Yanis Varoufakis on Techno-Feudalism

"... Capitalism has already evolved out of itself. It has been transformed into another system..."

Yanis Varoufakis on Techno-Feudalism

The following 7 excerpts are taken from a YouTube video posted on the YouTube channel Yanis Varoufakis. The video is ~13 minutes long, and features a few segments from a staged conversation between Slavoj Zizek and Yanis Varoufakis held at Festival Indigo 2021 on the 21/20/2021 in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Image generated at imagine.art – prompt: ‘Techno-feudalism’

The excerpts are Varoufakis’ words. Minor alterations have been made for clarity.

Excerpt 1

It was the 12th of August 2020 […] 9 o’clock in the morning in London, the news came out that the national income of Britain, GDP as it is called, had fallen by more than 20%. That had never happened before in the history of capitalism, British GDP falling in one year by 21% or so. Never. It was not anticipated. The markets were expecting a fall of 8, 9, 10%. 20%?! No one. 15 or 16 minutes later, the London Stock Exchange goes up by 3%. There can be no explanation of that along the lines of capitalism, right? One explanation would have been if the markets were already expecting a 10% decline and it was 8% - things were better than expected. So, the Stock Exchange might have gone up. But to expect 10% and to have 20% and the Stock Exchange goes up, something else was going on.

Since 2008, the Great Financial Crash, capitalism is on a drip feed. It’s being kept alive through constant injections of money from the central banks. That has never happened before, it started in 2008. In 1929, it didn’t happen. That’s why all the banks closed down. So, the banking system and the Stock Exchange had 12 years of getting used to, becoming addicted to central bank money being pumped their way during difficult moments. So, imagine you’re a stockbroker in London: You hear the news at 9:00 in the morning, -20%. “Oh my God!”. That’s the first thought. Then you think: “Ah! If I panicked the guys and girls in the Bank of England, the central bank of England, are panicking. So, what they are going to do is they’re going to print even more billions, and they will give it to me to play in the Stock Exchange. Buy!”

1:03 – 3:21

Excerpt 2

It’s my crazy theory that capitalism has already evolved out of itself. It has been transformed into another system. The reason why I say that is because for me, capital requires two things: Firstly, profit to drive it. It’s like a petrol engine that needs petrol. Capitalism needs profit, private profit to drive it. Capital accumulation, as we Marxists used to say. And the other thing, is that exploitation takes place in markets. That’s the whole point about capitalism. In feudalism there was no market exploitation. You had the peasants; they were growing wheat and potatoes and cauliflower. The sheriff, on behalf of the Lord, would come and take half of it, or 60% of it. No market. It was just expropriation. It is with the enclosures and the eviction of the peasants, who then become suppliers of labour at any price, that you have the creation of the working class and the labour market. There was no labour market before that. So, exploitation takes place through markets, money markets, land markets, house markets, labour markets. But now, 12 years on from the 2008 crisis and beyond, we have the replacement of profit by central bank money that is in the new fuel of this exploitative system and the steady encroachment into the space of markets of platforms.

3:35 – 5:18

Excerpt 3

You go into Facebook, right? Let’s say you want to sell your stuff, to advertise your business, in Facebook, you go in, you pay, you use your credit card, you pay money to Zuckerberg and some more people see your advertisements. You go in there to meet your friends. You want to advertise? […] You go and pay money. One person owns the whole digital space. It is the equivalent of you stepping outside on the streets of Ljubljana, looking around and thinking: “Oh my God! All these buildings belong to one person. Everything that is traded in the shops that I see is controlled by one person who decides what prices are charged, what prices are not charged, who can trade, who can’t trade, who can buy, who can’t buy. And moreover, imagine that Ljubljana operated like Facebook does, or Amazon does, whereby what your eyes see is determined by one person, by the algorithm of one person, who, if he wants you not to see something, you will never see it in that digital space. This is not a market, this is a fief, a fiefdom. It’s a digital fiefdom. It’s a platform.

5:27 – 6:47

Excerpt 4

Do you know what private equity does? They go and they buy a company, let’s say a company that provides health services. It’s got doctors and nurses and stuff, private stuff. So they buy the hospital, they buy the company and then they create two companies, one that owns the buildings and all the fixed assets, and the other that provides the services, and the second company sells the services to the first company. The first company has assets, buildings. So, they go to the bank, and they get a huge loan. Using as collateral the buildings of the first company. They take this money, and they give it to themselves. They pay themselves. They give it to the shareholders. They pocket it, they put it in their money. Now this whole company will never have a profit because the first company will owe huge quantities of money to the second company. Therefore, they will never pay any tax because  they have no profits. Very soon after that, this will go bankrupt. It will die.

So, platforms are expanding. Even in health, Facebook is now privatising the National Health Service in Britain without anybody knowing. Google is doing the same thing behind the scenes. […] Platforms are expanding. They’re not markets and markets are shrinking. […] Central government money - sovereign money - has no power, but its printing presses are keeping the system alive. I call this techno-feudalism.

7:00 – 8:40

Excerpt 5

I’ll tell you what it means as an economist. It means that none of the fiscal monetary policies that used to work, work. Platforms replace markets, and everything depends on the central bank money. If I make you the head of the European Central Bank tomorrow, you are the most slavish follower of the needs of business. You have no independence. You have no authority. Even if you want to reduce the amount of money - euros - that the ECB prints, you can’t do it. The moment you do it, the whole thing will collapse. That’s not central banking independence, that’s dependence. Our governments are completely in the clasps of the interests of these large fiefdoms, and they have tiny degrees of freedom regarding fiscal policy, regarding redistribution of wealth, when all the wealth is encased and enclosed in the new fiefdoms.

8:50 – 9:47

Excerpt 6

Under standard capitalism, you have a working class which is exploited during the working time, and then they go home and that is time for themselves. Today you have a proletariat, a working class, which is shrinking, shrinking, shrinking, and increasingly, everybody is producing capital directly for these fiefdoms. Every time you have your phone, and you walk around, Google knows where you are and that enriches Google Maps' software. It adds your movements, adds capital to Google. You’re not a shareholder, you don’t get shares for that capital they get. With the pandemic, we’ve seen how work and leisure have been completely decoupled and how, with these digital fiefdom-technologies, it is impossible to even escape for a moment the vestiges of work. It follows you. Your boss expects you to be checking your app at midnight. You yourself check your app, even if your boss doesn’t want you to check your app. You become self-enslaved, and the most important value of liberalism, personal sovereignty, goes. Think of the youngsters, you know, I used to be a professor until a few years ago. I still am in name. I look at today’s youth and what I find is young people lacking the sovereignty that the Liberal Democratic system has promised them. I see them, for instance, take on courses that they know are rubbish just to add to their CV. I see them constantly trying to improve their social ratings on Twitter, on Instagram, because they’re selling themselves constantly. They’re creating a profile that makes them, because they know that the moment they go in for an interview,  the interviewing panel is going to check their social media profile. So, it’s a constant struggle to build up a profile along the lines of the expectations of some fictitious future and employer. That is slavery. The complete collapse of the private space that liberals value so much. These are the reasons why, for me, techno-feudalism is such a menace.

9:57 – 12:38

Except 7

The worst part of it is that when I speak of this, do you know who really loathes my thesis more than anybody else? The left. Because we leftists grew up with this ambition that we would bring capitalism down, and here I am telling them that you know what? We are out of time. Capitalism has brought itself down and it’s been replaced by something far worse, not by socialism. The left does not want to listen to that. They really loathe that message.

12:38 – 13:13

[end of excerpts]

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