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  • Mark 4:50 pm on October 7, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , elites,   

    Medium as a forum for warring digital elites 

    I thought this was a really interesting observation by Jill Abramson on pg 145 of her Merchants of Truth. What other forums are there?

    The Times ran a definitive investigation of the punishing work culture at Amazon, 23 with grizzly anecdotes about employees crying at their desks and burning out because of the unrelenting pressure to fill orders and grow. Bezos attacked the story as anecdotal and unfair on the open website Medium. Baquet responded, defending the piece. Open digital platforms such as Medium now replaced the private conversations and postpublication confrontations that used to take place in editors’ offices. The court of public opinion was all that mattered, not private, ongoing relationships between companies and the journalists covering them.

     
  • Mark 4:13 pm on April 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: elites, ,   

    It’s The Political Economy, Stupid 

    My notes on Pacewicz, J. (2018) It’s The Political Economy, Stupid: ​A Polanyian Take On American Politics In The Longue Durée. Perspectives 40(2)

    This short piece is a valuable reminder that Trump’s capacity to endure countless scandals while retaining the support of his party wouldn’t have been possible without a degree of political polarisation in which “Republicans oppose Democrats across the board”. Far from political polarisation being a deviation from the norm, it is the breakdown of a degree of consensus in American politics which was itself exceptional:

    People say that partisan polarization has increased recently, which is true, but the short term perspective misses that we are regressing to levels of polarization reminiscent of the 19th and early 20th Century (McCarty, Poole and Rosenthal 2016). The 1930s to the late 1970s—roughly, the New Deal Period—was the real historical anomaly for politicians’ high rates of bipartisan policy commitments. Explanations that look primarily to voters put the cart before the horse. The polarization of politicians, which began in the 1980s, precedes the polarization of voters by two decades, and the latter has also not gone nearly as far. Contrary to conventional wisdom, a majority of Americans, 79% in 2014 according to Pew, hold some mix of Democratic and Republican views.

    The distinctive character of the 1930s to the 1970s can be seen in “grassroots political parties that were dominated by community economic and social elites”. Party politics was embedded within and constrained by community politics. The control of community elites over what was politically visible and what was regarded as politically significant mean that focus was directed towards their own economic interests at stake in locally based conflicts. It left people committed to parties, with participation intimately tied to the fabric of their daily life, but with little engagement with political issues beyond those encountered in their local community.

    The political economic transformations of the 1970s led to the deterioration of union membership but also to the decline of community elites whose local businesses increasingly struggled. They increasingly collaborated in pursuit of inward investment for their region and this left them decreasingly inclined to speak in partisan terms in the way their immediate predecessors would have. The result of both trends was that party politics was disembodied from community politics, creating the space for what followed. In different ways, both parties became vehicles for social movements in a way that wouldn’t have previously been feasible.

    The author makes a powerful case for the importance of historical and economic perspectives in making sense of contemporary political developments:

    To my eyes, political economic-perspectives are valuable primarily because they counter the presentist assumptions of liberal democratic narratives. The public is understandably hungry for research that promises to bridge the empathy gap, adjudicate whether Trump voters were driven by economic anxiety or racism, and otherwise reveal the true character of the politically dispossessed (to a limited extent, I’ve written some publicly-oriented stuff like this myself).

    Social scientists can and should feed the public’s anthropological curiosity in the politically dispossessed, but it’d be nice if we could also lead the discussion by providing historical context.

    Doing justice to these questions means looking beyond individual attitudes and instead offering narratives about  “institutions that either do or don’t increase people’s appreciation of social interdependence and engender meaningful representation”.

     
  • Mark 10:35 am on January 24, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , elites, ,   

    Who are the super-rich and what do they want? 

