Half Past Horizons of post-capitalism

Exploitation abstraction layer August 1, 2021

As I understand it, the billionaires and corporations who hold the most economic wealth more or less refuse to invest in new productive capacity, innovation and so on if it's risky or if it doesn't carry the promise of phenomenal returns.

The things that are generating strong returns right now are speculative bubbles, fuelled by "quantitive easing," otherwise known as interest-free (or nearly so) loans handed out to rich people through banks, who invest in bubbles as long as the value of those bubbles keeps growing.

When the bubbles stop inflating, the same billionaires and funds cash out and even bet against the bubbles, reaping additional returns as day traders, homeowners, employees and everyone else absorb the shock.

The traditional understanding of exploitation is the difference between the labour one does and the value of the goods or services one produces. Workers produce value, and then investors get a cut off the top by virtue of having supplied the capital (usually because they or their progenitors exploited other people in the past).

That understanding is very relevant, but is also complicated by a more abstract layer of exploitation. Capital (led by billionaires and asset management firms) seeks to commodify everything that has value and use it to generate profit. So you're exploited at work, but if you participate in making your neighbourhood a better place to live (e.g. by serving on the school board, planning a block party, engaging in mutual aid) investment capital is ready to swoop in and generate demand for housing in your neighbourhood while snapping up buildings and jacking rents and property values.

It gets very abstract. Fighting for public health care, the CERB, or other redistributive measures makes Canada a more stable investment environment, which attracts capital (which will of course undermine those efforts in the mid to long term). Putting energy into caring for children? That will be exploited as well.

The outcome of this abstraction layer, which I think a lot of people feel but can't quite name, creates cynicism and despair on a certain level.

Add more chaos to the mix is participation in the exploitation. Teachers are working class, and thus exploited, but their pension fund is a massive investor in various exploitative bubbles, including real estate and water privatization.

From people rising the quantitative easing bubble with investment apps like Wealth Simple or Robin Hood, to Bitcoin and the other cryptos, to pension funds and home ownership, lots of people who are exploited are also getting a little slice of the exploitation by riding the wave of billionaire-led speculation.

(The billionaires, of course, are actually using the data from WS and RH to track the "dumb money" -- their term -- and anticipate the market, making even bigger returns essentially risk free.)

So you have Uber drivers who are exploiting someone somewhere, albeit on a tiny scale. You have postal workers who are literally banned from striking owning homes (in some cases). And you have teachers buying cottages with money from water privatization in the south.

On top of that, there are millennials and gen z-ers who are exploited and deprived, but who may flip their economic identity completely when they inherit homes (if the billionaires and banks don't get their parents to do a reverse mortgage so they can go on cruises or whatever).

In my experience, all this creates a lot of confusion and cynicism. People want to do good and behave ethically, but so many options are off the table because there's no at-scale organization that would enable or even validate other ways to engage economically. As a result, some people – and here I refer to some other recent posts – pour their energies into (relatively) micro-ethical considerations; manners, basically.

In the face of all this, I think it's more important than ever to create member-based organizations that create collective momentum around economic alternatives (cooperatives, public ownership) that can carve out space against commodification and then multiply that space through political advocacy. (Hence why I'm involved in SEIZE and Courage.)

But the first step has to be understanding how we relate to these mechanisms individually and collectively at the level of lived experience, pulling apart the threads without getting tangled up in judgements and fear thereof.

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