Doug Henwood on Wed, 12 Mar 2003 23:01:12 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> vectors

Mackenzie Wark wrote:

>But more than that. The ruling class is mutating. It rules less through
>direct possession of productive material assets and more and more through
>the ownership of the means of abstracting information from the material.
>This i believe is a second great mutation in the history of the commodity
>economy. The first was the leap from land as private property to the
>fungible world of manufacturing.
>The vectoral class -- owners of information and the means to realize its
>value -- has two factions. On the one hand, a 'liberal' wing, interested in
>turning the space of the world into a space of free movement, where
>material resources as subjected to a universal abstract regime of
>calculation, the world market. On the other hand, a 'statist' wing, that
>is more interested in resources in the aggregate, particularly those
>that are spatially fixed and hence subject to strategic calculation, Oil
>is only one example of such a resource.

I've been slogging my way through the vector thread over the last few 
days, struck mainly by the uselessness of the metaphor. No, worse 
than useless, since it treats social institutions and relations as if 
they were mathematical formulas, a pathology I usually associate with 
neoclassical economics, not critical social thought.

Then I stumbled on this quoted passage. Just when did the ruling 
class undergo this mutation? You could say that ownership became more 
mediated with the spread of the joint-stock company about 100 years 
ago, but I'm guessing that hip professors don't like to focus much on 
century-old developments, so we must be talking something more recent 
than that. But we've just been through a period over the last 20 
years when the role of shareholders in running the companies they 
formally own has been greatly accentuated. Said shareholders demanded 
higher profits, and got them, at least in the U.S., via some very 
old-fashioned mechanisms like speedup, layoffs, and wage cuts, and 
some more newfangled ones like outsourcing and employee leasing. Is 
that what Wark is talking about here? I doubt it. But I'm curious 
just what these "means of abstracting information from the material" 
are? Fresh permutations of Mickey Mouse? Diversified branding 
strategies? What?

And what is this "fungible world of manufacturing"? Even today, 
factories involve heavy fixed investments, often quite firm-specific. 
I can see money as fungible, but manufacturing? And there's not much 
that's fungible about the classic commodity - it's usually a rival 
good (i.e., if I own this widget, you can't own it too - unlike 
nonrivalrous goods like the latest Eminem video).

And what is this realization of the value of information? Just what 
the hell is this information anyway? A chip design? Mickey's image?

And what is this distinction between the liberal and statist wings of 
the vectoral class? The Council on Foreign Relations, more 
establishment than which they don't get, is both for free capital 
flows and the war on Iraq. Are they confused, or just bi-wingal? And 
can you run your virtual reality machine without oil?

Doug Henwood
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