    My notes on Davies, W. (2017). Elites without hierarchies: Intermediaries,‘agency’and the super-rich. In Cities and the super-rich (pp. 19-38). Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

    Who are the super-rich, and what do they want? This is the question which a thought provoking paper by Will Davies begins with and it’s one which has preoccupied me in recent years. Our statistical understand of the super-rich has increased in recent years but this increased knowledge leaves a range of sociological questions which need to be addressed:

    What do they want to do with all that money, other than protect it, grow it and pass it on to their children? Do they want political power, and if so, of what kind and to what end? Or do they employ it culturally, to achieve their own modes of Bourdieusian distinction from the other 99.9%? (pg 2)

    For a Millsian approach to elites, the question is which political, cultural or military  institutions are they gravitating towards in pursuit of power? For the Marxist approach, it’s a question of shared interests, their collective consciousness of them and self-organisation in pursuit of them in relation to other classes, as well as the tools of exploitation leveraged in this process. Davies agrees with Mike Savage that these aren’t necessarily the right questions, summarising his argument that we need to take money seriously as money (rather than assume it is waiting to be converted into power, with the assumption elites are intrinsically political) and must adequately describe capital before we can theorise it (rather than apply pre-existing categories to incomplete or outdated descriptions of our object).

    What is this object? Is it a class? Is it a group? To what extent is it open or closed? To these challenges Davies adds another one: “the need to avoid wholesale methodological individualism, while recognising the deeply personal and individualised nature of the relationships and strategies that appear to structure the lives of the super-rich” (pg 3). Piketty’s contribution is to reorientate analysis way from the labour market and towards the family. But this is difficult because knowledge is partial and the super-rich is secretive. In order to addresses these challenges, Davies suggests we study intermediaries: agents working on behalf of the super-rich who represent their interests. By focusing on agency, in the sense of one party being contracted to represent the interests of another, it is possible to response to Savage’s challenges and move the study of the super rich forward.

    He draws on Simmel’s account of money as a teleological vacuum, a pure means which extends beyond every possible use to which it can be put, connecting this to the ambitions of the super-rich. Piketty’s insight about the increasing importance of unearned wealth in the economy, as well as Dorling’s recognition of the professional classes now being subsumed into the 99%, yield a sense of the super-rich as breaking away. As he puts it on pg 6, “To break free of the bounds of culture, politics or technological limits becomes a teleology in itself, the same anti-teleology that Simmel identified as the metaphysical nature of money”. This is tied to a phenomenology of valuing money as “a state of arbitrariness, where money can be experienced as perfect liquidity, without friction” and “extreme form of negative liberty that lacks all normative restraint and relationship only to the future” (pg 16).

    The problem of agency is key if we wish to avoid taking this analysis too far, with their insulation depending on the capacity of agents to represent the interests of the super-rich to the wider world. He summarises this as a theoretical approach on pg 8:

    In this spirit, I want to propose a theoretical device which may help to shape a sociological approach to the super-rich – principle-agent problems. In particular, I suggest that we can think of the relationship of the super-rich to domains of power, culture and production as a series of principle-agent problems, in which they seek a form of representation which absolves them of the need to become involved in matters of public concern or controversy.

    Principle-agent problems rest on the “paranoid methodological individualism” associated with game theory, with the primary challenge being to ensure the agent does not use their position to pursue their own private interests rather than those of the principle they are representing. Interestingly, this is the rationale for stock options for executives, theoretically encouraging them to act in pursuit of shareholder interest by making them a shareholder. But as Davies notes, the fact executive renumeration has risen more quickly than the stock market suggests it actually makes the agency problem worse.

    This ties to a broader ambiguity about their position, as “symptoms of the deep-lying ambiguity surrounding the corporate form generally, which is neither a piece of private property nor a political association, but flips from one to the other as it suits” (pg 9). Training as professionals has been one solution but managers lack the monopoly over a specific domain of knowledge typical of professionals and their connection to the public interest is tentative and contestable. Techniques such as edit and credit rating were introduced to address this ambiguity but this introduce their own problem of agency, at least if the rating agency is paid by the company it rates.

    This sociological reframing of the principle-agent problem “is a particular way of
    representing the interface of politics and economics” (pg 11). If I understand him correctly, economics is insulated from politics by outsourcing normative evaluation to agents; capital can float free of controversy because the evaluation, justification and debate takes place at a distance through the mediation of ratings agencies, auditors, central bankers and policy makers. It is a form of “moral under-writing – declaring that activities are transparent and trustworthy, sometimes when they are not” (pg 15). The same analysis can be applied to the growth of family offices whose purposes is to “save super-rich families from having to engage in public situations (getting a child into a school, handling tax, booking a restaurant table, managing property) which may involve any form of antagonism” (pg 11). Whereas professionals once anchored capital in the public sphere, now they facilitate its escape.

