freedom that you
>cannot find elsewhere.

although you are still under some kind of gaze, and still trying to
build 'friendships' and gain responses of the type you are aiming
for etc. You are perhaps attempting to build something that is not
completely anonymous, so people know they are responding to one
continuous person. Assuming that the others in that space don't find
your engagment in self discovery destructive to them. Always there is
some degree of mutual adjustment and expulsion for human places to
continue, and private and public are often ambiguous and shade into
each other - and have to, in order to function.

>If the man who watches you has no choice but to sit on a platform in
>the same space, his presence is unavoidably authenticated. You can
>then take his presence into account in making your choices. But if he
>moves behind a one-way mirror where you cannot see him, then is this
>now an ethical situation? You go to the coffee house for a certain
>purpose, but this purpose is being denied to you without your knowing
>it. And in the virtual world the one-way mirror is the rule rather
>than the exception, which is why people like Lawrence Lessig have
>argued that cyberspace needs its own specific laws.

Yes, an important point. the ambiguity makes the situation fraught,
and quite possibly changes one type of 'labour' into another - whether
that is intended or not.

Even where the distinction exists, there is no pure private and no
pure public and negotiating what is what, is complicated, as said
previously. 'Therefore' i agree that it is probable (pardon the
rephrasing) that 'given that most internet spaces are privatly owned
or controled (belonging to others) then the notion of public space (in
say a Habermassean sense) is even less apparent online'. Consequently
labour/participation which leaves online traces always has the
potential to be appropriated without consent for other purposes.

Possibly this is true for the 'powers that be' as well.... again
perhaps the issue is how will they make their property their property
and how will they make our labour become their property as well, and
vice versa?

Again pardon me for not following you into your discussion of rights
as a political necessity. that area is so complex i'm not sure what i
think, or whether rights discourse is the only way to go, even if it
is almost all we have.


#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info:
#  archive: contact: