The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'corporatism'
A modest proposal from security commentator Alec Muffett: Could we replace marriage with incorporation of private limited companies?
in the UK the biggest hurdle would be IR35 and certain aspects of expense policy, but you’d have a contract between the directors, clear dissolution clauses; all income could be directed to the corporation – taxed differently and offset against OPEX like nappies and so forth – and salaries paid out, plus it would own and depreciate shared assets like houses and cars. You could avoid much income tax by taking dividends – I know tax avoidance is infra dig at the moment, but I’m thinking of the future here – and you could offshore your marriage for better breaks.
But there would be no gender issues – no incorporation is between a man and woman – plus you could have more than one company director, have corporations that outlast their founders, and in extreme circumstances outsource large chunks of the whole enterprise.
Charlie Stross posits a hypothesis about the sudden rise in apathy among voters, and the perception that all the options are virtually identical:
The rot set in back in the 19th century, when the US legal system began recognizing corporations as de facto people. Fast forward past the collapse of the ancien regime, and into modern second-wave colonialism: once the USA grabbed the mantle of global hegemon from the bankrupt British empire in 1945, they naturally exported their corporate model worldwide, as US diplomatic (and military) muscle was used to promote access to markets on behalf of US corporations.
We are now living in a global state that has been structured for the benefit of non-human entities with non-human goals. They have enormous media reach, which they use to distract attention from threats to their own survival. They also have an enormous ability to support litigation against public participation, except in the very limited circumstances where such action is forbidden. Individual atomized humans are thus either co-opted by these entities (you can live very nicely as a CEO or a politician, as long as you don't bite the feeding hand) or steamrollered if they try to resist.
In short, we are living in the aftermath of an alien invasion.Also, on a similar note: an essay which asks are the American people obsolete? I.e., the American ruling class no longer need them as workers or soldiers, and their usefulness as consumers is threatened by the coming age of austerity (the deeply indebted and the working poor who are struggling to avoid foreclosure don't make very good consumers, and the Indians and Chinese are looking more promising these days).
Thanks to deindustrialization, which is caused both by productivity growth and by corporate offshoring, the overwhelming majority of Americans now work in the non-traded domestic service sector. The jobs that have the greatest growth in numbers are concentrated in sectors like medical care and childcare.
Even here, the rich have options other than hiring American citizens. Wealthy liberals and wealthy conservatives agree on one thing: the need for more unskilled immigration to the U.S. This is hardly surprising, as the rich are far more dependent on immigrant servants than middle-class and working-class Americans are.
If much of America's investor class no longer needs Americans either as workers or consumers, elite Americans might still depend on ordinary Americans to protect them, by serving in the military or police forces. Increasingly, however, America's professional army is being supplemented by contractors -- that is, mercenaries. And the elite press periodically publishes proposals to sell citizenship to foreigners who serve as soldiers in an American Foreign Legion. It is probably only a matter of time before some earnest pundit proposes to replace American police officers with foreign guest-worker mercenaries as well.So what is to be done? Well, one option is to bribe the poor to leave and bribe other countries, such as India and China, to accept them as a new underclass of guest workers without rights:
If most Americans are no longer needed by the American rich, then perhaps the United States should consider a policy adopted by the aristocracies and oligarchies of many countries with surplus populations in the past: the promotion of emigration. The rich might consent to a one-time tax to bribe middle-class and working-class Americans into departing the U.S. for other lands, and bribing foreign countries to accept them, in order to be alleviated from a high tax burden in the long run.
Once emptied of superfluous citizens, the U.S. could become a kind of giant Aspen for the small population of the super-rich and their non-voting immigrant retainers. Many environmentalists might approve of the depopulation of North America, because sprawling suburbs would soon be reclaimed by the wilderness. And deficit hawks would be pleased as well. The middle-class masses dependent on Social Security and Medicare would have departed the country, leaving only the self-sufficient rich and foreign guest workers without any benefits, other than the charity of their employers.
