we are all financers now
Neoliberalism has this interesting way of making us all the fruit of the poisonous tree through its continual embedding of us as nodes within a massive graph. The condition of our existance is to be moving forward on this scale, blah blah, we’ve all heard this one a million times before1, 2, we’re all Mark Fisher 3 or working Graberian bullshit jobs4. The Bretton Woods institutions are extractive, foreign aid serves to financialize and create consumers in third world countries while having aid flow back, the continual labor of debt is not an enlightended individualism, but serves to render profitiability from people.
This brand of discourse is lobbied out of humanities graduate students, but I think it lacks a clear view of how the tech industry has also been affected by it. The bulk of startups unicorns within the last decade are finance companies in disugise: Uber/Lyft/Airbnb all serve as market makers that connect a labor pool with a capital pool. Following the era of “pure” tech companies (Microsoft/Google/etc), we arrived at the age of social media companies (Facebook/Twitter), and then at the age of market makers (Uber/Lyft/Airbnb). Following the mid-2010 era, the rise of pay-it-later companies such as Klarna/Affirm and credit card companies such as Brex have all leveraged the age of cheap money to act as unregulated banks, extending loans to a consumer class that cannot regularly pay.
In the same way the bulk of foreign aid goes to pay for foreign projects staffed by foreign workers while shaping natives into a consumer class, Klarna and Affirm act as pseudo-inner colonization: they perform the labor of creating debt within a group where it was previously unavailable. Foreign aid projects and foriegn investment creates new markets for western products and services by transforming the third world inhabitant into a consumer. Just as how Casper’s market was originally only the middle class who could afford to drop 1k on a mattress, the existence of pay-it-later products expands the market into gradually lower class consumers.
Cheap money has far larger second order effects that just the tech boom, cheap money is basically responsible for the rise of fracking within the United States: fracking companies such as Chesapeak have never been profitable, yet investors have happily chucked money into these schemes due to low interest rates 5. VC funding within the lifetime of the majority of tech workers today is basically a continuation of 19th century whaling investments 6. The majority of labor in SEA is contract labor, which provides for aggressive movement of labor across companies. Why did so many tech companies have staff in Ukraine, forcing their hand when the war started? Ukraine’s labor laws are far more loose than the rest of Europe, providing near-Europe talent without the high labor costs.
None of these notes are novel, but it still feels like we act as either this is something to be resisted, or something to be ignored. What would happen if we leaned in?
Haddad, Toufic. Palestine LTD: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory. SOAS Palestine Studies 1. London: I.B. Taurus & Co. Ltd : Published in association with the Centre for Palestine Studies, London Middle East Institute, 2016. ↩︎
Ong, Aihwa. Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty. Durham [N.C.]: Duke University Press, 2006. ↩︎
Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books. Winchester, UK Washington, USA: Zero Books, 2009. ↩︎
Graeber, David. Bullshit Jobs. First Simon&Schuster hardcover edition. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. ↩︎
McLean, Bethany. Saudi America: The Truth about Fracking and How It’s Changing the World. New York: Columbia Global Reports, 2018. ↩︎