Tentacles of Automaticity

Modernity’s fascination with the depolitical continues to be seen even in the heady times of populist groundswells, secessionist movements and economic and climatic change which potentially necessitate new ways of thinking about wider economies and polities. Many dominant and even nascent ideologies implicitly rely upon this drive toward depoliticisation, separating public spheres, counter-publics and the everyday political from the wider governmentality of the macro-environment. In effect, the issue of governance as a multiplicity of issues is skirted by placing institutions and mechanisms into situations of automaticity. The surrounding environment of markets and regulatory agencies are ruled by this automaticity, with their innate laws dictating the movement of resources and assuming an implicit equality of power. This understanding then colours how things are to be seen, with politics as a critique of existing power and an arena for the debate and creation of alternatives sidelined in favour of a kind of expertise and independent knowledge that remains unquestionable except to those ‘in the know’. However this in itself is a political concept. Expertise as knowledge and the structuration of markets and regulatory laws as scientific and ethereal suggest a politics of resources and power that removes agency from the public sphere toward precast institutions that internalise governance.

This depolitical turn can best be described in the modern context as neoliberalisation i.e. governance at a distance[1] that institutionalises the automatic functions of markets and their regulatory mechanisms. A market thus exists with a set of institutional and constitutional guarantees which maintain its laws and automatic rendering. This ordoliberal conception brings governance as critique to heel, rendering government as an automatic system for maintaining property rights and providing an environment for markets in the first place. Thus we see the provision of infrastructure as in the case of US railway construction which guaranteed new economies of scale through the subsidisation of rail construction and the provision of monopolised land to rail companies. The decentralised provision of infrastructure that followed agricultural lines in the eotechnic phase of industrial production meant small networks of roads, lines and canals intersecting at various points, with a minimal number of trunk lines/connective junctions to intercede these various interstitial infrastructural networks. With the move toward larger rail construction implemented via the US government at the national and state levels[2], a transition occurred whereby the eotechnic lines of production were destroyed by the development of subsidised heavy industrial production. In particular, the subsidised production of trunk railways raised surrounding land prices thereby forcing increases in production costs and higher barriers to entry for producers. Thus local production networks and agricultural economies were fully commodified[3], swallowed into an environment of enforced economies of scale that made larger production facilities and supply chains artificially competitive compared to the previous situation of eotechnic production lines.

Here we see the state as the guarantor of capital, facilitating the automaticity of markets and commodity production into environments where previously alternative arrangements existed and proliferated. The self-regulating market is produced, making it a contradiction in terms that is reliant on the subsidies to make it function originally. While the narrative of neoclassical economics suggests markets are always going toward equilibrium, much of this is assumed from variables that cannot possibly hold in the current context. Perfect information, full marketisation, assumptive/passive rationality and a lack of network effects are products of a dream world that has no basis in reality[4]. Thus the irony of the depolitical stance is that to construct its automatic functionality, there is the requirement to use political means (the coercion of the state and the use of its funds for initial infrastructure and the construction of legal/industrial systems for its maintenance) to develop the automaticity of markets in the first place. Tax havens are another example of this phenomena as tax in these cases is treated as the simple transfer of wealth from an entity to the state whose jurisdiction it finds itself within. It ignores the political questions of how tax should be collected, the purposes of its collection and the capacity for stakeholders and dispersed populaces to question and critique the innate reasons for taxation and what it funds. Tax havens, in this ironic position, provide a political situation whereby companies can shop for tax regimes (as Apple has done). The neoclassical view would suggest this is a simple case of incentives, yet recent leaks in the Panama and Paradise Papers show companies not only looking for particular tax regimes, but for particular political guarantees in relation to how taxation is legislated. And the argument against tax havens itself falls into this neoclassical trap, never questioning the reason why there is a huge disconnect between the wealthy and poor. The move from a welfare state view of citizens to consumers to citizens as detritus is never examined, as nor are the de-hierarchical forms of political life, where public spheres don’t exist between rich and poor. Rentierism and depoliticisation are treated as a given, with the importance placed simply upon recouping tax. Politics produces the circumstances (tax havens, economies of scale, infrastructure) and then governance becomes depolitical.

The argument of automatic function is generally nonsense. The political developments and engagements that have produced modern markets, and that have from there continually subsidised and provisioned on their behalf, have been foreclosed from critique. Further, barriers to entry and exit mean that people must accept these conditions and cannot search for alterity. Companies themselves demonstrate the ridiculousness of markets as automatic functionaries. Most companies invest heavily in branding and advertising services, clearly recognising that the forms of action that inform economic decision-making go well beyond a passive rationality that assumes consumers and businesses work with and buy from companies simply on who provides the best price. Emotive connections, non-market considerations and social relations all inform how products are branded and how market relations are developed. Everything from psephology and psychology to focus groups and surveys are used to understand customers and B2B relations. These are extra-market mechanisms that are themselves locked up in trade secrets, contractual agreements between employees and companies, and intellectual property, thus holding the full extent datafication hostage within the functioning of automatised legal/contractual system.

