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The heyday of information capitalism

Capitalism and resentment
Forfatter: Joseph Vogl
Forlag: C.H. Beck (Tyskland)
INTERNET / In 2017, two-thirds of Americans received large portions of their daily news dose via social media. The coincidence of financial capitalism and information technologies creates, according to Joseph Vogl, "resentment-driven echo chambers."


If it costs nothing, it is you who uses it, which is the item. This is how the implicit business model of Facebook and other social media could be formulated. In his new book Capitalism and resentment The German philosopher and literary critic Joseph Vogl paints a disturbing picture of our time: The coincidence of information technology and financial capitalism penetrates precariously into the most intimate spheres of human beings and produces far-reaching social, economic and political realities.

The seed of the mammoth rise of today's technology giants such as Google, Facebook and co. sees Vogl in the coincidence between financial capital and information technology from the 1970s onwards. Since its inception, the financial sector has depended on media infrastructures. Whether it was mail riders, telegraphy or later the internet: Having market-relevant information earlier than others gives a competitive advantage. But it was only after the opening of the American electronic stock market NASDAQ in 1971 that development accelerated and gradually enabled electronic trading systems for both direct transmission of market information and real-time transactions of shares, options and securities.


In the book, Vogl examines the epistemic status of "information" in modern times finance capitalism left at the seams: After Nixon's detachment of the dollar from the gold standard in 1971, the gold standard has given way in favor of an "information standard" as the basis of the financial world. Knowledge of material values ​​or actual events that are decisive for the market's value and price development is no longer certain. Whether or not rumors are true, or events actually took place, is irrelevant to their status as information. The expectation or assumption of a fact has as great a ripple effect on the market as the fact itself.

The Nobel Prize-winning mathematician Black Scholes-model from the middle of the 1970s made further provision for stochastically based algorithmsr that strives to calculate the market's price development. The financial and economic reality is transformed into an almost frictionless, self-referential universe that translates information into prices and prices into information. Today's financial market is a hyper-nervous, hallucinatory and apparently algorithmically calculable system, which through expectations of possible outcomes creates the reality that is expected – a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Already the economist John Maynard Keynes compared the financial market's choreography to beauty pageants, where the premonition of who the others are going to vote for affects one's own vote.

User information such as goods and capital

Both the financial industry's "informationalisation" and the information economy's "financialisation" have been the prerequisite for the implementation of business models that Vogl calls "platform economy". By this is meant internet and start-up companies such as Airbnb or eBay, search engines such as Google or social media such as Facebook, which do not themselves have to carry out laborious production and distribution of goods in the classic sense, but rather act as intermediaries by making a platform available to both users and transactions. In this way, road trips can be offered without owning a car, accommodation without owning an apartment, and so on.

Central to platform economic business models, and especially for search engines such as Google or social networks such as Facebook, is that it is the users' information and the data they generate, which constitute their actual "goods". The users' information traces and online behavior are filtered and analyzed, so that through algorithms it is possible to derive patterns and probabilities that allow precise and almost microscopic targeting and user-tailored advertising.

The platform companies' monopoly formation – Facebook and co. buys almost one company a week – has not only given them huge profits, but also a market power that evades government control and regulation. Information capitalism contains libertarianism's monopoly fantasies: According to Vogl, its ideological dream is that a handful of monopolists can now "finally" stand for a creative capitalism that constitutes a progressive social force. But reality certainly points in a different direction.

Action paralysis

For Vogl, it is anti-democratic technologythe giants not only their enormous economic power, but also their individually customized algorithm-driven filtering of information and news: In 2017 alone, two-thirds of Americans received a large part of their daily dose of news via Social Media. In this way, users are separated into echo chambers where already existing opinions are reinforced – in the worst case all the way to anti-democratic attitudes or radicalisation. Informational and financial economic judgment algorithms reinforce certain opinion markets – of non-knowledge, phantasms and irrationalities. Excitement and rage generate clicks and constitute a central driving force in the link between emotions and economic market processes.

This is how the figure Vogl calls for grows the ressentimental subject, forward. Potential political responses and active actions in the face of systemic injustices have been replaced by paralysis of action and a cult of powerlessness. In the word ressentiment precisely stands for "re" for a blocked king-action that has solidified into a chronic state of offense. This affective resentment-the structure has a penchant for projecting the responsibility for systemic deficiencies, errors and perceived injustice onto scapegoats who are then assigned blame in the form of almost concrete proxies: One's own disadvantages are put in direct causal relation with others' apparent advantages. Rather than a more thorough investigation of causes, a reflexive attribution of blame is carried out.

For Vogl, the emergence of the ressentimental structures is conditioned by the liberal market's promises of general participation in profits, benefits and gratuities. The reality of ever-increasing economic and social inequalities in the face of unfulfilled equality demands further reinforces the development. The platform economy's algorithmic assessment and evaluation logics give rise to an urge to constantly compare, judge, evaluate and relate other people's gains against one's own losses and apparently unjustified shortcomings. The paralysis of resentment which is characterized by political impotence and being excluded from the general public and the community. At the same time, precisely this competition-driven ressentiment, according to Vogl, is a central driving force in it platform economyand the market capitalist system: The more ressentiment takes hold and segments society in closed echo chambers, the more a solidarity that could have generated resistance and incentives for social and systemic change dissolves.

Luke Lehner
Lukas Lehner
Freelance writer.

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