The idea that we are entering an era of techno-feudalism that will be worse than capitalism is chilling and controversial. We asked former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to elucidate this idea, explain how we got here, and map out some alternatives.

  • @Ashyr@sh.itjust.works
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    994 months ago

    This is always the goal of capitalism, no need to give it some alternative name on order to white wash the brand.

    The answer is Democratic socialism. It’s our stuff they’re stealing, we can take it back.

    • @CookieOfFortune@lemmy.world
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      284 months ago

      Capitalism isn’t a form of government the way democratic socialism is? But to your point, even Adam Smith realized the problems with a legal and governmental system that is controlled by corporations to be a terrible idea. He was well aware that profit motives without limit leads to mistreatment of individuals.

      • @Ashyr@sh.itjust.works
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        184 months ago

        Yes, I’m not implying capitalism is a form of government. I’m saying the form of government best suited to containing the excesses of capitalism is Democratic socialism.

        • @CookieOfFortune@lemmy.world
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          94 months ago

          I’d like to think most democracies would enact some socialist policies if there was less money involved in politics… but I’m not sure what the best way to prevent that is.

          You can craft laws but the legal system is also profit driven. And you’d need some way to either prevent corruption or get the motivations to line up correctly. But I can’t think of any practical solutions that also align with freedoms.

          • My perspective is that the larger the organization is, the more likely it’ll get a carve-out in the law. The more complex the law, the more carve-outs special interests get.

            So making more laws isn’t the solution here, we should be striving to make simpler laws. For example, instead of a complex system of carbon emissions standards for vehicles based on type, just charge a carbon tax that approximates the cost of removing that carbon. The former gave us massive SUVs because they’re regulated as light trucks instead of passenger cars (so they have lighter regulations), the latter would encourage higher efficiency without a slew of regulations.

            get the motivations to line up correctly

            That’s the preferred solution imo.

            But I can’t think of any practical solutions that also align with freedoms.

            A lot of leftists look at government as the hammer to solve problems. Sometimes that’s the right approach, but often it’s not.

            What seems to work consistently is to make bad things expensive/criminal. If people die due to negligence (e.g. irresponsible cost cutting), put anyone involved in jail. If the payoff is higher than the penalty for bad behavior, increase the penalty.

            • @CookieOfFortune@lemmy.world
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              14 months ago

              Yeah it would be nice if we could simplify instead of add a bunch of special cases.

              However it’s easier said than done. In your example for carbon tax, how do you determine the cost of removing carbon? Does creating a new solar/wind power plant count? Does increasing efficiency in an existing home count? What’s the difference between that and just paying for carbon capture? This is what the carbon offset economy was supposed to be about but it’s ultimately difficult to implement correctly and inherently full of complexities. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try, but it’s really hard to simplify some things.

              I think there’s evidence to show that even though punishments may be heavy, if the chance of getting caught is low people will still do it. So that means you’d need to increase surveillance and enforcement which comes with it’s own issues.

              • how do you determine the cost of removing carbon

                Estimate. Start with a low estimate for the social cost of carbon and see how the market reacts. At the same time, we can provide grants for carbon sequestration projects, but no subsidies for categories of solutions.

                Does creating a new solar/wind power plant count?

                No, solar/wind would also pay a carbon tax based on their manufacturing processes, though that would be a lot less than fossil fuel generation.

                I’m not a fan of subsidies since those encourage “creative accounting,” and instead prefer simple, quantitative penalties.

                This is what the carbon offset economy

                No, the carbon offset economy was supposed to be a way to allow creative accounting to limit responsibility.

                If an org wants to install renewables to offset some of their energy use, then they need to actually use the energy to offset their energy use, not just tally it up. I don’t care about generation numbers, I care about tons of CO2 and other emissions.

                if the chance of getting caught is low people will still do it

                Right, so increase the chance that cheaters will get caught. Set default emissions numbers to a high (but reasonable) number based on worst case estimates, and require orgs to prove they’re emitting less. Do it for all imports and domestic industries alike so it’s fair.