    He uses this to make the fascinating argument that the super-rich may benefit from further neoliberalisation, but it’s unclear how actively they are supporting it. Agency in this sense allows them to avoid becoming a class-for-itself, highlighting a micro-social disjuncture between the economic and the political which prevailing concepts of ‘neoliberalism’ are unable to capture. As a project it “required considerable solidarity and reflexive self-understanding on the part of capitalists and ideologues themselves, through think tanks, lobbying bodies, political parties, philanthropic networks” (pg 14). But if I understand correctly, its success has eroded the conditions which made the is possible while also making it less necessary than was once the case. In its place, we have increasingly complex webs of “non-hierarchical, non-exploitative dyadic contractual relations” (pg 15) which often overlap within super-rich networks in which intermediaries have become full members over the preceding decades. It follows from this that the problem is not wealth corrupting politics, as much as “how wealth is kept entirely separate from politics and public life, through strategic acts of delegation, where the delegate is also a delegator” (pg 15).

     
  • Mark 12:19 pm on November 26, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , elites, luxury goods, ,   

    Off shore capital and the great inflation 

    There’s a powerful extract in Oliver Bollough’s (superb) Moneyland talking about about the role offshore capital in inflating assets such as wine, art, cars, yachts and most of all real estate, with the latter then used to house these inflated assets. In the process it empowers a new class of fixers, helping manage this wealth at a distance and ensuring its sustained reproduction. From pg 220-221:

    In Miller’s analysis, luxury real estate has become in effect a new global currency, with very wealthy people using housing in the world’s premier league of cities as a store of wealth, with the great advantage that they can then use their apartments as storehouses for all their other expensive stuff: their Monets, their Modiglianis, that kind of thing. ‘I don’t want to stereotype and say they’re all flight capital, because they’re not, but the growth in their presence is flight capital. They’re preserving capital. They’re just getting it into something for an extended period of time because they want to preserve it.’ Some 30 per cent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments since 2008 have gone to foreign-based buyers, with the vast majority of them paying the full sum up front. It is a remarkable change, and one that accelerated in the early 1990s, when the collapse of communism created flight capital on a previously unknown scale –particularly in London.

    One of these enablers, an information of Bollough’s, opines later in the book about the consequences of this accumulation for the elites themselves. What does it do to you? It’s a good question and one which is crucial to making sense of what I’ve come to think of as defensive elites. From pg 231:

    Pichulik was funny and thoughtful about his curious career, and clearly concerned by the kind of inequality he has witnessed. That gave him sufficient insight to realise that spending his days looking at apartments worth $ 50, $ 60 or $ 70 million was doing strange things to his mind, and to wonder about the mind set of people who live their lives surrounded by that kind of luxury: ‘You wake up in an apartment like that when you pretty much command the city, and you have this sort of castle to yourself. What does that do to your life on a daily basis, just waking up with that feeling and seeing that?’

     
  • Mark 8:35 pm on May 8, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , elites, , policy, policy elites, , , , , , ,   

    Elections cannot be allowed to change economic policy 

    What does it mean for policy to be insulated from politics? That’s the question we ultimately confront when investigating the putative depoliticisation of the economy. Matters which should be publicly resolved, through organised processes of contestation, instead get decided privately. We can cite examples of such transitions, consider whether they embody a broader tendency and offer explanations which account for this direction of travel.

