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Delete Your Account: On the Theory of Platform Capitalism
by Leif Weatherby / April 24, 2017

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Weatherby, L. (2017, April 24). Delete Your Account: On the Theory of Platform Capitalism. Los Angeles Review of Books. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/delete-your-account-on-the-theory-of-platform-capitalism

That situation resembles feudalism more than a bit, with the added freedom (read: risk) that individual drivers don’t even have the status of serfs. They are “free” to choose their lords, to whom they don’t even belong. The platform is an adventure in extreme forms of expropriation set against the backdrop of a slowing economy, what Marxist economist Robert Brenner calls “the long downturn” since the 1970s. [...] There’s still a centralized federal government, but its authority is attenuated by platform monopolists. The platform confuses capital-flow and social form, rearranging the relationship of profit to community (and therefore class), and of intelligence to organization. With the incumbency effect that massive data hoarding affords companies like the Four, we appear to be looking at something like a set of smart monopolies [...]

by Leif Weatherby 2 years, 6 months ago

That situation resembles feudalism more than a bit, with the added freedom (read: risk) that individual drivers don’t even have the status of serfs. They are “free” to choose their lords, to whom they don’t even belong. The platform is an adventure in extreme forms of expropriation set against the backdrop of a slowing economy, what Marxist economist Robert Brenner calls “the long downturn” since the 1970s. [...] There’s still a centralized federal government, but its authority is attenuated by platform monopolists. The platform confuses capital-flow and social form, rearranging the relationship of profit to community (and therefore class), and of intelligence to organization. With the incumbency effect that massive data hoarding affords companies like the Four, we appear to be looking at something like a set of smart monopolies [...]

by Leif Weatherby 2 years, 6 months ago

In their emphasis on the digital world’s medievalism, Foer and Galloway surprisingly join a chorus of Italian Marxists and cultural theorists who think the digital economy has brought a form of pre-modern economy back into capitalism. Rent has returned to a central role, as Carlo Vercellone argues. When growth levels off, ownership takes precedence over entrepreneurship. Rather than producing new value, the platforms simply coordinate virtual properties and charge for their use. But the properties are not in meatspace or cyberspace alone, which means the owners can set the rent at will. Think of Uber, which is only now beginning to try to create a more stable set of drivers (something like employees). Trying to keep drivers driving means negotiating with them, but the results are not encouraging. By denying their status as a firm with employees, Uber devolves the risk of enterprise onto their “contractors,” and then argues those contractors should be loyal to the platform’s internal, algorithmic assessment of its own success, since their ability to drive at all is based on Uber continuing to exist.

by Leif Weatherby 2 years, 6 months ago

In their emphasis on the digital world’s medievalism, Foer and Galloway surprisingly join a chorus of Italian Marxists and cultural theorists who think the digital economy has brought a form of pre-modern economy back into capitalism. Rent has returned to a central role, as Carlo Vercellone argues. When growth levels off, ownership takes precedence over entrepreneurship. Rather than producing new value, the platforms simply coordinate virtual properties and charge for their use. But the properties are not in meatspace or cyberspace alone, which means the owners can set the rent at will. Think of Uber, which is only now beginning to try to create a more stable set of drivers (something like employees). Trying to keep drivers driving means negotiating with them, but the results are not encouraging. By denying their status as a firm with employees, Uber devolves the risk of enterprise onto their “contractors,” and then argues those contractors should be loyal to the platform’s internal, algorithmic assessment of its own success, since their ability to drive at all is based on Uber continuing to exist.

by Leif Weatherby 2 years, 6 months ago

Are these platforms skimming rent off capital and labor? Or do they represent a fundamental shift in economics, a new Industrial Revolution? [...] Cognitive capitalism, to use Yann Moulier Boutang’s term, might be less about allowing creativity to organize the economic cycle than about siphoning value from socio-cultural activity as such. [...]

he cites Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee as subscribing to the second view

by Leif Weatherby 2 years, 6 months ago

Are these platforms skimming rent off capital and labor? Or do they represent a fundamental shift in economics, a new Industrial Revolution? [...] Cognitive capitalism, to use Yann Moulier Boutang’s term, might be less about allowing creativity to organize the economic cycle than about siphoning value from socio-cultural activity as such. [...]

he cites Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee as subscribing to the second view

by Leif Weatherby 2 years, 6 months ago