The Limits of Growth

“Whether we find ourselves amidst the vast terrain of the commercial internet; in our libraries, archives and museums; or between the parks, public housing facilities and utility infrastructures of our cities, thinking beyond growth as an end in itself requires attending to maintenance and care: who deserves it, who performs it, and to what end. This new world is one that we can choose to build deliberately and in incremental steps—at a Triennale or a brainstorm at a conference–or it could be forced upon us, necessitating triage and reactionary care. We should start planning for the former.”

—Shannon Mattern, “Minimal Maintenance.” Lapsus Lima. October 2, 2019.

Conversations on Political Economy

Capitalist: Capitalism provides for the most efficient allocation of resources, wealth creation and individual choice. It’s the best economic system we’ve got.

State Socialist: There are other values than efficiency, prosperity and choice. Capitalism tends toward oligarchy and monopoly. As industries concentrate and gain economies of scale, wealth creation is concentrated for the benefit of society’s elite, and non-elite individual choice declines, and over a long enough time period, with limited or no competition, resources are not allocated efficiently. State socialism solves these problems.

Capitalist: State socialism is inefficient. There are few incentives and options to create wealth, and it limits individual choice. State socialism tends toward dictatorships and state monopolies. When the state takes over an industry, it benefits elite government officials rather than society as a whole. Bureaucracy and corruption lead to a squandering of resources, and kills individual initiative.

Small Socialist: Small socialist enterprises — such as employee ownership, cooperatives, and collective ownership — solve both the problems of Capitalism and State Socialism at the cost of economies of scale. Decision-making is distributed across the industry or enterprise. Employees and/or customers are also owners and have incentives aligned with the business. What’s not to like?

Capitalist: Without economies of scale, small socialists remain small. Some industries cannot exist without economies of scale. In others, it is impossible to compete with capitalist or state enterprises without them. Small socialists will stay small, with all the poverty that entails. Capitalism solves this problem.

State Socialist: Small socialists also have the problem of capitalists, except it concentrates power into decision-makers hands. They, in-turn, have incentives to collude to extract benefits for themselves or for their industry at the expense of the enterprise or society as a whole. Good stewards and state ownership solves this problem.

[Continue, ad infinitum and adding in small capitalist, communist, anarchist, fascist, etc.]

Discussions of political economy are ultimately discussions of what you value and which system you believe is most likely to give it to you. See also: Revolution for One.

Capitalism vs. Price Gouging

Open Question: When does capitalism become price gouging?

Strikes me that price gouging is during acute events where people with means cannot buy what they want, i.e., the price mechanism breaks badly enough that it impacts society-at-large rather than a minority. But, so long as it’s impacts a minority or is an plausibly deniable externality, it’s merely capitalism as designed.

Against Hustle

“Even Thomas Merton — a mid-twentieth century activist monk who lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, and whom Odell holds up as a model of informed, participatory refusal — might have difficulty following the same path today. My mom lives a couple hours away from the Abbey of Gethsemani and when we went there a few months ago there were barely any monks left. Reading a flyer I realized that not only do you have to renounce all worldly belongings to join the Abbey, you can’t bring any debt with you. Charities can alleviate some of the burden, but even becoming a monk won’t necessarily help you escape student loans.”

—Rebecca McCarthy, “Against Hustle: Jenny Odell Is Taking Her Time at the End of the World.” Longreads.com. April 2019.

Walgreens Tests New Smart Coolers

“Walgreens is piloting a new line of “smart coolers”—fridges equipped with cameras that scan shoppers’ faces and make inferences on their age and gender. On January 14, the company announced its first trial at a store in Chicago in January, and plans to equip stores in New York and San Francisco with the tech.

Demographic information is key to retail shopping. Retailers want to know what people are buying, segmenting shoppers by gender, age, and income (to name a few characteristics) and then targeting them precisely.”

—Sidney Fussel, “Now Your Groceries See You, Too.” The Atlantic. January 25, 2019.

Another technology that sounds creepy, but will be everywhere in 10 years and no one will think twice about. It reminds me of the good old days when movie theaters started on time and didn’t show 20 minutes of ads first.

If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t Be Yours — ProPublica

“Through 2016, our analysis found that between the time older workers enter the study and when they leave paid employment, 56 percent are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily…When you add in those forced to leave their jobs for personal reasons such as poor health or family trouble, the share of Americans pushed out of regular work late in their careers rises to almost two-thirds.”

—Peter Gosselin. “If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t Be Yours.” ProPublica. December 28, 2018.

Empty Realm

Therefore, both the factory line and the movie theater are sites of discipline, and within each capital stamps our minds with the indelible mark of sameness. The relentless monotony of the latest sitcom, same as the old sitcom, is the monotony of the office (this identity realizes its apotheosis in video games, where after work players continue to “grind” their life away in what are ultimately glorified spreadsheets). To be entertained is to give consent. The superficiality of mass culture finds its reflection in the superficiality of social relations under the corporate gaze. “Honey, I’m home” is “welcome to Walmart.” This stultifying logic of uniformity, originating in the capitalist mode of production and ensuring its continuation, seeps into every facet of our lives. It hijacks the human drive towards mimesis, we become our own impostors. The alienated subject is reproduced, the NPC emerges.”

—Evan James. “Empty Realm.” Jacobite. October 2, 2018.

Interesting throughout.

Alone in the Jungle

“Capitalism will deplete you, while letting you think you have the means to improve your lot. Indeed, it will attempt to force its therapy on you… Anxiety, and especially depression, as the late social critic Mark Fisher noted, often have social causes, but we are led to believe that we suffer individually and must struggle alone. Fisher’s point is that we are prevented from even considering such conditions as social. The treatments on offer, the most common ways to discuss recovery—therapy and pharmaceuticals—are essentially solo journeys that patients undertake. Against this hyper-individualist vision of psychic healing, we do well to highlight Fisher’s core insight that the tools we are given skew how we understand the world and our place in it. Language, typically the most essential method by which we articulate our affective life, can be a most insidious means of our own oppression if co-opted by those who would exploit us.”

—Miya Tokumitsu. “Tell Me It’s Going to be OK.” The Baffler. No. 41. October 2018.

The law of the jungle appeals most to people that don’t live in the jungle.