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Posts Tagged ‘capitalism’

“Our merchants and master-manufacturers complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price, and thereby lessening the sale of their goods both at home and abroad. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.”

– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations. 1776. Book 1, Chapter IX.

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“The truth is that decisions in Occupy were never made democratically, though they were direct. The General Assembly was not a decision-making body, even though its social essence lay in its own claim to be just this. Instead it was the pulpit in a church founded by dispossessed millennials, attracting its fair share of wingnuts and older converts. It was a space where one could publicly say all the things that had been welling up over the years but somehow remained unspoken amid the day-to-day drudgery of two foreign wars and a global economic collapse. Because of this, it remained fairly inchoate: a fountain of gut-feeling and undeveloped ideas, hemmed by the incessant, miserable pattering of the drum circle. The repetition of the people’s mic made the speaker feel listened-to and instilled a basic element of emotional parity between pulpit and audience. For once it seemed that the recognition of our world for what it is was not a lonesome fact grasped in darkness but instead one of the spare few things that we truly shared with others: a communal hatred toward that monstrous material community of capital within which we’d all been born and bred.”

– Phil A. Neel, HINTERLAND: America’s New Landscape of Class and Conflict. Reaktion Books, 2018.

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“The scene has changed fundamentally. The six weeks’ march to Paris has grown into a world drama. Mass slaughter has become the tiresome and monotonous business of the day and the end is no closer. Bourgeois statecraft is held fast in its own vise. The spirits summoned up can no longer be exorcised.

Gone is the euphoria. Gone the patriotic noise in the streets, the chase after the gold-colored automobile, one false telegram after another, the wells poisoned by cholera, the Russian students heaving bombs over every railway bridge in Berlin, the French airplanes over Nuremberg, the spy hunting public running amok in the streets, the swaying crowds in the coffee shops with ear-deafening patriotic songs surging ever higher, whole city neighborhoods transformed into mobs ready to denounce, to mistreat women, to shout hurrah and to induce delirium in themselves by means of wild rumors. Gone, too, is the atmosphere of ritual murder, the Kishinev air where the crossing guard is the only remaining representative of human dignity.

The spectacle is over. German scholars, those “stumbling lemurs,” have been whistled off the stage long ago. The trains full of reservists are no longer accompanied by virgins fainting from pure jubilation. They no longer greet the people from the windows of the train with joyous smiles. Carrying their packs, they quietly trot along the streets where the public goes about its daily business with aggrieved visages.

In the prosaic atmosphere of pale day there sounds a different chorus – the hoarse cries of the vulture and the hyenas of the battlefield. Ten thousand tarpaulins guaranteed up to regulations! A hundred thousand kilos of bacon, cocoa powder, coffee-substitute – c.o.d, immediate delivery! Hand grenades, lathes, cartridge pouches, marriage bureaus for widows of the fallen, leather belts, jobbers for war orders – serious offers only! The cannon fodder loaded onto trains in August and September is moldering in the killing fields of Belgium, the Vosges, and Masurian Lakes where the profits are springing up like weeds. It’s a question of getting the harvest into the barn quickly. Across the ocean stretch thousands of greedy hands to snatch it up.

Business thrives in the ruins. Cities become piles of ruins; villages become cemeteries; countries, deserts; populations are beggared; churches, horse stalls. International law, treaties and alliances, the most sacred words and the highest authority have been torn in shreds. Every sovereign “by the grace of God” is called a rogue and lying scoundrel by his cousin on the other side. Every diplomat is a cunning rascal to his colleagues in the other party. Every government sees every other as dooming its own people and worthy only of universal contempt. There are food riots in Venice, in Lisbon, Moscow, Singapore. There is plague in Russia, and misery and despair everywhere.

Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.”

– Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet: The Crisis of German Social Democracy. Written February–April 1915 (while in prison). Published in Zurich, February 1916, and illegally distributed in Germany. Source: Politische Schriften, pp.229-43, pp.357-72.

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“The phone rings and an eerie voice mimicking a woman says: “Your shift is about to start, please log in and make sure you are in your designated starting area.”

This automatic reminder to promptly start the shift was, for me, the most tangible reminder that couriers working for Foodora and similar “platform capitalism” companies operate via the control of algorithms. While getting a call from a robot urging to start your shift is uncanny, the algorithms control the couriers’ work in more subtle, and more important, ways.

Dispatching, namely the assignment of orders to couriers is done automatically at Foodora. Through the application that the couriers use to receive orders, the algorithm tracks the couriers’ location, average speed, how quickly the courier delivers the food and how much time they spend at the customer. Based on an unknown weighing of these factors, the algorithm assigns a specific order to a given courier.

