Hardcore for Nerds

"Why sneer at the intellectuals?"*
punk music, left politics, and cultural history - previously found here.
contact: gabbaweeks[at]gmail.com (sorry, no promos/submissions, thanks) or ask
Dublin/Galway, Ireland. 27, history graduate & human rights student
HFN | Best New Punk | HFN 2012 2011 2010 2009 | HRO 2k9 | Hoover Genealogy Project | @HC4N
*from the title of a review of Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure by Michael Foot, Evening Standard, Nov. 26, 1943.
Apr 03
Permalink

"That social networks may remain free—both costless and infinitely flexible—depends on an assumption similar to the one that underlies [Pay-Per-Click]: that your digital engagement indicates commercially viable interest.”

A.E. Benenson, ‘No Purchase Necessary’ in The New Inquiry #27, Money

This point - in itself not particularly new or original - deserves repeating in the context of the idea that we’re approaching the age of a ‘near zero marginal cost’ economy: not just that it’s important to separate out digital reproduction from physical and human labour; but also the extent to which technology is in itself efficient to the point of costlessness, from the extent to which it is offered to us ‘free’ by commercial companies with ulterior goals.

Also interesting in this respect is the environmental cost of the cloud which - although the article is lacking on metrics of actual power use, which may or may not be significant at the individual level - illustrates how the choices by these digital companies have real-world physical consequences (and/or tie in with local political practices, e.g. coal in Virginia).

economics internet tni
Comments (View) | 3 notes
Apr 02
Permalink

Political freedoms are luxuries that can be enjoyed once not-explicitly-political means of social control (like markets) have adequately supplanted inferior technologies of suppression.

The new New Inquiry issue, Money,is knocking it out of the park (at least if you like thinking about economics and politics as much as I do). You should buy it!

politics economics
Comments (View) | 5 notes
Mar 27
Permalink
The society regulated by reference to the market that the neo-liberals are thinking about is a society in which the regulatory principle should not be so much the exchange of commodities as the mechanisms of competition. It is these mechanisms that should have the greatest possible surface and depth and should also occupy the greatest possible volume in society.

Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, p. 147 (Lecture of 14 February 1979)

I read this earlier today and this evening I was watching a news report on this story, about the shocking revelation that private UK energy firms are making soaring profits at a time of increased prices. The liberal response , articulated by the regulator itself, is to describe the situation as “weak competition”, with the implication that proper competition would reduce prices. Even the left-wing response, that this shows competition doesn’t work, tends to assume that something like actual (theoretical) economic competition was being attempted, rather than something more socially pervasive.

It struck me that the response of the regulator, Ofgem, coincided with the Foucauldian view quite accurately: it “said it wanted to “clear the air” after confirming evidence of soaring corporate profits and plunging consumer confidence.” Throughout the report there was no indication of any actual constraints that would be put on the companies, and a much stronger emphasis on restoring “trust” and “confidence” on the part of the consumer - in the competition process, or mechanism. (In the Guardian piece, it is mentioned that “The review could take up to two years to complete but Ofgem warned of much higher fines amounting to “tens of millions of pounds” against power companies if they break rules in the meantime” - but whether rules are actually being broken, or whether its a perception - based on profits and prices - which needs to be corrected, is unclear)

On the other side to “consumer confidence” is investor confidence, and the greater power the companies wield against any attempts to fundamentally change the competition mechanism:

"… a research note released by Liberum Capital said the CMA probe would freeze additional expenditure by the large power companies and "dampen investment from those corporates not directly involved in the inquiry."

And fellow City firm Exane Paribas said last week that Britain had moved over the last year from having one of the lowest political risks to the highest “and now ranks above Spain for the first time.

British Gas and other members of the big six have repeatedly warned that the lights could go out – most vociferously when Ed Miliband told the party annual conference last autumn that an incoming Labour government would force companies to freeze prices, break up the big six and dismantle the regulator.”

There are valid economic arguments against a price freeze, in terms of supply and demand - but I think (and following Foucault) the real threat is perceived to the ‘competition’ free pricing allows, rather than the pricing mechanism itself. As for ‘breaking up the big six’, this is both a liberal challenge to a creeping monopoly and a re-substitution of a core neoliberal value of enterprise. To return to Foucault:

"… what is sought is not a society subject to the commodity effect, but a society subject to the dynamics of competition. Not a supermarket society, but an enterprise society. The homo oeconomicus sought after is not the man of exchange or man the consumer; he is the man of enterprise and production.”

