I'm suddenly hankering for some digital bread and circuses.
Yanis Varoufakis writing at Project Syndicate, October 19:
What Has Google Ever Done for Us?
In using Big Tech’s services, we manufacture a portion of its capital in real time. Property rights over that portion – for all of us, rather than for any of us – should be the basis of a universal basic income.
ATHENS – Even Google’s fiercest critics use its technologies to research their fiery tirades against it or, more mundanely, to find their way around a foreign city. Let’s be honest: life without Google would be awfully more tedious in a variety of important ways. But that is not a good reason to leave Google and the other tech giants alone. On the contrary, the nature and importance of their contribution make it imperative that they be placed under democratic control – and not just because of the well appreciated need to protect individual privacy.
In recent years, Big Tech companies have been subjected to scrutiny for perfecting a dark art pioneered by commercial newspapers, radio, and television: attracting and holding our attention, in order to sell access to our senses to paying advertisers. Whereas readers, listeners, and viewers were customers paying for some commodity, commercial electronic media learned how to profit by transacting directly with vendors while reducing us, and our data, to a passive commodity at the heart of the transaction.Google, Facebook, and others were able to take this odd production process, where our attention is the traded commodity, to a different level, thanks to their stupendous capacity to personalize our screens. Unlike their forebears, they can capture the attention of each one of us with person-specific (or even mood-specific) attractors, before selling to the highest bidder access both to our data and to our senses.Underlying the backlash against Big Tech has been the sense that we are all becoming proletarianized users. In the 1970s and 1980s, we were annoyed when commercial channels ambushed us with advertisements seconds before the end of a cliff-hanger movie or basketball match. Now, we can no longer even recognize the tricks used in real time to hold and sell our attention. Alienated from a market trading in us, we have become cogs in a production process that excludes us as anything but its product.regulating Big Tech to protect our data and restore “consumer sovereignty” is not enough. Against a background of automation and labor casualization, these firms’ monopoly profits boost inequality, fuel discontent, undermine aggregate demand for goods and services, and further destabilize capitalism.
Taxing robots, to fund humans, is as impossible as it is to define them. And while taxing Big Tech’s profits is essential, these firms’ skilled accountants and abundant opportunities to shift profits to different jurisdictions makes this difficult.Coming up next: Marx Zuckerberg's "Facebook Manifesto."
A simple solution exists, if we look beyond taxation. But it requires accepting that capital is no longer privately produced, as least not in the case of Google et al.When James Watt built one of his famed steam engines, it was his creation, his product. A buyer who put the engine to work in, say, a textile factory could think of his profit stream as a just reward for having taken the risk of purchasing the machine and for the innovation of coupling it to a spinning jenny or a mechanical loom.MORE