    However I’ve often wondered about the micro-social aspects of such a transition, specifically how policy makers make sense of this depoliticisation. Is it a naked power grab? Is it a response to the vagaries of the electorate? Is it an attempt to address issues of socio-economic change which are seen as being impossible to raise with the public?  Yanis Varoufakis offers a partial answer to these questions in his gripping accounts of Eurogroup negotiations in his political memoir Adults In The Rooms. From loc 4202

    As he spoke, Schäuble directed a piercing look at Sapin. ‘Elections cannot be allowed to change economic policy,’ he began. Greece had obligations that could not be reconsidered until the Greek programme had been completed, as per the agreements between my predecessors and the troika. The fact that the Greek programme could not be completed was apparently of no concern to him. What startled me more than Wolfgang Schäuble’s belief that elections are irrelevant was his total lack of compunction in admitting to this view. His reasoning was simple: if every time one of the nineteen member states changed government the Eurogroup was forced to go back to the drawing board, then its overall economic policies would be derailed. Of course he had a point: democracy had indeed died the moment the Eurogroup acquired the authority to dictate economic policy to member states without anything resembling federal democratic sovereignty.

     
  • Mark 2:53 pm on May 5, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , elites, , , , summers, , ,   

    The technocratic oath 

    In his political memoir, Adults In The Room, Yanis Varoufakis recounts a meeting with Larry Summer which took place in April 2015. Only months into his tenure as Finance Minister, he looked to this architect of the neoliberal world order for support as hostilities with European leaders over Greece’s fiscal future rapidly intensified. Coming straight from a meeting at the IMF in Washington, Varoufakis was met with an immediate warning from Summers that he had “made a big mistake”. This began a long conversation which ended with a fascinating warning. From loc 1050:

    Finally, after agreeing our next steps, and before the combined effects of fatigue and alcohol forced us to call it a night, Summers looked at me intensely and asked a question so well rehearsed that I suspected he had used it to test others before me. 

    ‘There are two kinds of politicians,’ he said: ‘insiders and outsiders. The outsiders prioritize their freedom to speak their version of the truth. The price of their freedom is that they are ignored by the insiders, who make the important decisions. The insiders, for their part, follow a sacrosanct rule: never turn against other insiders and never talk to outsiders about what insiders say or do. Their reward? Access to inside information and a chance, though no guarantee, of influencing powerful people and outcomes.’ With that Summers arrived at his question. ‘So, Yanis,’ he said, ‘which of the two are you?’

    When reading of this exchange in a review of the memoir, I immediately thought back to a story Elizabeth Warren had told about an encounter with Summers in a Washington curry restaurant early in her move from academia to politics. Upon purchasing Varoufakis’s book, I found that I wasn’t the only person to notice this parallel and be fascinated by it. As he recounts in an end note to the book:

    A few months after I had resigned the ministry, my good friend and academic colleague Tony Aspromourgos, upon hearing about my exchanges with Larry Summers, confirmed my suspicion when he sent me this quotation from Senator Elizabeth Warren, documented in 2014: 

    Late in the evening, Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice … He teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People –powerful people –listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule: they don’t criticize other insiders. I had been warned. John Cassidy (2014), ‘Elizabeth Warren’s Moment’, New York Review of Books, Vol. 61 (no. 9), 22/ 5–4/ 6/ 14, pp. 4–8.

    Could this be seen as the professional socialisation of technocratic elites? Does Summers engage in a particularly practiced and performative example of something which takes a cruder form elsewhere? Does he particularly focus on those like Varoufakis and Warren who have moved from the academy to politics? As he reflects on loc 156, the technocratic oath is something which transcends agreements of strategy and analysis:

    We spoke the same economic language, despite different political ideologies, and had no difficulty reaching a quick agreement on what our aims and tactics ought to be. Nevertheless, my answer had clearly bothered him, even if he did not show it. He would have got into his taxi a much happier man, I felt, had I demonstrated some interest in becoming an insider. As this book’s publication confirms, that was never likely to happen.

