Christian Marazzi: “Money, Finance and the Common”

Christian Marazzi: “Money, Finance and the Common”

Here’s my notes from last week’s lecture at Queen Marys University (with Discussants: Marina Vishmidt and Marco Sachy).

The talk refers an earlier paper on financial entropy that Marazzi originally presented November 18, 2010 at “Empire: A Retrospective”, The University of Pittsburgh. See Here

PDF availiable here:

We have seen a (rhizomatic) process of financialisation since the 1970’s and against this background I want to talk about the mode of existence of the the common in the era of financial capital. In this crisis we see the critical rehabilitation of the commons. We are currently trapped in a controversy between the public and private sector. This polarisation — the poles being public and private goods, respectively — is based on their intrinsic characteristics (see Richard Musgrave and Paul Summers). Public goods are seen to be a residue of the market, and the public sector covers fragments of the market that involve no individual consumer; utilties which can’t be standardised (i.e. street lighting). Whereas private goods involve a dual dimension of exclusivity and rivalry; by their nature they exclude access and their consumption deprives someone else of that particular good. Public goods are supposed to be non-exclusive and non-private, providing utility. With regard to this controversy we urgently need to conceive of a new political economy of the commons; a rehabilitation not defined by this controversy between public and private goods/services. The commons is not defined by the two poles of public and private, but a mixed idea. See below for Elinor Ostrum’s eight principles for the management of a commons.

Elinor Ostrom identifies eight “design principles” of stable local common pool resource management:

1. Clearly defined boundaries (effective exclusion of external unentitled parties);
2. Rules regarding the appropriation and provision of common resources are adapted to local conditions;
3. Collective-choice arrangements allow most resource appropriators to participate in the decision-making process;
4. Effective monitoring by monitors who are part of or accountable to the appropriators;
5. There is a scale of graduated sanctions for resource appropriators who violate community rules;
6. Mechanisms of conflict resolution are cheap and of easy access;
7. The self-determination of the community is recognized by higher-level authorities;
8. In the case of larger common-pool resources: organization in the form of multiple layers of nested enterprises, with small local CPRs at the base level.

[Here Marazzi also made reference to Garret Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons (1968) which were destroyed by ‘clandestine passengers’ who consumed the free common goods.]

We could here contentiously argue that the privatisation of the commons was the best way to overcome the destruction of the commons. The commons do not exist by nature (not in-themselves), instead they are the product of institutions that allow them to exist and in turn produce. Traditionally we have thought of the natural commons — the air and water, for example — but in the 90’s we discovered a new commons, that of knowledge; an immaterial or informational commons. The risk to the natural commons is their permanent destruction, but the risk to new commons is the privatisation of knowledge. And what is at stake here is their reliance on co-operation and reciprocity. Unlike the natural commons, which are finite common resources, the knowledge commons are unlimited, since, in terms of utilisation, knowledge produces more knowledge ad infinitum. Privatisation is a problem of enclosure: primitive accumulation is an ever-present threat. The question is, how are we to govern the commons? The rules, codes, norms and laws that guarantee the function of the commons — these norms of reciprocity assure and define of the commons. Can we defend the commons based on their intrinsic characteristics? We must understand that the commons are institutionally produced (i.e. they are inexistent in nature). They are produced in the manner of J. L. Austin’s concept of the speech-act in performative theory (cf. How To Do Things With Words). Are Ostrum’s legal limitations that manage the commons are a basis for these intrinsic characteristics, as common goods? It seems clear that the institutional decision (the speech act) allows there to be a commons. If we recognise post-Fordism as a new mode of production (the immaterial production of the linguistic turn) we see a commons reciprocally produced by co-producers. In post-Fordism there are two tendencies:

1. The ultra-liberal desire to commodify everything.
2. Public services no longer willing or able to produce public goods.

What are the modes of existence of the commons in the era of financial capital? In a sense, the commons are a discovery of capitalism. As Guattari maintained, post-Fordism is the capturing of external production (i.e. Just-In-Time/Toyotism) that utilises an autonomous/independent labour force. Here we see a colonisation of the sphere of production in which consumer and producer are one entity (a co-producer). Note that the Google algorithm is based on the extraction of value based on ‘attention’. It is value captured from outside of the sphere of the workplace (i.e from the commons).This is exactly what outsourcing is. This coincides with what is called the feminization of labour. The commons are effectively a lever for the expansion of capital in post-Fordism and as such constitutes a revolution in the mode of product. There has effectively a strike of investment by capitalism brought about in the last 30 years by the bifurcation of the rate of accumulation and the rate of profit. As a result, due to the stagnation of wages and the enclosure of the outside of production — the new process of accumulation outside the factory — crowdsourcing becomes the system by which the crowd becomes the source of value. The slowing of the rate of profit is the problem of consumption that capitalism attempts to overcome with rents (debt/private indebtedness), which in turn increases consumer demand. Therefore, financialisation based on a debt economy is at the root of the crisis. Here Hyman Minsky is useful on the role of debt and the way in which financialisation proceeds. The commons are exploited by capital by means of debt.

Debt is the imperial relation between North and South. The North used the outside of pre-captialist economies in order to export the surplus creation of national debts to pay for the importation of surplus commodities (a very real debt trap!). In turn, the South had to destroy their own economies and social networks. This is economic destruction without restructuring; a dependency of debt relations. They must import surplus while allowing access to their raw materials (the commons). Therefore, the imperial relationship between capital and commons is principally one of debt.

About andrewosborne

Andrew Osborne has recently completed his MA in Contemporary Art Theory at Goldsmith's.
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