Q&A on Technofeudalism – interviewed by Lorenzo Tecleme for valori.it

13/01/2024 by

In our society, large companies wield a considerable amount of power, more inequalities spread within our systems, and lobbying pervades our democracy: how is it possible that capitalism is dying as you claim?

My claim is that capitalism is being killed by a new form of highly toxic, highly concentrated capital (which I call cloud capital). If my hypothesis is right, there is no contradiction whatsoever between your observation that capital triumphed everywhere while, at the same time, it killed capitalism!

Your thesis is that big tech companies have created a post-capitalist economic system resembling a modern-day version of medieval feudalism. How does it work and why does it differ from the capitalism we know?

Let us begin by agreeing, if possible, on what capitalism is – or was: A socio-economic system resting on two pillars: Markets, in which all economic activity (production and distribution) is embedded. And, profits (as opposed to feudal rents), that act as the system’s fuel. My hypothesis is that Big Tech, based on cloud capital, has replaced markets with cloud fiefdoms (i.e., trading digital platforms that are nothing like markets) and profit with cloud rent (i.e., payments by capitalist producers to Big Tech’s non-producing owners for access to their cloud fiefdoms. Additionally, by contributing huge amount of unpaid labour to the reproduction of Big Tech’s cloud capital, most of us have become a form of cloud serf. This new social reality is not capitalism but a new form of technofeudalism built upon (and here is the irony) cloud capital.

When did this technofeudalism emerge?

In the same way that there is no specific date when capitalism took over from feudalism, there is no precise date for the birth of technofeudalism. Its beginnings can be, however, traced to the privatisation of the original internet in the early 2000s. After 2008, and the massive money printing of our central banks, in response to the financial catastrophe of that year, Big Tech were the only capitalists who took advantage of the tsunami of new central bank money to invest in what became cloud capital. By the pandemic, which massively bolstered cloud fiefs (like Amazon), technofeudalism had crept up on us.

Is the advent of techno-feudalism good or bad news for the salaried worker and the global working class?

It is terrible news. Waged labour was already facing a secular loss of income and organisational power. The rise of cloud capital, that is the backbone of the new technofeudal order, has brought three new calamities to working people the world over: First, intensified exploitation at the physical workplace (think of the wrist-held networked devices that monitor and direct factory and warehouse workers). Secondly, precarious remote work under sweatshop conditions (think of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or Uber or Deliveroo). Third, as a large part of surplus value produced in the traditional capitalist sector (which remains embedded in the technofeudal system) is siphoned off by Big Tech (as cloud rent), the aggregate demand in the macro-economy falls and the entire system becomes more prone to crises.

In your book, you argue that the rise of this new economic order also jeopardizes the already fragile fight against the climate crisis. Why is that?

Our fight against fossil fuels, deforestation and the unbounded growth is, essentially, a war against concentrated economic and political power. Cloud capital concentrated that power even more. In that sense, it is not the friend of the movement for socialising energy generation, land use etc.

One chapter in your book mentions the new Cold War – the one between the US and China. Does technofeudalism not contribute to peace between Beijing and Washington?

It does the opposite. Only two countries have spawned large quantities of cloud capital: The Unites States and China. Washington sees China’s Big Tech as a clear and present danger to its monopoly of the (so far) dollar-based payments system. Thus, it wages a New Cold War to prevent a Chinese high-tech payments system from challenging the dollar’s exorbitant privilege. This is what lies behind the New Cold War: a clash of two technofeudal systems.

Let’s focus on Europe, which doesn’t seem prepared for these changes. The EU talks about a return to austerity as it did ten years ago when you were the finance minister in debt-ridden Greece.

After more than a decade of self-defeating austerity, which eliminated all serious investment in the things Europe needs (e.g., green energy, batteries, AI), Germany and the rest of the EU are watching helplessly as China and the US are overtaking Europe in every sector that matters – with European capital fleeing to America and Asia and with our states ending up with budget deficits. So, what do they do? Austerity! Like the Bourbons, they forget nothing and they learn nothing.

We know more or less how class struggle works in capitalism. But in technofeudalism, how does it work? Do we have to learn everything from scratch?

No, of course not. Under technofeudalism we need to organise not only factory workers but also cloud-serfs. We also need to forge alliances with vassal small-time capitalists (whose small profits are skimmed by cloud capital’s owners). And, of course, to fight to stop the wars that are functional to the competing technofeudalisms but detrimental to humanity’s future.

For the site where this interview was originally published in Italian, click here.

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