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(Felix Salmon - The Bitcoin Bubble)

Such people, including Satoshi Nakamoto, are far from unique in their mistrust of all existing financial institutions. What sets Nakamoto apart is that he turned that mistrust into a philosophy, the most important driving force behind the bitcoin project. When he introduced bitcoin to the world in February 2009, Nakamoto boasted that his new currency was "completely decentralized, with no trusted parties". And he explained in some detail what he saw as the problem in need of a solution:

The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that's required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust. Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve. We have to trust them with our privacy, trust them not to let identity thieves drain our accounts.

There are all kinds of amusing ways in which you can poke fun at Bitcoin and the subculture that has grown up around it. But, taken seriously, this is yet another big bet by the privileged techno-libertarian class that those of us who believe in society and a commonwealth and democracy and all that rot are the dumb money in the room. 

You don't fix problems of trust by eliminating trust from the equation. You fix them socially, democratically, empathically. The answer to a failure of trust isn't further atomization (neatly disguised as techno-utopian transcendence). It's justice.

(Which, easier said than done, yeah. People mistrust our institutions because our institutions are profoundly broken. And there has been precious little justice or reckoning with the events of the past decade and more. But the answer sure as hell isn't to run away and hide in the Singularity. Social problems have social solutions. Broken institutions have to be mended, and absent justice has to be created. Put your shoulder to the wheel. Start doing what the online community used to do best: inventing new systems of trust and new ways to connect.)

Do you really think money and time as support for art are finite resources? That seems so sad and defeatist to me, but it definitely explains why you didn't like Amanda Palmer's TED talk.


Are there not limited hours in a day, a month, a year, a life? Do most people not have to budget their money? And their time? Can you consume every piece of art available to you right now? Is a horse the new frisbee???

Seriously though. Of course all these resources are limited. To think otherwise is to live in a dreamland of privilege that will inevitably be punctured by a rude awakening. (Perhaps it will come when you have to attract an audience of your own to something that you put your whole soul into, in which case I'm sorry.)

Seriously, this is like the defining problem of my cultural experience over the past 5 years or so. How can anyone trying to keep up with culture possibly deny resource and attention scarcity? There are just so many options in so many mediums, both to experience/discover and to support with my (extremely limited) time and money. I don't know how many Kickstarters by friends and/or artists who I respect I have failed to back over the past few years, but it's a lot. And that's not even getting to any of the almost infinite amount of worthy stuff out there that I don't happen to already have a personal connection to.  

Which, I'm basically just not making personal connections to much new stuff anymore, because I'm completely overwhelmed by choice and perpetually months to years behind on checking out new records, games, movies, tv shows, books, etc. I effectively can't participate much in the broader cultural conversation anymore, because I don't have enough money, time, and mental bandwidth to keep up with the unrelenting stream of the new. Attention is the coin of the realm, and deflation has set in big time.

Is this a generational turnover thing? Are people who grew up with this unprecedented access to cultural superabundance just so used to it that they don't think about what they might be missing? Or, for us fogies, is it that once you get into your 30's, you begin to realize that your time is limited and precious and you can't do everything? I've realized that, but I don't think I've exactly accepted it.

In convenient graph form:

Amazon Books by Decade

Because of the strange distortions of copyright protection, there are twice as many newly published books available on Amazon from 1850 as there are from 1950 (via The Missing 20th Century: How Copyright Protection Makes Books Vanish)

This kind of thing is what infuriates me the most about capitalism. They aren't even following their own rules! You should want to sell more books and create more value, right? Right? But somehow hoarding IP and rent-seeking is seen as the better path to take. I just don't get it.

See also: ebook lending and libraries.

Library as Common Place

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Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay. In the modern state there are very few sites where this is possible. The only others that come readily to my mind require belief in an omnipotent creator as a condition for membership. It would seem the most obvious thing in the world to say that the reason why the market is not an efficient solution to libraries is because the market has no use for a library. But it seems we need, right now, to keep re-stating the obvious. There aren't many institutions left that fit so precisely Keynes' definition of things that no one else but the state is willing to take on. Nor can the experience of library life be recreated online. It's not just a matter of free books. A library is a different kind of social reality (of the three dimensional kind), which by its very existence teaches a system of values beyond the fiscal.

Zadie Smith, in the New York Review of Books.

I wish the library profession would get this and stop thinking of itself in terms of Neoliberal categories and measures. Every time I heard references to customers or ROI in my classes, I wanted to spit. I know, I know, survival strategies, but what's survival if it means destroying what's best and most vital about yourself? It's the same kind of folly as newspapers responding to their own crisis by degrading the quality of their core mission of newsgathering. And as their example shows, its not even a particularly good survival strategy in the medium to long term.

