From: "geert lovink" <geert at xs4all.nl> Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2000 05:15:47 +1100
[fyi: Doug Henwood has been invited to speak and has confirmed /geert]
A Critique of the New Economy
A Conference @ De Balie, Amsterdam, June 2 & 3, 2000 & @ Kunstverein (not confirmed), Frankfurt am Main, June 4, 2000
Aim of the Conference ---------------------
In a three day conference we intend to develop an informed critique of the politics of electronic finance and internet economics. The aim of the conference is to raise the level of economic competence of the cultural and social sector, and simultaneously inject economic analysis with a sensitivity to on- and offline cultures, as well as a hands-on understanding of the new communication spaces. By bringing together critical discourse in these different domains we intend to find alternatives to deadly adapt-or-die rhetorics, as well as to dire structural inevitability (aka 'TINA', "There Is No Alternative") or simplifying activism.
The conference aims to set an agenda for possible models of intervention in this new domain of networked communication, and to reclaim vital public functions of the new information and communication environments. To achieve this, the level of 'economic competence' in the cultural and social activism sectors has to be raised substantially, and this is another prime aim of the conference.
Structure of the Event ----------------------
The conference will take place in Amsterdam, on Friday June 2, and Saturday June 3, and in Frankfurt am Main on Sunday June 4, 2000.
The selection of the speakers will be such that a debate on the premises of the New Economy can take place. We neither have to glorify global capitalism nor do we have to fall back into economistic dogmatism or cultural pessimism about imperial Americanism. Finance and the New Economy create new zones of contestation. The conference will facilitate a debate, which has yet to start, in which globalisation, finance and the Internet will be discussed in their ever growing, intrinsic relationship.
Possible Topics of the Conference:
* The New Economy: Premises and Pitfalls
* A critique of Electronic Finance
* Silicon Valley as a Global Business Model
* Gift Economies and Free Services
* Horizontal and Vertical Integration in the International Economy
* The Public Sector and the Network Society
* In Defence of Internet Culture
Conceptual Background ---------------------
Until recently, the global financial networks, in which billions of dollars in stocks, bonds and currencies are being shifted around the world in seconds, have operated as a closed entity that relied on proprietary networks and was enshrined in notoriously opaque organisations. Certainly, the first major economic boom of mid-1980s was driven by convergence of new technologies and the behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts.
Since the mid-1990s, this is changing. Multiple gateways to the Internet allow everybody with the necessary capital to become a day trader. Online brokers such as Schwab and e-Trade are booming. In parallel movement, the financial markets have become prime-time news with dedicated channels.
The changes seem to have strengthened the grip of these networks. More and more people have tied their savings to the fate of the market, and more and more media outlets promote the ideologies of speculation. The neo-liberal agenda seems to have become what Ignacio Ramonet calls the 'one-idea system': the deregulated market, seemingly, without alternative. (text at: http://www.ctheory.com/e-one_idea_system.html)
However, rounds of systemic crises in Mexico, Southeast Asia, Russia, and Brazil have had devastating effects, putting tens of millions of people into poverty. The world economy, which has not yet recovered from these shocks, will sooner or later head into the next recession, probably more destructive than any recent one. Faced with this reality, people have begun to question the global autonomy of financial networks, and the neo-liberal agenda of free trade and globalisation behind it.
Thus far, the hardcore macro-economic analysis has not yet been subjected to a thoroughgoing critique, nor have cultural-technological and artistic perspectives been brought to bear. Instead, in the current situation, moral judgements prevail. Radical critique all too easily reverts to emotional defences--of the nation-state and its historically associated institutions of conflict resolution and social compromise such as the trade unions or social welfare (themselves undergoing rapid transformation); of political parties; of public opinion; and so on. Democracy as such seems to be at stake when this defence acts in collusion with reinvented nationalisms, to arm the population against evil outside forces (so-called Jewish speculators, Arab Eurodollars, U.S. imperialism, Japanese expansion, Anglo-Saxon world government, and so forth).
