A different cluetrain
By Charlie Stross
Right now, I'm chewing over the final edits on a rather political book. And I think, as it's a near future setting, I should jot down some axioms about politics ...
1. We're living in an era of increasing automation. And it's trivially clear that the adoption of automation privileges capital over labour (because capital can be substituted for labour, and the profit from its deployment thereby accrues to capital rather than being shared evenly across society).
2. A side-effect of the rise of capital is the financialization of everything—capital flows towards profit centres and if there aren't enough of them profits accrue to whoever can invent some more (even if the products or the items they're guaranteed against are essentially imaginary: futures, derivatives, CDOs, student loans).
3. Since the collapse of the USSR and the rise of post-Tiananmen China it has become glaringly obvious that capitalism does not require democracy. Or even benefit from it. Capitalism as a system may well work best in the absence of democracy.
4. The iron law of bureaucracy states that for all organizations, most of their activity will be devoted to the perpetuation of the organization, not to the pursuit of its ostensible objective. (This emerges organically from the needs of the organization's employees.)
5. Governments are organizations.
6. We observe the increasing militarization of police forces and the priviliging of intelligence agencies all around the world. And in the media, a permanent drumbeat of fear, doubt and paranoia directed at "terrorists" (a paper tiger threat that kills fewer than 0.1% of the number who die in road traffic accidents).
7. Money can buy you cooperation from people in government, even when it's not supposed to.
8. The internet disintermediates supply chains.
9. Political legitimacy in a democracy is a finite resource, so supplies are constrained.
10. The purpose of democracy is to provide a formal mechanism for transfer of power without violence, when the faction in power has lost legitimacy.
11. Our mechanisms for democratic power transfer date to the 18th century. They are inherently slower to respond to change than the internet and our contemporary news media.
12. A side-effect of (7) is the financialization of government services (2).
13. Security services are obeying the iron law of bureaucracy (4) when they metastasize, citing terrorism (6) as a justification for their expansion.
14. The expansion of the security state is seen as desirable by the government not because of the terrorist threat (which is largely manufactured) but because of (11): the legitimacy of government (9) is becoming increasingly hard to assert in the context of (2), (12) is broadly unpopular with the electorate, but (3) means that the interests of the public (labour) are ignored by states increasingly dominated by capital (because of (1)) unless there's a threat of civil disorder. So states are tooling up for large-scale civil unrest.
15. The term "failed state" carries a freight of implicit baggage: failed at what, exactly? The unspoken implication is, "failed to conform to the requirements of global capital" (not democracy—see (3)) by failing to adequately facilitate (2).
16. I submit that a real failed state is one that does not serve the best interests of its citizens (insofar as those best interests do not lead to direct conflict with other states).
17. In future, inter-state pressure may be brought to bear on states that fail to meet the criteria in (15) even when they are not failed states by the standard of point (16). See also: Greece.
18. As human beings, our role in this picture is as units of Labour (unless we're eye-wateringly rich, and thereby rare).
19. So, going by (17) and (18), we're on the receiving end of a war fought for control of our societies by opposing forces that are increasingly more powerful than we are.
Have a nice century!
a) Student loans are loans against an imaginary product—something that may or may not exist inside someone's head and which may or may not enable them to accumulate more capital if they are able to use it in the expected manner and it remains useful for a 20-30 year period. I have a CS degree from 1990. It's about as much use as an aerospace engineering degree from 1927 ...
b) Some folks (especially Americans) seem to think that their AR-15s are a guarantor that they can resist tyranny. But guns are an 18th century response to 18th century threats to democracy. Capital doesn't need to point a gun at you to remove your democratic rights: it just needs more cameras, more cops, and a legal system that is fair and just and bankrupts you if you are ever charged with public disorder and don't plead guilty.
c) (sethg reminded me of this): A very important piece of the puzzle is that while capital can move freely between the developed and underdeveloped world, labour cannot. So capital migrates to seek the cheapest labour, thereby reaping greater profits. Remember this next time you hear someone complaining about "immigrants coming here and taking our jobs". Or go google for "investors visa" if you can cope with a sudden attack of rage.
Posted by Charlie Stross (on his blog) at 12:06 on February 25, 2015 | Comments (967)