Tech-Driven Deprofessionalization

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What ultimately has made the criticism of the Chicago strike so odd and irritating is that the critics are so dismissive and arrogant about the chief sticking points in the negotiations, which aren't really about money. There's a seeming inability to understand why poorly designed evaluation systems, particularly those that are tied to test results, threaten the very best and most inspiring teachers as much as anyone. What they threaten is not the loss of job security, but the professional discretion and skill of good teachers. You can't be in favor of clumsy or cookie-cutter evaluations and still claim to be primarily concerned about the quality of teaching in public schools.

What might be happening here is less the rage of privileged elites against anyone they deem to be beneath them, and more the rage of upper middle-class professionals who have found their own lives increasingly hemmed in by forms of deprofessionalizing oversight and dumb operant-conditioning gimmickry sold to organizations by snake-oil consultancies.

The trick in the next decade is going to be: can we get the river to flow the other direction? Rather than give in to every person who insists that whatever outrages and inefficiencies of 21st Century Taylorism have been inflicted on them must be inflicted on everyone else, we should be trying to claw back generative, productive forms of dignity and autonomy to the working lives of every person.

Do Liberals and Elites Hate Teachers? | Easily Distracted

I took a super-interesting Information History class with Dan Schiller my last semester at GSLIS, and one of the main themes of the course was how IT allows capital and management to deprofessionalize and regiment work. This starts at least from the invention of the modern clock, and goes up through the early management techniques of the industrial revolution, to office technology like the typewriter and the adding machine which replaced a whole middling professional class of clerks with pooled labor. Then you get the full monty with Taylorism and all the dehumanizing results that followed from that, which was thankfully somewhat offset by the rise of organized labor by midcentury.

So, then modern computer IT comes along, which of course was initially clearly centralized and controlling (think mainframes and men in gray flannel suits.) But, since I didn't know my history or recognize my privilege I'd always thought of the emergence of the networked personal computer as different somehow, liberatory instead of controlling. And, of course, it can be, for those with the power to control it rather than be controlled. 

What we're seeing now is the rapid shrinking of the proportion of people and professions who have that power. It's happening to teachers, lawyers, writers (think of the methods of HuffPo and Nick Denton and the rise of pageviews as the measure of cultural worth if you don't think that cultural work can be regimented and automated) and lots of other previously autonomous professional occupations.

That call center worker whose every second and every move is monitored and timed and dictated? Well, that may be your future too, unless we fight tooth and nail for power over our working conditions. That's what teachers in Chicago are doing now. It's time for professional classes to realize that they have a lot more in common with those below them on the economic ladder than with the people running things. We're in a place now where solidarity isn't just sentiment, it's survival.

This fascinating examination of Neoliberalism through the lens of the sanitization of European soccer supporter culture stirred up a lot of conflicts with me.

The piece is really long, and you should read it if you have any interest in European soccer or the cultural and economic state of things in France, but I'll sum it up for you for our purposes here. Basically, the deal here is that Paris Saint-Germain were a historically underperforming (both economically and results-wise) team in a huge market. Think, I dunno, the LA Clippers, but if they didn't have the excuse of the Lakers, since PSG are the only game in town for professional soccer in Paris.

So, they were underperforming, but had fervently loyal and organized working class supporter bases who kept them in business. But those supporter bases were problematic in a lot of ways, in that they were all-male, organized along racial lines, had issues with constant low-level violence inside the stadium, with occasional outbreaks outside the stadium and a few serious injuries and deaths, etc.

This is pretty standard stuff for supporter groups of soccer clubs in large European cities, but there are a lot of things about 20th-century style soccer supporter culture that give me hives. Part of it is that I'm an American, and just really can't grok intensely class-based organization and group identity like this. I may be a good social solidarity leftist, but this kind of thing sorta horrifies me in an Orwellian way:

The casuals and ultras of the earlier era had been able, in maintaining their anonymity, to suspend their individuality within the flow of the group, which became larger than the sum of its parts; in the concourses it was only in death that your personal, unique name was "spoken" by either being carved on a plaque or spraypainted on a wall. In Auteuil especially, individuality was intentionally sacrificed for the sake of the tifo, the show of spirit: to chant in unison, to hold the right card at the right time, to cover yourself with the giant banner stretching over the entire stand, to be a node forever preparing a response to stimulus from the capo.