The dispatcher, who distributes orders, plays probably the single most important part in a courier’s job. The courier plans their own routes, but the dispatcher gives the orders, sets the pace and provides the information the courier needs to do their job. No matter how fast a courier rides or how well they navigate the city, if dispatching does not work, nothing works. Conversely, when dispatchers and couriers work well together and communicate with each other, they deliver orders quickly and efficiently. When the dispatcher is a courier themselves, this cooperation usually works best, because the dispatcher knows what can be expected from a cyclist, how the weather, the load and distance affects the courier.

Foodora has human dispatchers, who oversee couriers in a given city. However, in the working process designed by Foodora, human dispatchers ideally don’t interact with couriers, who should get their orders automatically. Presumably as a cost-saving measure, Foodora centralized its dispatching to Berlin and the dispatchers overseeing say Helsinki know nothing about the city. Thus the dispatchers are not able to help couriers in problem cases and sometimes the results are just plain bizarre, for example when by mistake an order has registered to a restaurant that is in fact closed and the courier tries to tell disbelieving dispatchers in Berlin that the cannot pick it up, because… well, the restaurant is closed.

The biggest problem however is one of transparency. The provisions paid for the order form a substantial part of the couriers’ income at Foodora, and because of this, those who get more orders earn more. The courier however does not know how and why the algorithm distributes the orders to one courier instead of another. Apparently, the algorithm distributes orders to couriers it deems “effective”. I have seen a situation when a fast courier came exhausted with less than ten minutes of their shift remaining to the office where couriers, who had just started their shifts sat waiting for orders. Then a new order came and algorithm assigned it to the fast courier. Why, nobody knows, but in Foodora’s automatic system once an order is assigned it cannot be changed.

Similarly, the algorithm classes Foodora’s couriers into four “batches”, or groups, based on their performance (as judged by the algorithm). Shifts are made available in steps to these batches so that the first batch, with the “best” couriers, get first pick from all the shifts, then the next and those in the last batch pick any shifts that might be left. How a courier gets shifts obviously directly affects their income. If one can do only a limited amount of hours, one also earns less. Along with this direct effect, how much and how well one works affects also one’s position in the “batch” and the possibility to get shifts in the future.

In short, the algorithms directly control the couriers’ work and their income, but in ways the courier can only guess. Even if the courier was adept in reading the code and reverse-engineering the applications, the systems that manage them are proprietary and not made known to the courier.”

– Tuomas Tammisto,
“When Mr. Robot is Your Boss: Working under algorithms.” The Transnational Courier Federation (#4.2)

When Mr. Robot is Your Boss: Working under algorithms

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“No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.”

– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations. 1776. Book I, Chapter VIII.

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“Continuing attempts to render the last seven years of economic stagnation and periodic insurrection within these neat narratives of self-help and moral decay has only hollowed them out. Ideology has instead fragmented into an archipelago of glowing screens, where liberal white baby boomers can still consume their steady diet of mortgage-funded Bob Dylan albums and Warren Buffet biographies, while a new, smaller fraction of rich millenials can pour their faith into organic farming, social media or the literal deus ex machina of solar panels and 3D printing. Ideology is now a niche market, cultivated to its consumers. In one sense this makes it far more effective, but it’s also expensive. Most of us simply can’t afford it anymore. In its place, we get the self-aware apocalypse: The Donald Trump Effect. The Walking Dead as our last mass ritual.”

–  Ultra, Dead Reckoning. August 18, 2015.  (via becuzitisbitter)

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“Technology sits at the crossroads of all of the escape routes from ecological crisis that lay open before capitalism. Technology is not a list of inventions. Rather, it is the reproduction of human society as seen through a technical lens: the how of social reproduction. Everything about how humans relate to the rest of the planet and how we structure our internal relations is modulated by our technology. Rather than wading into the typically idiotic framing of the debate—technology, good or whack?—we have to focus on how technology as it exists in global society functions as an all-or-nothing juggernaut. The one debate regarding technology that we cannot lose, and that is left out of the dominant framing, addresses the authoritarian nature of technology as it exists today. It is presented as a consumer choice, but each new advancement becomes obligatory within a matter of years. We are forced to adopt it or become totally excluded. Each new advancement rewrites social relations, progressively robbing us of control over our lives and giving control to the governments that surveil us and the corporations that exploit us. This loss of control is directly related to the destruction of the environment.”

Peter Gelderloos, Diagnostic Of The Future – Between the Crisis of Democracy and the Crisis of Capitalism: A Forecast. Crimethinc, November 5, 2018.

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