                Then randomly audit after approval. If companies get caught, fine and revert to the high estimate until they prove they’ve fixed their accounting (perhaps after some number of years of correct reports). This should be highly automatable, and I’m guessing most domestic orgs already have high quality numbers.

                That’s a really simple solution since there’s no complex adjustments based on local offsets, just number of tons emitted. The only tricky business is sequestration, and orgs would need to prove it’s actually sequestered.

    • @novibe@lemmy.ml
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      64 months ago

      Yeah sure… it worked great for Chile. Unless there is a wave of democratic socialism all over the western world, specially the US, all at the same time, it’ll just be squashed by fascism backed by the US and friends.

      The only real solution that has worked before is a communist revolution. Like it or not.

      • @SpaceCowboy@lemmy.ca
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        24 months ago

        The only real solution that has worked before is a communist revolution.

        You have an interesting concept of something “working”.

        The actual solution that worked before is trust busting and Keynesian economic policy.

        • @novibe@lemmy.ml
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          24 months ago

          What is your definition of working? I’d say communist revolutions have indeed worked. I base that on data, facts and the material conditions of places that had a revolution compared to countries in similar economic and geopolitical situations.

          Cuba is doing much better than most Latin American countries. In most areas it’s doing MUCH better.

          China is doing infinitely better than any other comparable country, like India. It’s not even a comparison.

          The USSR was also doing much better than any country in a comparable situation when it did exist.

          How did these revolutions “not work”?

          • @SpaceCowboy@lemmy.ca
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            24 months ago

            Cuba is doing much better than most Latin American countries. In most areas it’s doing MUCH better.

            I was just in Cuba last year. A doctor makes $35 per month. The cab to the airport cost almost that much. A cab drive makes more than a doctor’s monthly salary from two fares. Their money is ridiculously screwed up. The official exchange rate is something around 24 CUP to the dollar. But at the airport it’s like 1/3 that value. And in the black market it’s 1/6 that value. People live in poverty while the government buildings are immaculate marvels. The people I talked with there know how messed up the country is.

            China is doing infinitely better than any other comparable country, like India.

            You mean the country where capitalism is thriving and labour unions are illegal? Where billionaires dominate the ruling party? China is communist in name only.

            The USSR was also doing much better than any country in a comparable situation when it did exist.

            It was doing great… until it collapsed? Great success story!

            Sorry but whatever you’re reading isn’t very accurate.

  • Alien Nathan Edward
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    614 months ago

    Silicon Serfdom?

    No that’s still capitalism. Capitalism is still the problem. To call it anything else is apologetics, the core issue is that the private ownership of the means of production leads to a concentration of power in the hands of precisely the wrong kind of people after selecting for and reinforcing the most selfish behaviors in them. It then allows them to essentially usurp whatever form of government exists.

    • @cucumber_sandwich@lemmy.world
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      214 months ago

      There is a difference however. The techno feudalists are no longer about the means of production. Instead they increasingly show rent-seeking behaviour. Businesses looking to own “market places” and becoming brokers of other people’s services is a techni feudalist trend. Take Amazon for example. They sell top spots in their search directly to business customers. An app store monopoly is more akin to land ownership than classic factory capitalism.

      • Alien Nathan Edward
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        104 months ago

        okay but land ownership and rent seeking are inherent, inevitable parts of capitalism. Even Smith talked about how rent-seeking is an unavoidable outcome of a system where one person can own what another needs, and about how in order to succeed capitalism will require some way of discouraging or taxing rent-seeking. “As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed and demand a rent even for its natural produce.” This isn’t a new phenomenon and it’s not a return to pre-capitalism, it’s capitalism doing what we all new it was going to do from the beginning.

      • @banneryear1868@lemmy.world
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        74 months ago

        Problem I have with calling this a feudal arrangement is a lot of serfs actually had family rights to their land/means of production under land tenure agreements. It’s more the notion of private ownership of land and production that has led to these private technology increasingly mediating more of our lives. I’ve seen the concept of technofeudalism used in good ways but the overall thing is capitalism and they are more elements of feudal type arrangement within that.