     
  • Mark 5:18 pm on December 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , elites, ,   

    Communism for the few 

    From Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, by Peter Frase, loc 1370-1383:

    Ironically, the life enjoyed within Elysium’s bubble appears not too different from the Communist scenario sketched out several chapters earlier. The difference, of course, is that it is communism for the few. And indeed, we can already see tendencies in this direction in our contemporary economy. As Charles Stross has noted, the very richest inhabit a world in which most goods are, in effect, free. That is, their wealth is so great relative to the cost of food, housing, travel, and other amenities that they rarely have to consider the cost of anything. Whatever they want, they can have. For the very rich, then, the world system already resembles the communism described earlier. The difference, of course, is that their postscarcity condition is made possible not just by machines but by the labor of the global working class. But an optimistic view of future developments—the future I have described as communism—is that we will eventually come to a state in which we are all, in some sense, the 1 percent. As William Gibson famously remarked, “the future is already here; it’s just unevenly distributed.” 1

    Add to this technologically induced mass unemployment and it becomes deeply sinister:

    The great danger posed by the automation of production, in the context of a world of hierarchy and scarce resources, is that it makes the great mass of people superfluous from the standpoint of the ruling elite. This is in contrast to capitalism, where the antagonism between capital and labor was characterized by both a clash of interests and a relationship of mutual dependence: the workers depend on capitalists as long as they don’t control the means of production themselves, while the capitalists need workers to run their factories and shops.

    This is the context within which what I’m terming ‘defensive elites’ emerge and Frase’s book gives some great examples of their contemporary behaviour, as well as speculating about where this could all lead.

     
  • Mark 3:53 pm on December 4, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , elites, guard labour, military robots, , , , ,   

    Digital Capitalism and Guard Labour 

    An interesting thread I’m following up from Four Futures: Life After Capitalism. This is Samuel Bowles and Arjun Jayadev on ‘guard labour‘:

    Another dubious first for America: We now employ as many private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or nearly double their number in 1980.

    And that’s just a small fraction of what we call “guard labor.” In addition to private security guards, that means police officers, members of the armed forces, prison and court officials, civilian employees of the military, and those producing weapons: a total of 5.2 million workers in 2011. That is a far larger number than we have of teachers at all levels.

    What is happening in America today is both unprecedented in our history, and virtually unique among Western democratic nations. The share of our labor force devoted to guard labor has risen fivefold since 1890 — a year when, in case you were wondering, the homicide rate was much higher than today.

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/15/one-nation-under-guard/?_r=0

    How widespread could this become in the event of mass technologically-induced unemployment? One of my favourite dystopian fictions, Lazarus, imagines a world in which great status accrues to a warrior-class of guards amongst a population of citizens, living besides a vast population of non-persons:

    unnamed

    I find this interesting because it suggests Guard Labour could (does?) serve a socio-cultural function, as well as a structural one. It inculcates a mentality of guarding ‘us’ against ‘them’, offering opportunities to achieve status within the social order to those who might otherwise struggle to do so. But how would this intersect with the practical reality of actually guarding the wealthy elites? After all, military robotics is advancing at a remarkable pace:

     
  • Mark 9:29 pm on December 3, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , elites,   

    The Climate Agenda of Elites 

    From Four Futures: Life After Capitalism, loc 234-246:

    the key question surrounding climate change is not whether climate change is occurring, but rather who will survive the change. Even in the worst-case scenarios, scientists are not arguing that the Earth will become totally uninhabitable. What will happen—and is happening—is that struggles over space and resources will intensify as habitats degrade. In this context—and particularly in concert with the technological trends discussed above—it may be possible for a small elite to continue to pollute the planet, protecting their own comfort while condemning most of the world’s population to misery. It is that agenda, not any serious engagement with climate science, that drives corporate titans in the direction of denialism.

     
  • Mark 12:12 pm on November 20, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , elites, mega cities, , , urban sociology   

    Towards a sociology of Pikettyville 

    From this fascinating paper by Roger Burrows, Richard Webber and Rowland Atkinson:

    To talk of ‘Pikettyville’ is then to conjure up an image of an urban system that has become hardwired to adopting, channelling and inviting excesses of social and economic capital in search of a space in which the rich not only find safe haven but are also privileged by the kind of property and income tax regimes and wider economic climate that allows them to thrive on their capital investments, while the wider city experiences some of the most challenging economic conditions since the early 20th century (Atkinson et al., 2016b).