If Bruce Schneier (writing in Beyond Fear) is right, Nokia have a rather subtle technique for ensuring that their original mobile phone batteries offer better performance and value than third-party replacements:
Nokia spends about a hundred times more money per phone on battery security than on communications security. The security system senses when a consumer uses a third-party battery and switches the phone into maximum power-consumption mode; the point is to ensure that consumers buy only Nokia batteries.
(via Architectures of Control)
What would happen if network neutrality rules were eliminated and internet carriers were free to set the terms for what goes through their networks? Well, the internet could look a lot more like the mobile phone system:
Imagine you want to create a user-moderated news service like digg.com that operates on SMS. On the neutral Internet, you rent a Web server ($7-$100 per month to start), register your name, and start programming. Total time required: less then two hours in most cases. But getting a service on the non-neutral US cell phone network would be a little different:
The next step is satisfying the requirements of the cell phone companies. Many of these steps, such as requiring affirmative opt-in before a subscription can start, are not burdensome, and serve to protect the carriers' customers. Others, however, border on ludicrous. Requirements vary by carrier, but some prohibit operators from offering games or sweepstakes, or require that subscription periods can only be monthly: not daily, weekly, or yearly. Others require that content, such as ringtones, be locked so users can't forward them from their phones to their friends' phones.
In practical terms, you'd never get approval for your brand new peer-mediated news service. Even if you were able to set up filters to block images and bad words, you'd still be sunk: Verizon prohibits "un-moderated chatting, flirting and/or peer-to-peer communication services."
Even if you could slip your service past the censors, you would already have been set back eight weeks and many thousands of dollars -- and this is just the beginning. Next, the carrier will charge you a fee (a few cents, typically) for every message you send to your users, and charge your users to receive your messages -- and charge them to send you messages. Just imagine where craigslist.org would be if it had to pay a few cents every time someone browsed an ad, and you had to pay as well. It's no wonder SMS services are overpriced and haven't grown beyond a niche market for ringtones and horoscopes.And along a similar line: Sidewalk Neutrality
John Harris (who wrote The Last Party) on how popular music has been subsumed by corporate globalisation:
For musicians whose sensitivity to such chicanery places them a few notches up the evolutionary chain from Busted and Avril Lavigne, the implied contradictions can be pretty hard to swallow. Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music is among globalisation's most useful props. Never mind the nitpicking fixations with interview rhetoric and stylistic nuance that concern its hardcore enthusiasts - away from its home turf, mainstream music, whether it's metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values: conspicuous consumption, the primacy of the English language, the implicit acknowledgement that America is probably best.
As the record industry's corporate structure has hardened into an immovable oligarchy - EMI, Time-Warner, BMG, Sony and Universal - so the range of musical options on offer has been dramatically scythed down. In 2004, there are but a handful of international musical superstars: Beyoncé, 50 Cent, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Norah Jones, Coldplay. To characterise the process behind their global success as top-down is something of an understatement. MTV may have initially been marketed with the superficially empowering slogan, "I want my MTV"; more recently, with billions gladly hooked up, it has used the flatly sinister, "One planet, one music". Those four words beg one question: who decides?
Such, to use a phrase beloved of the Bush White House, is the cultural aspect of the New American Century. How long, I wonder, before Halliburton and Exxon start sponsoring festivals?
What happened to the MP3.com archive after the site was torn down? It still exists -- but is now owned by a piped-music company spun off from Vivendi Universal. The MP3s uploaded have apparently become the property of TruSonic, a competitor of Muzak.com, and available only to businesses who subscribe to their service; as for the Internet Archive's proposal to preserve it as a public cultural record, well, there wasn't any money in that. Artists have expressed some concern about whether they will be paid royalties.
Man questioned by FBI for reading a critique of corporate media domination; apparently, no true patriotic American would ever read such
commie terrorist propaganda; or at least anybody with a suspiciously Islamic-looking beard who is concerned about Murdoch's media hegemony is a potential threat to national security. The offending article may be found here.