While Weber has described the market as a battlefield, the automaticity of markets and their governance that I’ve presented is double-sided. Its reliance upon political mechanisms means that there are political headways and particular means of alterity that can question the innateness of automaticity. This automaticity is already failing, both within markets and their institutions. Central banks cannot control capital flows and the directions of economic growth, instead following in their coattails through extremely low interest rates and QE rentierism. Regulatory agencies have effectively become a revolving door of industry specialists and lobbyists crowing for their larger share. Economies of scale have become so bloated that states continue to pump money and time into huge procurement deals, R&D investments, privatisations and bailouts just to cope with overproduction and myriad crises. While modern markets are the apotheosis of politico-economic centralisation and skewed power relations, markets themselves (as an historical set of continuities and social relations) can be part of wider social complexes of economic alternatives and public spheres.

Socio-economic complexes of variable activity, ranging from gift economies and bartering to more complex financial transactions and flows of capital. These are disassemblages of activity that exist in the Real, outside the ether of pure theory that posits conflict-free laws and seamless moves of supply and demand. A post-nihilistic positionality of “openness and flexibility in thought afforded by the rejection of all forms of dogma and doxic cognition (that) allow us to acquire and evolve new sense-abilities and skills for building from the ruins of our past failures and develop more adaptive ways to survive and generate joy”[5], moving beyond the automatic functioning of an “automatizing nihilist vortex”[6] of machinic capital affording an anti-autonomy. Such can be the wider conceptualisation of markets as an ecology of social practices and bottom-up regulatory methods and values that swirl in a pool of interchangeability and subsidiarity. The tentacles of automaticity have a stranglehold over modernity that is actually quite weak due to the everydayness of our socio-political existence. While these tentacles crush, they create cracks where a plethora of alternatives thrive and negotiate existence beneath an oily black surface of static reality. From new social movements and community wealth building to fintech entrepreneurship and algo-traders. From hackerspaces and alternative production networks to political entrepreneurs and new public spheres that are conceiving new definitions for taxation, wealth and community. The planning departments of modern businesses show the reliance not on fixed capital, but on the control of people and their flows and ideas. Without such control, itself a mirage of legalese and centralised contractual relations, these flows can be set free into the void. This surfeit presents a double-sided potentiality to move beyond a simple cog in an automaticity of modernity, intuiting new means of living and understanding that can assemble and disassemble in a matrix of definitions and subjectivities.

[1] Greta R. Krippner, The Making of US Monetary Policy: Central Bank Transparency and the Neoliberal Dilemma, 479

[2] Ibid, 480-481

[3] Michel Aglietta, A Theory of Capitalist Regulation, 75

[4] https://professorwerner.org/shifting-from-central-planning-to-a-decentralised-economy-do-we-need-central-banks/

[5] https://thelibertarianideal.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/the-opportunity-of-nihilism/

[6] http://www.ccru.net/swarm1/1_melt.htm

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2 thoughts on “Tentacles of Automaticity

  1. I think the problem is deeper than that, scholars like Illana Gershon and William Davies show a good understanding of the issue when they talk about neoliberalism.

    They have some good papers on academia.edu:

    https://www.academia.edu/28978751/Neoliberal_Agency

    https://goldsmiths.academia.edu/WillDavies

    https://www.academia.edu/29616892/Incredible_Neoliberalism

    https://www.academia.edu/1270264/The_Politics_of_Externalities_Neoliberalism_Rising_Powers_and_Property_Rights

    https://www.academia.edu/11078620/The_Return_of_Social_Government_From_socialist_calculation_to_social_analytics

    There’s also Werner Bonefeld:

    https://libcom.org/library/free-economy-strong-state-some-notes-state-werner-bonefeld

    https://libcom.org/library/permanance-primitive-accumulation-bonefeld

    Since you bring up “information”, I think you should understand that the use of the “information” in economics is mostly metaphorical and fictional:

    http://www.academia.edu/25865289/Information_in_Economics_A_Fictionalist_Account

    As for critique of mainstream bullshit about rationality you can’t do better than:

    Stephen A. Marglin’s “The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community”:

    https://www.amazon.com/Dismal-Science-Economist-Undermines-Community/dp/0674047222

    Kevin Carson seems to really like using this old paper by Marglin:

    https://scholar.harvard.edu/marglin/publications/what-do-bosses-do

    Like

    • If you think the problem is deeper why not explain how it is yourself instead of just throwing reading my way.

      Also you seem to assume that I take the economistic definition of information as the truth when I don’t and have never done so throughout my writings.

      Like

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