     
  • Mark 9:47 am on September 2, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , elites,   

    The evacuation of the social by elites  

    From Rethinking Social Exclusion, by Simon Winlow and Steve Hall, pg 116:

    One of these is the apparent desire of the rich to retreat into private enclaves free from the malignancies of the real world. They want to encounter only those judged safe, subservient or ‘like them’ –and even then only in sufferance –and to restrict their social experience to appointed outlets or institutions that also offer safety from any encounter with the Real. This suggests a growing desire to evacuate the social to occupy a strange post-social and entirely artificial securitised world comprised of sanitised, protected and approved nodes and arteries that cut lines of travel and repose across what was once social space. The movement of the relatively rich from office to gated community, from gated community to private school, from school to retail space, from retail space to country club, from country club to airport, and so on, indicates quite starkly the ‘problem of the social’ in the present.

    What I’m keen to explore under the banner of ‘defensive elites’ is the long term cultural consequences of his evacuation for the elites themselves. What about for the children and grandchildren who are raised under these conditions?

     
  • Mark 12:35 pm on June 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , elites, , , ,   

    The Janus-faced ideology of philanthropic elites 

    A fascinating observation in No Such Thing as a Free Gift, by Linsey McGoey, loc 785. I wonder if the digital elites who interest me see their wealth in similar terms?

    It was a Janus-faced ideology; one side of Carnegie was extraordinarily generous, expending time and vast financial sums on goals such as military disarmament and racial equality. On the other side, he adopted ever more draconian policies towards his workers the more convinced he became that his wealth would ultimately benefit the larger community.

     
  • Mark 2:41 pm on June 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , elites, giving, , , private foundations   

    The growth of elite philanthropy  

    I had no idea how rapidly this was growing. From No Such Thing as a Free Gift, by Linsey McGoey, loc 282:

    Nearly half of the 85,000 private foundations in the United States alone were created in the past fifteen years. About 5,000 more philanthropic foundations are set up each year.

    There are questions that can be raise empirically about whether this represents an overall growth in charitable giving. But the evidence of elite philanthropy seems unsalableAs she observes on loc 302:

    The surge in global philanthropy is rooted in growing wealth concentration, something that has enriched the ability to give away eye-popping sums.

     
  • Mark 2:08 pm on June 25, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , elites, jeffrey sachs, ,   

    Who are the world’s 950 billionaires? 

    From Common Wealth, by Jeffrey Sachs, pg 327-328. Quoted in Jefffey Sachs, by Japhey Wilson, loc 1457:

    There are now around 950 billionaires in the world, with an estimated combined wealth of $3.5 trillion. That’s an amazing $900 billion in just one year. Even after all the yachts, mansions, and luxury living that money can buy have been funded many times over, these billionaires will still have nearly $3.5 trillion to change the world … All in all, it’s not a bad job for men and women who have already transcended the daily economic struggle faced by the rest of humanity!113

    Who are the world’s 950 billionaires? How do they see the world and their place within it? How do they conceive of their own interests? How are they raising their children and how might this in turn shape their children’s answers to these questions?

     
  • Mark 7:06 am on June 17, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , elites, interships, ,   

    Interned Professionals and Defensive Elites 

    An interesting point in Intern Nation, by Ross Perlin, reflecting on the long term consequences of the institutionalised internship system for the constitution of the professions. From loc 3035-3051:

    Besides, it’s probably too early to gauge the deepest effects—the internship explosion has only gone fully mainstream, integrated into every white-collar field, since around the turn of the millennium. If current trends hold, today’s interns will dominate critical professions and hold positions of substantial power in a few decades, even more so than today; today’s non-interns will remain trapped in the basement of American life. By the time a proper accounting is possible, the damage to our meritocratic ideals will have been done.

    But the internship system is also something over which defensive elites exercise their outsize influence. From loc 3133

    “We have this advisory board, very high wealth individuals, heads of hedge funds and whatnot,” says “Tom,” describing a well-known poverty alleviation nonprofit founded by a Nobel Prize winner. “They send their nephew in and so we have no choice but to take him.” One summer, he adds, an individual office had six full-time staff, five graduate student interns, and four to five “nephews or nieces of important people” interns. “It happens to us all the time,” says Tom. “Who are these kids? They’re totally ineffective, they take up space, I have to redo their work products—but at the same time, you have to smile and say, ‘Great, thank you so much.’ It’s like babysitting, we have to keep them happy. I get frustrated—I just want somebody who does their job.”