        • Alien Nathan Edward
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          44 months ago

          Precisely this. The few rights that feudal peasants did have are being ferreted out as “inefficiencies”

  • rem26_art
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    364 months ago

    lol Yanis is def making the rounds cuz of his new book. He also talked about this on Adam Conover’s podcast, Factually a few weeks ago.

    iirc he’s saying that we’re at the point where some of the richest people have moved from owning the means to actually produce things to providing platforms for exchanging goods for money to happen on, while basically charging rent. He compares it to feudalism in that a company like Amazon or Apple with its app store are feudal lords who come in and collect money off of each transaction made by the “serfs” (people who sell and buy things on these markets), basically in exchange for being allowed to list. And increasingly, its getting harder and harder to do business without dealing with one of these tech giants. I think he mentioned how WeChat is another good example of this in China, where they’re involved in like everything

    • PositiveNoise
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      4 months ago

      I read a similar article a few weeks ago, and I think your concise summary is better than the article linked in this post.

      I think Yanis goes a bit overboard with stating that capitalism kinda no longer exists, since it really is about a new group of rich people simply inserting their companies as evil middlemen who leach money off the whole system.

      I’m not sure the solution has to be revolutionary or super complex. I’d think that large countries and groups of countries (e.g. USA, the EU) could implement their own mega marketplaces, leaching off much less money and avoiding the sort of corrupt BS that Amazon etc do to keep prices artificially high, and these governments could also stop allowing the mega platforms to do business in their region. Big countries want to facilitate an economy, and if private industry is proving to be too broken with their current approach, governments could step in to create more functional marketplaces that still work nicely in the internet age and don’t have horrible middlemen crap dragging everything down.

      • @Omniraptor@lemm.ee
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        4 months ago

        Yanis goes a bit overboard with stating that capitalism kinda no longer exists, since it really is about a new group of rich people simply inserting their companies as evil middlemen who leach money off the whole system.

        The difference between rents and profits in economics is crucially important tho, and so many people in these threads seem not to get it. one is progressive and at least in theory moves us closer to post scarcity. and the other does the complete opposite. Yanis is right to emphasize that difference. And his proposals are perfectly market based- he wants to use the government to create competition for the current digital rentiers. if you force them to compete again so they might get back to providing added value instead of just being leeches.

        People love to harp about Radical Marxist Muslim Obama but he was onto the same thing with his “public option”. Just like it is now hard to live without interacting with big tech, it’s hard to live without interacting with private health insurance. And in the same way, health insurance can never be a truly free market because the opportunity cost of not buying insurance is well, you know…

        • @Flumpkin@slrpnk.net
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          4 months ago

          Have you read his book? I’d be curious what he suggests. I’ve just thought that if you could legislate to make marketplaces use some kind of “activitypub” protocol, you could federate them similar to social media. A protocol and open standard to exchange prices, descriptions, order conditions etc. So people could use alternatives to amazon/ebay and still have access to the large network of vendors. That would break the digital fiefdom. Is that something he discusses?

          The new EU payment directive also finally created instant wire transfers, so it’s now possible to directly and instantly pay vendors without having to pay a tax to paypal.

          Maybe the next thing is going to be delivery services with drones or self driving “micro vans”.

        • @Flumpkin@slrpnk.net
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          24 months ago

          Federate Amazon! Imagine a kind of protocol / standard to exchange prices, descriptions, images, sale conditions, guarantees etc similar to activity pub. then you could use the same network of vendors as amazon.

          But it probably needs more regulations because amazon is so huge and powerful to destroy competitors.

          Maybe also federate / split up fulfillment warehouses.

            • @Flumpkin@slrpnk.net
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              24 months ago

              We need the equivalent of keeping the phone lines and phone numbers compatible though. So that all the vendors that are on amazon can use a commonly shared internet protocol to also sell on other platforms, otherwise the network effects are lost and make splitting them up and true competition impossible.

      • rem26_art
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        34 months ago

        ya middlemen is a good term for it. I don’t think that it really needs an entirely separate branding from capitalism, but idk i guess that also makes for an eye catching headline.

        I agree that governments have the tools to deal with these kinds of things. It’s just getting them to actually do something about it that’s beneficial to us as average people is the tough part lol.