Amongst the summary of the report’s key points, two stand out in this regard:

"Evidence suggests companies may be engaging in "tacit co-ordination" to limit competition, for instance by announcing similar price changes around the same time, increasing prices when costs rise by more than they cut them when costs fall. These actions do not break competition law but suggest the market may be too cosy for suppliers.

If there is effective competition, a price rise by a company should risk customers going elsewhere. But it is difficult for new, smaller suppliers to compete because of high costs, low availability of wholesale energy, heavy regulation and environmental requirements.”

The market may be “too cosy” because, it is suggested, it is insufficiently regulated - or worse, the law itself is not powerful enough to deal with the distortions to the market. Among these distortions are the fact that energy production is a costly, complex and generally polluting business - but by shifting the focus from ‘wholesale’ to ‘retail’ it creates the illusion that market competition is genuinely possible. And in turn the consumer - but not just the consumer, the (market) citizen who is protected by the regulator - buys into the idea that they are getting, or should be getting, a “fair deal”, from this state-backed mechanism which guarantees their market freedoms.

economics uk foucault
Comments (View) | 1 note
Permalink
The long-sought panacea to human poverty may at last be within our reach in the form of broadband networks that empower all countries to take their place in the global economy, overcoming traditional barriers like geography, language and resource constraints

More corporate dividends than social returns - Business - The Irish Times

Very good piece by Ciarán Hancock on the telecommunications industry and its leading Irish baron, Denis O’Brien - it’s hard to believe he actually said the above, but it’s perfectly in character as the Irishman most deserving of begrudgery, ahead of Bono. It even takes the biscuit compared to this.

I think the simplest way to explain this is: ‘network’ /= structure.

economics irish
Comments (View) | 2 notes
Mar 23
Permalink economics
Comments (View) | 6 notes
Mar 22
Permalink
We must reconsider leisure. For a long time the wealthiest lived a life of leisure at the expense of the toiling masses. The rise of intelligent machines makes it possible for many more people to live such lives without exploiting others. Today’s triumphant puritanism finds such idleness abhorrent. Well, then, let people enjoy themselves busily. What else is the true goal of the vast increases in prosperity we have created?

Enslave the robots and free the poor - Martin Wolf

I’ve been meaning to write about this very good piece, from Wolf’s Financial Times column as syndicated to the Irish Times. I finished André Gorz’s Farewell to the Working Class recently, having read it in search of answer, or at least a perspective, on this very question. 

Most interestingly, on the call for a basic income which even Wolf joins above and which is becoming increasingly common not only on the left, Gorz sounds a note of scepticism (I have my own, too):

"Socialised distribution of production, according to need rather than effective demand, was for a long time one of the central demands of the Left. This is now becoming ever less the case. In itself, it can only lead to the state taking greater charge of individual lives. The right to a ‘social income’ (or ‘social wage’) for life in part abolishes ‘forced wage labour’ only in favour of a wage system without work. It replaces or complements, as the case may be, exploitation with welfare, while perpetuating the dependence, impotence and subordination of individuals to centralised authority. This subordination will be overcome only if the autonomous production of use-values becomes a real possibility for everyone."

I don’t fully share Gorz’s aversion to the state, which makes his autonomism look a bit like a more polite version of anarchism; but if many people would be more than happy to accept a “wage system without work”, he makes it clearly that it is little different than being on the dole. Equally, he notes that “the abolition of work is neither acceptable nor desirable for people who identify with their work, define themselves through it and do or hope to realise themselves in their work” - it is in essence an issue of subjectivity. This is all in the introduction to the book, his Nine Theses for a Future Left, which introduces the idea of a ‘non-class of non-workers’ as a necessary improvement on the old Marxist notion of the proletarian class as the driver of socialism. Much of the book is in fact an interesting critique of Marxism, as suggested by the subtitle An Essay on Post-Industrial Socialism; the post-industrial element is mostly about showing the effect of technological change on society such that it has become irrevocably complex. Thus he rules out one form of autonomy, which is a retreat to self-sufficiency, at least on the grand scale, and advocates a ‘dual society’ which combines personal autonomy and, kept to a minimum, ‘heteronomy’, that is, socially necessary labour. As he says:

"Freedom cannot be based on the abolition of socially determined labour, nor … upon elimination of external compulsion so as to have each individual perform what is objectively necessary as an internalised moral duty."