     
  • Mark 6:58 pm on May 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , elites, , ,   

    The myth of user generated content 

    From Digital Methods, by Richard Rogers, loc 769:

    research has found that there is only a tiny ratio of editors to users in Web 2.0 platforms, including Wikipedia, illustrating what is known as the myth of user-generated content. Wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales has often remarked that the dedicated community is indeed relatively small, at just over 500 members. Thus the small cadre of Wikipedia editors could be considered a new elite; one research exercise thus consists in relativizing the alleged differences between amateurs and experts, such as through a study of the demographics of Wikipedians.

     
    • lenandlar 12:35 am on May 15, 2016 Permalink

      I saw a Stat somewhere the other day that all of Wikipedia’s content is contributed by 0.7% of its users. So much for user generated content

    • Mark 10:35 am on May 15, 2016 Permalink

      indeed!

  • Mark 8:04 pm on April 11, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , elites,   

    Is there a point of no return with entrenched elites? 

    I realise this is a question I’ve been trying to articulate for ages. This is how Paul Mason articulates it in the Guardian (my emphasis):

    To the mature democracies of the world, the Panama Papers – as with the Lux Leaks, Swiss Leaks and numerous other data dumps before them – are a warning. If wealth equals power, then the doubling of ratio of wealth to income in the advanced economies since the 70s (see Piketty and Zucman 2014) could tilt power so far in the direction of a new hereditary elite that there is no return.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/11/smash-uk-mafia-elite-treat-offshore-wealth-terrorist-finance-perugia?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

    Is this possible? What would it mean? Is this a point of no return for a social formation? For a civilisation?

     
  • Mark 10:44 am on April 11, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , elites,   

    Pity those ‘trapped by their wealth’ 

    I wonder how widespread this sentiment is? Obviously there are particular aspects of the Cameron case that this analysis applies to, but it’s hard not to suspect that it reveals a broader world view in which wealth is seen as a constraint due to residual class antagonism:

    You often hear of people being “trapped in poverty”, but it is also possible to be trapped in wealth. This is David Cameron’s fate. He is not a financially greedy man, or stinking rich, but he comes from a background in which hereditary wealth is the norm; his wife Samantha even more so. He does not think such wealth is wrong – if he did, he would have an easy remedy: get rid of it – but he finds it embarrassing. He also knows that it can make him politically vulnerable.

    Once he began, years ago, to play along with the essentially Left-wing idea that private money is suspect and that tax-planning and legal avoidance are immoral, he was trapped. Now everything he has done in this area is made to look dodgy. Yet it is little different from saving in a tax-free ISA or even buying duty-free drink.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/04/10/david-camerons-fate-is-to-be-caught-in-the-wealth-trap/

     
  • Mark 8:05 am on April 11, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , elites, exit, ,   

    The capacity of elites to combine voice and exit 

    A really interesting idea offered by Aditya Chakrabortty in yesterday’s Guardian:

    To flesh out the corrosion of democracy that is happening, you need to go to a Berlin-born economist called Albert Hirschman, a giant in modern economic thinking. Hirschman died in 2012 at the age of 97, but it’s his concepts that really set in context what’s so disturbing about the Panama Papers.

    Hirschman argued that citizens could protest against a system in one of two ways: voice or exit. Fed up with your local school? Then you can exercise your voice and take it up with the headteacher. Alternatively, you can exit and take your child to a private school.

    In Britain and in America, the super-rich have broken Hirschman’s law – they are at one and the same time exercising economic exit and political voice. They can have their tax-free cake and eat it.

    http://www.theguardian.com/news/commentisfree/2016/apr/10/money-offshore-corrupt-democracy-political-influence

     
  • Mark 9:25 am on April 10, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , , elites, john jay, , , wealth creators   

    ‘The people who own the country should rule it’ 

    To what extent can we see this same idea expressed today, through the discourse of ‘wealth creators’? What action does it license in the minds of those who hold it? What action might it license?  

     
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