Another part of it is that I'm a sheltered, effete upper-middle-class liberal who has never even been in a fight and just can't contemplate dealing with this sort of ugliness and danger in person. Finally, American sports, at least in the modern era, have been about individual, largely apolitical support from the start. I can't imagine dealing with organized violence, territoriality and chaos in the stands and on the streets, racist chants, an atmosphere overtly hostile to women and kids, and so on just to go to a Cubs game, or why anyone would want to.

Then again, I've certainly chafed a lot at the ever-increasing prices, and especially the ever-increasing security presence at American sporting events, a presence that often seems to be much more about enforcing the team's economic prerogatives (e.g., searching you to keep you from bringing in your own food) and even enforcing mass participation in officially sanctioned jingoistic exercises than about preventing violence.

Still, even if I deplore the methods used to suppress them (and those methods are a lot more harsh than the stuff that bugs me about American sporting events), I have a hard time mourning the loss or neutering of these racist / patriarchal / violent / etc. supporter cultures at first glance. I'm ok at the end of the day with using state and institutional violence to suppress organized racism and homophobia. I don't think we would have accomplished even what little we have on those fronts in America without the application or threat of organized violence by the state.

However, if you look into it a little more carefully, that's not quite what is going on here, which is why this piece is so interesting. That "enforcing of economic prerogatives" part is the key here. Basically, after tolerating this stuff for years and not really caring about it, PSG finally decided they wanted to spend big, attract an upper middle class crowd, and be the French Chelsea. They then used the excuse of a supporter who was killed in fighting between two fan groups (and a key tell here was that it was black-on-white violence, whereas the vast majority of the violence was historically going in the other direction) to clean house in a draconian way, and kick their working class support to the curb to make way for more well-heeled customers.

I've always had somewhat of a "give the devil his due" attitude about Neoliberalism on issues of tolerance and multiculturalism. I figure that the success of the women's rights and gay rights movements, among many other social advances over the past few decades, has a whole lot to do with the fact that multiculturalism and tolerance are good business, and that that fact probably guarantees more than anything that these changes will stick. If Neoliberalism and this round of globalization leave any good legacy to stand on, that will probably be it.

However, even this gets really problematic when you scratch the surface, and the case presented here shows exactly why. I always knew Neoliberals in power weren't supporting social liberalization out of the goodness of their hearts. But this lays bare the true cynicism at the bottom of their multiculturalism. They're using anti-racism and social liberalism as a way to divide people along class lines, and as a cudgel to force through their economic agenda. And they're not really even dealing with these race/gender/homophobia issues so much as dispersing them and pushing them out of sight of all the nice upper-middle-class people like me who can't quite bear to face them on a day-to-day basis. They're gentrifying the stadium, and clearing the field for officially sanctioned and more lucrative economic activity. They're also turning what was a contested public space into a fully private and relentlessly commercialized space.

But you only really see that if you stop to think about it, and you have to look past the undeniable local improvements. The experience at Parc de Princes for most everyone who isn't an Ultra was undeniably improved by these steps, and the de-organization of the violent and racist elements of the supporter groups is probably a social improvement, even if it does nothing to address the underlying social and cultural problems that such groups are a symptom of.

Similarly, the gentrification of the urban core of many American cities over the past couple of decades has certainly had many positive effects on them as places and spaces, and as someone who loves city life and is too much of a wuss to deal with the violence, chaos, and overt racism of the mid-century American city, I really have a hard time discounting those effects. 

But in the end, if you're going to be honest, you have to admit that both kinds of gentrification are mostly about pushing "problem" populations and behaviors to the margins and clearing safe spaces for privileged people to enjoy themselves and make money. You can still love and enjoy those spaces, but you can't in good conscience ignore their cost, and you especially can't take the easy way out by using them as a refuge and a cocoon from your complicity in socioeconomic problems, or an excuse to declare those problems as solved or on the mend.

These processes often aren't quite so overt in America, but we don't talk about any of these issues as overtly here to begin with, and class even less so than race. I've always had a problem with political correctness on these grounds. I think it works in much the same way as the processes described above. Just as PSG, the Premier League, and creative class gentrifiers have pushed aside the unsavory elements in their environments, so have we in our intellectual and cultural spheres. And again, there are undeniable local and atmospheric improvements as a result of this, but at the cost of class-based marginalization and stratification, based on the signifiers of the very injustices we claim to be fighting. We avoid immediate discomfort in this way, but more importantly and tragically, we avoid the hard and nasty generational work of grappling with the social and economic problems that underly that discomfort.

I don't have answers here. I'm just as complicit in this crap as anyone else. But it's important to notice once in awhile, and this made me notice, and make some important connections between my own pursuits and enjoyments, Neoliberalism, gentrification, and political correctness, all things that I'm deeply conflicted about and looking for answers to and ways forward from.

(link originally via dayan)

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