        • @0xD@infosec.pub
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          54 months ago

          They are not just middlemen, they control the entire sales platform - both buyer and seller.

        • @Flumpkin@slrpnk.net
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          14 months ago

          I do think a new term makes sense because these platforms both scale ultra large so “explode” in market power, and also can’t just be broken up using anti-trust laws because then the network effects of large network effects vanish (this is true for amazon and social media). So it is something different because of those new properties. I think federation and open protocols might be the answer to this.

      • @Flumpkin@slrpnk.net
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        24 months ago

        I’d think that large countries and groups of countries (e.g. USA, the EU) could implement their own mega marketplaces, leaching off much less money

        Exactly! I’ve been saying this for a while that certain market places like amazon and ebay should become more public utility. I think craig’s list is the rare example of something actually owned by a person that is not just optimizing for profit. Social media should similarly be federated, which now with e.g. lemmy and mastodon seems much more plausible.

        Another example is that the recent payment service directive has finally created instant wire transfers - e.g. I can wire money instantly to a shop without having to wait a few days or needing a payment processor. It’s insane that it took 30 years for instant payments. So maybe the 1.5% to 3% tax that paypal sucks out of ecommerce economy can finally end.

        So maybe marketplaces could be federated as well and supported by regulations. For example some kind of open standard to exchange price info and order conditions etc. so that different services can use the same network of vendors and the customer can easily move from amazon or ebay to other alternatives without loosing the market network.

        So if there is techno-feudalism it definitely can be dismantled politically. Thanks for your comment, and thanks to Varoufakis - this is actually a very valuable insight I believe. I remember like 10 years ago people started talking about the monopolies rising out of the internet and how they should be broken up. But it was clear to me that classic anti-trust measures wouldn’t work, because there are network effects that are incredibly valuable. You don’t want to split up facebook because 10 separate social media are much less useful. But maybe now we’re at a point where we have the arguments (techno-feudalism) and the solutions (federation and regulations like a protocol like activitypub) to suggest actual policy! 🙂

      • livus
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        4 months ago

        @PositiveNoise idk, seems to me the big countries suffer from too much legislative capture for that.

        I live in a country where I do my taxes for free with one click and we don’t use paypal because we can all make free bank- to- bank deposits that clear in less than an hour.

        And the reason the US doesn’t have these basic things I’ve had for a decade is because of lobbying from Turbotax and the like.

      • @Flumpkin@slrpnk.net
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        4 months ago

        Interesting, it seems so, but the DMA isn’t “marketed” as such or explains the problem and doesn’t suggest plausible solutions. What is needed I think is a kind of federation for marketplaces, so they need to use some kind of open protocol that allows others to use the same network of vendors etc. But it seems you could build on top of the DMA.

    • @TheAnonymouseJoker@lemmy.mlM
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      14 months ago

      Chinese government does not allow WeChat or AliPay or anything else to become the citizen enslaving monsters that Facebook or Google or Apple are in USA.

  • @neptune@dmv.social
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    334 months ago

    It’s really scary how much money Uber/Uber Eats/Amazon etc sucked out of local economies.

    • @Omega_Haxors@lemmy.ml
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      24 months ago

      I’m normally pretty chill about people’s spending habits, but if I catch you using that shit i’m calling you a bad person straight to your face.

  • @yesman@lemmy.world
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    224 months ago

    One of the things not addressed in this interview is how the ideology of libertarianism is central to the transition from markets to fiefdoms. All the big tech bros are huge libertarians and that’s not an accident.

    And I do think this is a new phenomena unlike classic capitalism. Marx thought that a post-scarcity society would mean more leisure, he didn’t anticipate that that leisure was just another source of value to exploit. Think of reddit selling it’s “content” to an AI company. That content wasn’t produced by coerced labor paid unfairly, it was produced by voluntary labor paid nothing.

    • @hglman@lemmy.world
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      44 months ago

      Marx didn’t anticipate information technology. Because of IT, we are moving to a new regime of humanity. The automation of action is part of the reason, but the most important is the ability of any group of people to communicate. The control of broadcast underpins the prior structures of power. Now, anyone can reach everyone, and we are watching the power of the state erode in the rise of fascism globally.