Also:

"the very same technological developments that make it possible to free time and reduce everyone’s work load also allow the Right, through the weapon of unemployment, to reinforce the old ideology of hard work and productivity just when it no longer has any further economic or technical basis."

The second quote is from an appended text, ‘Towards a Policy of Time’, which states the argument of the book in much more accessible manner and with fewer political-theoretical trappings. On the side of personal autonomy, it is this ‘free time’ from work, guaranteed by a social income, which enables people to realise their social and individual selves; but on the other, the mandatory contribution of a certain amount of part-time work to ensure the smooth running of society. Though he points to what he calls ‘the hidden costs of productivism’ where the demands for social and administrative services would in fact be lessened if adults were not forced to work full-time jobs, but instead were able to attend to their families and communities at leisure.

It’s utopian, but in a good way - and addresses at least some of the issues I have with a straightforward redistributive income guarantee, if with the result of highlighting the necessary transformative social change. For me, a big issue I still have with Basic Income is the inherent reliance of our society on wage exploitation - cheap (frequently immigrant) labour for menial tasks in the service industry - and then the extent to which we are addicted to resource exploitation on the global scale, both of which make the idea of a redistributive income guarantee amongst Western citizens (more than already exists, comparatively speaking) highly problematic without a clear further shift in moral and ethical attitudes.

economics basic income socialism politics gorz books
Comments (View) | 5 notes
Permalink
unrational:

effington:

Have you ever read a thing that made less sense

It’s taken me a long time to parse this in a way that makes any fucking sense at all.

Same, although I still don’t know what’s “infamous” about Oreo cookies. 
It reminded me of reading this article (via hautepop) about the “low-to-zero-marginal-cost-economy” which equally made no sense but seems to tie into the above. The argument seemed to be that, as digital reproduction reduces the marginal cost (that is, the cost of another copy or action) to practically zero, so the digital economy will do to physical production and human services. For the first, obviously, 3-D printing: “Thousands of hobbyists are already making their own products using 3-D printers, open-source software and recycled plastic as feedstock, at near zero marginal cost.” (But the operative word is ‘hobbyist’ - I doubt most of us want to have to design and produce, even as an automated process, the various manufactured items we already buy) The second requires more imagination:

"A formidable new technology infrastructure — the Internet of Things — is emerging with the potential to push much of economic life to near zero marginal cost over the course of the next two decades […] People can connect to the network and use big data, analytics and algorithms to accelerate efficiency and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero, just as they now do with information goods." 

But a (physical) product or service contains an irremovable quantum of material, energy and labour -  you can make the process more efficient, but fundamentally, unlike digital reproduction the marginal cost cannot be truly near-zero. In fact, for it to be true it would be necessary to devalue the cost (environmental, social and moral) of material resources and human labour - which is probably the real agenda behind the globalised tech economy. The idea that ‘the network’ and ‘sharing’ actually advances a qualitative change in the use of labour and materials similar to that of digital copies over physical ones, rather than merely a more quantitative change in their efficiency of use, is terrifying technobabble. And it leads to things like the above - the use of networked technology is largely meaningless (certainly the ‘flavours’ are) and it’s not even efficient (it takes two minutes to a ‘print’ a cookie, according to Ad Age), and smacks of something being done just because it can (or because people buy into it, which in narrow economic terms is of course a sufficient justification).

unrational:

effington:

Have you ever read a thing that made less sense

It’s taken me a long time to parse this in a way that makes any fucking sense at all.

Same, although I still don’t know what’s “infamous” about Oreo cookies. 

It reminded me of reading this article (via hautepop) about the “low-to-zero-marginal-cost-economy” which equally made no sense but seems to tie into the above. The argument seemed to be that, as digital reproduction reduces the marginal cost (that is, the cost of another copy or action) to practically zero, so the digital economy will do to physical production and human services. For the first, obviously, 3-D printing: “Thousands of hobbyists are already making their own products using 3-D printers, open-source software and recycled plastic as feedstock, at near zero marginal cost.” (But the operative word is ‘hobbyist’ - I doubt most of us want to have to design and produce, even as an automated process, the various manufactured items we already buy) The second requires more imagination:

"A formidable new technology infrastructure — the Internet of Things — is emerging with the potential to push much of economic life to near zero marginal cost over the course of the next two decades […] People can connect to the network and use big data, analytics and algorithms to accelerate efficiency and lower the marginal cost of producing and sharing a wide range of products and services to near zero, just as they now do with information goods." 