I recently picked up a book titled Jennifer Government, by a local author named Max Barry, after seeing it mentioned on bOING bOING. It's ostensibly a satire of globalisation, in which the world has become corporate-America-as-seen-from-Australia (complete with everyone speaking with Californian accents), everything is privatised, and the government's only remaining role is to prevent crime (for those who can pay the bills, anyway). Which sounds like an interesting premise; pity that the book didn't make the most of it.
The book is let down by a lack of psychological realism. Had the author populated the universe with plausibly rendered people, rather than cartoonish stereotypes, these premises could have been a very good springboard for an exploration of the human condition in the age of corporate hegemony, of extrapolating globalisation to its dystopian conclusion and exploring the myriad consequences of the way things are going. However, Jennifer Government has all the psychological realism of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Characters have next to no inner life, and are guided by the most one-dimensional motivations (greed, for example, or parental responsibility; all these things one can assign a short name to and employ by the book).
IMHO, a better treatment of the same idea is K.W. Jeter's Noir. Curiously enough, while Jeter's premises (the dead being reanimated to work off their debts) are more outlandish than Barry's (people's surnames being changed to their corporate employers' names), Noir requires less suspension of disbelief, because the scenarios and events therein have plausible psychological motivations, as opposed to happening by fiat of the author.
Not that Jennifer Government isn't entertaining, in a throwaway sort of way, just that it takes an interesting idea and squanders it, using it as little more than a McGuffin and/or a comedic prop. An amusing thriller it may be, though it falls short of being the sort of speculative fiction I expected.
Rant of the day: The USA has been taken over by non-human life forms.
An individual human being has dozens of often-conflicting drives: fear, charity, hunger, hatred, boredom, fatigue, disgust, inspiration, and so forth. Corporations generally only display one drive: a desire to make as much money as they possibly can. A human being who acted like that would be considered an utter psychopath--but when a board of directors acts in such a way, they're rewarded with bonuses.
When a corporation goes public, though, it often displays behavior similar to that of an animal whose nervous system has been taken over by a parasite. Its motivation changes from long-term sustainability to maximizing shareholder value on the short-term, ignoring such irrelevant side-conditions as ecological or social damage, plunging worker morale, or political instability.
And more. (Btw, are corporations legally considered persons in Australia/Europe/the UK/elsewhere, or is it just a US thing?)
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission calls for criminal sanctions against corporate cartels; big business calls for the ACCC's powers to be curtailed. Now Professor Alan Fels, the head of the ACCC and scourge of corporate monopolists, has announced that he will step down in 2004. How much do you want to bet that his Liberal-appointed replacement will be firmly in the pocket of Big Business, and that we will see a new laissez-faire, pro-corporate ACCC which is about as much of a watchdog as George W. Bush's pro-oil Environment Protection Agency?
Life on the Net in 2004. Make sure you pay your way.
Fond memories of the days when there were alternatives to Microsoft's OS pass through your mind -- but that was before the government realised that software was like petrol -- a totally essential commodity in the lives of most businesses and individuals. Legislation was passed in 2003 that required all software developers and vendors to be licensed and a 45% tax added to all sales. Of course, much to Microsoft's glee, this killed the Open Source movement since being an unlicensed software supplier risks a stiff fine or even a jail term and those licenses are incredibly expensive.
Another warning appears -- "Your license for this recording has expired, unable to play." Damn -- another $49 if you want to listen to that music for another year. You wonder, if as they claim, these new measures significantly reduce piracy, why music is now so much more expensive?
Scumbags in action: Remember CDDB? The free online database of CD track listings assembled by volunteers from all over the Net, that was bought by some company who promptly declared it proprietary information? Well, now they have blocked "unlicensed" applications from accessing it. What does an application have to do to be licensed? Well, it needs to show ads for CDDB, prohibit the use of any other CD databases, and not allow the data to be exported to other applications. The Slashdot thread is here.