Mike Nelson: Cognitive Surplus Killing Monopoly Capital

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Mike Nelson
Mike Nelson

If you care about technology, the future, and economics, you'll find LOTS of interesting links here.

The tech debate blasts off (a linkfest)

It took almost a year for me to be taken seriously on the “technology is undermining capital” front,  so it was extremely exciting to see the debate blast off in serious economic circles during the last quarter of 2012.

I thought it might be useful, as a result, to provide some links to the most recent developments — since the debate really is moving quickly now.

But before doing so I would like to stress that I appreciate that the debate itself is not new. Ricardo, the Luddites, Keynes, Marx and many more have all considered the impact of technology on labour and capital.

But, as I’ve written previously, it’s almost as if the entire economic and financial community decided to collectively forget about how tech influences capital following the dotcom crash. Like the bubble and bust proved once and for all that the “new economy” theory was flawed, and that bringing it up again could turn out to be embarrassing — thus better left ignored.

One of the criticisms I face all the time, meanwhile, is that all this tech innovation has been going on for centuries. Why should there be a crisis of capital now? What makes this time any different? And what makes my sudden focus on tech relevant?

For starters, what I feel is new is the idea that the financial crisis was born out of the tech crash. If not for the dotcom bubble, we would not have had the conditions to create the subprime crisis. The China outsourcing phenomenon and imbalance situation may also have been born out of a need to replace mechanised labour — which compromised capital — with human labour, which still ensured profit and the preservation of capital. It was in a sense, an artificial scarcity response… designed to spread spending power to secure return on capital, rather than extinguish it.

I wrote a “Man in the high castle” type piece on FT Alphaville earlier this year, imagining what might have happened had the West not outsourced labour as extensively back in the 1990s. The conclusion was that the West may have been Japan-ified much earlier on.

But what really makes this time different, I would argue, is that a lot of the competition is now coming from a) the voluntary and crowd sourcing/open source arena and b) it’s only artificial scarcities (patents, monopoly interests) which are preventing complete democratisation of technologically-fueled abundance across the world. It is thus because monopoly power is slipping, challenged as it is by free alternatives rather than cheaper ones… that the crisis is beginning to manifest.

In a nutshell there is too much leisure time being devoted to productivity. We are too productive at ever cheaper (or free) rates, and as a consequence the pool of salaried jobs (those which must offer a good salary to attract specific skills) is diminishing quickly.

The system provides a comfortable level of life very easily indeed.

That, at least, is my entirely non-substantiated theory.

Anyway.. enough drifting. Here are the links as promised:

See all Links

Phi Beta Iota:  Emphasis added.  What is really fascinating about this is its direct correlation with Mayan leisure, where an adult male could support a family comfortably by working only 60 days a year.  Scarcity is artificial and unethical.  The times, they are a' changing.

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