Computer school with IBM-PC.
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The political economy of the Digital Age remains virtually terra incognita. In Techno-Feudalism, published three months ago in France (no English translation yet), Cedric Durand, an economist at the Sorbonne, provides a crucial, global public service as he sifts through the new Matrix that controls all our lives.
Durand places the Digital Age in the larger context of the historical evolution of capitalism to show how the Washington consensus ended up metastasized into the Silicon Valley consensus. In a delightful twist, he brands the new grove as the "Californian ideology."
We're far away from Jefferson Airplane and the Beach Boys; it's more like Schumpeter's "creative destruction" on steroids, complete with IMF-style "structural reforms" emphasizing "flexibilization" of work and outright marketization/financialization of everyday life.
The Digital Age was crucially associated with right-wing ideology from the very start. The incubation was provided by the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), active from 1993 to 2010 and conveniently funded, among others, by Microsoft, AT&T, Disney, Sony, Oracle, Google and Yahoo.
In 1994, PFF held a ground-breaking conference in Atlanta that eventually led to a seminal Magna Carta: literally, Cyberspace and the American Dream: a Magna Carta for the Knowledge Era, published in 1996, during the first Clinton term.
Not by accident the magazine Wired was founded, just like PFF, in 1993, instantly becoming the house organ of the "Californian ideology."
Among the authors of the Magna Carta we find futurist Alvin "Future Shock" Toffler and Reagan's former scientific counselor George Keyworth. Before anyone else, they were already conceptualizing how "cyberspace is a bio-electronic environment which is literally universal." Their Magna Carta was the privileged road map to explore the new frontier.
Those Randian heroes
Also not by accident the intellectual guru of the new frontier was Ayn Rand and her quite primitive dichotomy between "pioneers" and the mob. Rand declared that egotism is good, altruism is evil, and empathy is irrational.
When it comes to the new property rights of the new Eldorado, all power should be exercised by the Silicon Valley "pioneers," a Narcissus bunch in love with their mirror image as superior Randian heroes. In the name of innovation they should be allowed to destroy any established rules, in a Schumpeterian "creative destruction" rampage.
That has led to our current environment, where Google, Facebook, Uber and Co. can overstep any legal framework, imposing their innovations like a fait accompli.
Durand goes to the heart of the matter when it comes to the true nature of "digital domination": US leadership was never achieved because of spontaneous market forces.
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