Formerly innovative academic paradigms such as postmodernism and cultural studies are unable to deal with these phenomena adequately; instead, they circle around themselves in increasingly entrenched fights and irrelevant jargon wars, condemning their practitioners and followers to the comfortable jail of self-referential discourses. Since the 'crisis of Marxism' in the mid-1970s, the humanities have seemingly lost track of economics altogether. Social sciences have retreated into the secure domains of fundable academic research. This results in the dominance of the business journalist, the chroniquer of our times, who, in most case, does little more than re-working of PR press reviews on yet another glorious IPO.
If the centres of discourse are caught in their own contradictions, though, the fringes are becoming very active. It is now becoming increasingly possible to bring together separate disciplines and practices: the new generation of political economists, anti-MAI, anti-IMF, and anti-WTO activists (June 18/Reclaim the Streets), critical analysts of Internet economics and Wall Street 'casino capitalism,' combined with new media critics and software developers, such as the open source community.
The aim should be to develop attractive and productive concepts for a progressive, non-regressive critique of the very core logic of networked economics. It could be our task--that is, the task of the emerging translocal, virtual intelligentsia situated in the very heart of these networks of power--to understand the very mechanisms, and not just the consequences, of the networked, global economy. It is time to catch up, develop concepts, in order to go beyond the adapt-or-die speech of the Third Way 'visionaries' and their reactionary nationalistic counterparts. It is time to devise strategies to escape the leftist gloom and move beyond activist simplification, which so often confuses the locus with the logic: attacking empty lobbies. The protests against the WTO meeting in Seattle (December 1999) have shown that it is possible for a broad and diverse coalitions of NGOs, trade unions and concerned citizen to put the lack of transparency on the agenda of the global media, and the politicians.
It is of strategic importance to no longer separate the closed world of finance and the so-called 'new economy.' The overvalued Internet stocks and the incredible buying power they produce are but one aspect. The crash of these technology stocks might or might not initiate the next economic crisis. Still, a lot of undercurrents are actually happening which urgently need to be analysed and discussed in public. Is the ICT-sector really boosting productivity? What will be the long-term consequences of decentralised, non-local, 24-hour trading systems? Has anyone imagined what will happen if entire stock-owning populations lose their savings overnight? What is the future of Internet as a public forum when all research and development is going into e-commerce and e-business? Who will own the future backbones? In short, will the once open and decentralised structure of the Internet still be accountable in the 21st century?
Research by Saskia Sassen (The Global City) and Manuel Castells (The Network Society) have been important sources of inspiration in the making of this concept. The phase of introduction of the new media, in most Western countries is now rapidly coming to a close - and so is networking of the world of finance. The Net is no longer 'commercialised,' it is now the backbone of commerce and business-to-business. Internet and the economy are becoming inseparable.
Public Internet facilities (in both the real and virtual senses) that are not structured for commercial use, or regulated to exclude dangerous content, have been marginalised, or even ceased to exist. Public funding has dried up and, as an effect, the Net has been conceptually 'cleansed,' making way for business. Governments who have once funded basic research into computer network standards, are now merely interested in content regulation and rush to put together legislation for e-commerce. Communication has turned into a residual of e-commerce, with the fate of virtual communities as a sad example. Even the 'Californian' ideology of Wired Magazine is about to be pushed out by the really big players, who aren't much interested in libertarian hippie talk, by now common knowledge for the on-line masses anyway.
The recent merger of America On Line and Time Warner, the hype around technology stocks, and the prominence of the NASDAQ Index together symbolise the new formation of networked economic power. But for how long?
Hence, what is called for, is not an alternative trendwatching, but an attempt to formulate a comprehensive critique of the 'New Economy', and to shape a collaborative discourse for those who are developing networks. An informed and pro-active analysis of these new formation should create opportunities to act and intervene in this new environment.
* Concept: Geert Lovink - geert at xs4all.nl
* Editorial Team: Ted Byfield (New York) Menno Hurenkamp (De Balie) Andreas Kallfelz (Frankfurt) Eric Kluitenberg (De Balie) Geert Lovink
* Advisory Board: David Hudson (Berlin) Korinna Patelis (Athens) Felix Stalder (Toronto)
* Production Amsterdam: De Balie - Centre for Culture and Politics
* Production Frankfurt: Frankfurter Kunstverein (not confirmed)
* Contact: De Balie - balie at balie.nl Frankfurt - andreas.kallfelz at db.com