But a (physical) product or service contains an irremovable quantum of material, energy and labour -  you can make the process more efficient, but fundamentally, unlike digital reproduction the marginal cost cannot be truly near-zero. In fact, for it to be true it would be necessary to devalue the cost (environmental, social and moral) of material resources and human labour - which is probably the real agenda behind the globalised tech economy. The idea that ‘the network’ and ‘sharing’ actually advances a qualitative change in the use of labour and materials similar to that of digital copies over physical ones, rather than merely a more quantitative change in their efficiency of use, is terrifying technobabble. And it leads to things like the above - the use of networked technology is largely meaningless (certainly the ‘flavours’ are) and it’s not even efficient (it takes two minutes to a ‘print’ a cookie, according to Ad Age), and smacks of something being done just because it can (or because people buy into it, which in narrow economic terms is of course a sufficient justification).

internet economics
Comments (View) | 22,272 notes
Feb 19
Permalink
Bought this recently, on the basis of this review - even though it is rather critical (and of course an excellent essay in its own right) the approach interested me, especially this point:

"For Mirowski, neoliberalism is first and foremost a political doctrine, not a class strategy or commercial project. Unlike the classical liberalism of the 18th century or today’s waves of libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism, neoliberalism — though an anti-democracy project — nonetheless seeks to use the state rather than destroy it."

I didn’t however realise it was going to be quite a tome - obviously I should have looked at the page numbers - and I think I was distracted by the comparison with David Harvey’s shorter work into thinking it would be another slim volume.
More to the point perhaps, I’m working my way through Foucault’s lectures in The Birth of Biopolitics, which is fascinating - especially coming from a history (although I have some scepticism about the accuracy of Foucault’s broad-brush approach, he does at the same time make a good critique of historicism - that which puts the universal “through the grinder of history”) and a political theory background with a fair bit of familiarity with the early modern period. And right now I’m trying to connect that with the current international legal order in the EU and viewing the state, not just as an embattled actor that needs to have positive, and rather worthy, social obligations placed upon it, but that needs to be restrained from pursuing particular neoliberal aims through its involvement in the economic sphere (particularly in the area of ‘labour activation’).

Bought this recently, on the basis of this review - even though it is rather critical (and of course an excellent essay in its own right) the approach interested me, especially this point:

"For Mirowski, neoliberalism is first and foremost a political doctrine, not a class strategy or commercial project. Unlike the classical liberalism of the 18th century or today’s waves of libertarianism and anarcho-capitalism, neoliberalism — though an anti-democracy project — nonetheless seeks to use the state rather than destroy it."

I didn’t however realise it was going to be quite a tome - obviously I should have looked at the page numbers - and I think I was distracted by the comparison with David Harvey’s shorter work into thinking it would be another slim volume.

More to the point perhaps, I’m working my way through Foucault’s lectures in The Birth of Biopolitics, which is fascinating - especially coming from a history (although I have some scepticism about the accuracy of Foucault’s broad-brush approach, he does at the same time make a good critique of historicism - that which puts the universal “through the grinder of history”) and a political theory background with a fair bit of familiarity with the early modern period. And right now I’m trying to connect that with the current international legal order in the EU and viewing the state, not just as an embattled actor that needs to have positive, and rather worthy, social obligations placed upon it, but that needs to be restrained from pursuing particular neoliberal aims through its involvement in the economic sphere (particularly in the area of ‘labour activation’).

politics economics llm blogging
Comments (View)
Feb 05
Permalink
tomewing:

toffeemilkshake:

From my former colleagues: A nice illustration of the difference in how we perceive area vs length.

That IS nice. It illustrates a whole bunch of other things too, of course.
(I mean, some things I knew, but I would have got a pub quiz question “Who spends the most on defense - Iran, Israel, or Italy?” completely wrong)

Thinking about a link that hautepop tweeted earlier, the basic data matters a lot as well - the disparity shrinks if you use a different and arguably more illustrative measure such as PPP (which close to doubles China’s size relative to the US) or share of GDP (in which case Saudi Arabia tops the table, although with the caveat “The figures for Saudi Arabia include expenditure for public order and safety and might be slightly overestimated” which only serves to make them sound even worse). In either case, the absolute number of dollars (or currency at changing exchange rates) is perhaps not very reflective of the actual expenditure on resources and manpower.
The US still spend a whopping 4.4% of their already massive GDP, though - the same proportion as Russia and second only to Saudi Arabia. Although I don’t know (and suspect not) if military aid to the latter from the US is included.
Been reading about human rights budget analysis today, so topic is on my mind.

tomewing:

toffeemilkshake:

From my former colleagues: A nice illustration of the difference in how we perceive area vs length.

That IS nice. It illustrates a whole bunch of other things too, of course.

(I mean, some things I knew, but I would have got a pub quiz question “Who spends the most on defense - Iran, Israel, or Italy?” completely wrong)

Thinking about a link that hautepop tweeted earlier, the basic data matters a lot as well - the disparity shrinks if you use a different and arguably more illustrative measure such as PPP (which close to doubles China’s size relative to the US) or share of GDP (in which case Saudi Arabia tops the table, although with the caveat “The figures for Saudi Arabia include expenditure for public order and safety and might be slightly overestimated” which only serves to make them sound even worse). In either case, the absolute number of dollars (or currency at changing exchange rates) is perhaps not very reflective of the actual expenditure on resources and manpower.

The US still spend a whopping 4.4% of their already massive GDP, though - the same proportion as Russia and second only to Saudi Arabia. Although I don’t know (and suspect not) if military aid to the latter from the US is included.

Been reading about human rights budget analysis today, so topic is on my mind.

(Source: toffeemilkshake)

economics politics statistics
Comments (View) | 17 notes
Jan 31
Permalink
A narrow focus on technology is also inadequate, as it fails to explain some of the big shifts of the last decade like the explosion in rewards at the very top – 60% of the enormous increase in the slice of income flowing upwards to the richest 1% over the last decade went to those working in finance. To lay this at the door of the anonymous force called “technology” is to excuse way too much. Sure, developments in ICT were relevant, but they don’t explain political choices over deregulation or account for rapacious rent-seeking by the financial elite. Wage inequality has many authors, from the demise of collective bargaining to the rise of globalisation. As the influential Washington-based EPI thinktank has argued: don’t make robots the fall guy.

The robots are coming. Will they bring wealth or a divided society? | Technology | The Observer (via new-aesthetic)

Or as André Gorz happened to put it (in 1980 - bolding mine):

"Automation and computerisation have eliminated most skills and possibilities for initiative and are in the process of replacing what remains of the skilled labour force (whether blue or white collar) by a new type of unskilled worker. The age of the skilled workers, with their power in the factory and their anarcho-syndicalist projects, has now to be seen as but an interlude which taylorism, ‘scientific work organisation’, and, finally, computers and robots will have brought to a close.

More than anyone anticipated, capital has succeeded in reducing workers’ power in the productive process. It has been able to combine a gigantic increase in productive power with a destruction in workers’ autonomy. It has been able to entrust ever more complex and powerful mechanised processes to the care of workers with ever more limited capacities. It has succeeded to the extent that those who were once called upon to take command of the giant machinery of modern industry have been dominated by - and in - the work of domination which they were to accomplish. It has simultaneously increased the technical power and capacities of the proletariat as a whole and the impotence of proletarians themselves, whether as individuals, in teams or work groups.”

The Guardian/Observer piece is rather good, in that it touches on a lot of points in what is going to become (or rather, already is) a very important issue - including the concept I recently came across of ‘jobs polarization’ between the highly-skilled minority creating and controlling the money-making technology versus the low-skilled workforce used for necessary labour that can’t (or won’t) be automated. Initially I thought Groz was thus being too pessimistic or hyperbolic in talking about the replacement of all skilled labour - but maybe not in the long run, if you look at the part I’ve highlighted. I don’t really see why the creative/analytical powers of the human mind will forever be immune to automation (or more specifically, replacement by iterative, data-analytic processes that churn out quantifiably ‘optimal’ solutions) in which case the same dynamic will have been applied to the supposed ‘elite’ of the current information economy.

Given that the problem can be seen as essentially (a Marxist) one of control of the means of production, the supremacy of private capital, and so on, the ultimate solution has to be some kind of transformative change. But since - aside from the very transformation we are already concerned about - such transformation is blocked for a variety of (chiefly political) reasons the response turns more towards a reformist or ameliorative agenda - a sort of techno-Keynesianism. In reading Gorz however I’m more interested in what radical potential their might be for autonomy in the use of the internet which - despite the myriad influences of corporate power and neoliberal subjectivity - is perhaps still the best bet for a decentralised, individualised means of production. Either that, or a blinking cursor in front of a human face forever…

(via tomewing)

gorz socialism economics internet
Comments (View) | 97 notes