Cover of Michel Feher’s Rated Agency: Investee Politics in a Speculative Age (Zone Books, 2018)
“Follow the cash. ” It’s both genders and dispiriting that those three words would appear to hold the whole promise of the United States’ governmental recuperation. Made famous by William Goldman’s script for All The President’s Men, “follow the money” sent Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward (performed by Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (played by Dustin Hoffman) over the path to revealing the corruption and cover-up at the Center of the 1972 Watergate burglary and Richard Nixon’s presidency. Since that time, the phrase has come to be almost a cliche of high tech criminal investigations, and one can be sure it’s the reigning headline of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s continuing research to Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential effort and all those obstructions and corruptions might have preceded and followed it.
However, “follow rdquo & that the cash; may have a different definition, too. In the decade that has followed the Great Recession, fund capitalism has continued its own ascendency unchecked. For many, after the cash means a capitulation into the market, an endorsement that there’s no alternative method to arrange society, nor even some suspected horizon where things might be otherwise. The energy of leftist resistance, once aimed toward economic redistribution, has become consumed in substantial part by conflicts for the equal distribution, recognition and protection of individual dignity both amongst and within particular interest movements, for example Times Up or Decolonize This Place. Alternatives to capitalism remain unimaginable.
This is the origin of the Left’s “depression,” according to Michel Feher, the Belgian philosopher whose recent foray into political philosophy, Rated Agency: Investee Politics in a Speculative Age (Zone Books, 2018), clearly and systematically lays out the way after the cash might not be the expansive capitulation that the Left considers it to become. Although Feher never uses the term “follow that the money” explicitly, it applies to his argument that neoliberalism’s mix of deregulation and privatization implies we all must be entrepreneurs of our lives, and tolerant of all the threat that goes with this condition. If you want it or not, and no matter who you are, you’ve bought in. This makes you, according Feher, is an “investee”.
Feher wants us to recall, however, that though Left politics before the 1970s was coordinated by the battle between workers and employers and the fight because of “the redistribution of the surplus value generated by employees and steered by capital seekers ”, the settlement of the conflict was that the compromise of a suitable equilibrium for both sides, not their mutually assured destruction. For “rdquo & investees;, Feher writesthe “focus of now ’so struggles is based about the allocation of credit. ” Follow the cash far enough, in other words, and you find not who holds it, but its state of possibility.
Feher is a pragmatist. He targets three arenas of contemporary political and economic life at which credit is key: shareholder valuation, bond market evaluations, and stage capitalism. Feher’s isn’t that each arena must be razed and replaced with some utopian choice. Rather, within each are tools of pressure and coercion that could be turned to the ends of routine investees that are subject to the whims of their financial overclass, given those investees become organized.
Take shareholder valuation for instance. In an age when the public expects businesses to maintain some appearance of social obligation, investors and speculators pay too much attention into a organization ’s reputation as to its own functioning fundamentals (think Elon Musk and Tesla). A organization ’s inventory movements can be driven by investor activism, leadership behavior, or media policy (be it good or bad) as far as earnings calls. Rather than negotiate suitable compromises with labor, company leaders today must manage the beauty of the companies to equity holders, that in turn are able to subject these leaders into continuous harassment should they aren’t even seeing a desirable growth in share value. This continual offender is that the tool that may be appropriated by stakeholder activists, the subject to the outside costs (and benefits) of corporate activity even if they aren’t lead holders of fairness. Disinvestment campaigns, such as the defunding of the Dakota Access Pipeline (that Feher mentions), or Liberate Tate’s effort to end British Petroleum’s marvel of the museum (that Feher doesn’t), provide examples of activists, even if faced with failures of direct political action, have adopted the cash to comparable ends.
Stage capitalism and the bond market operate in the exact same way. Neoliberal economic reforms have assured that elected officials should concentrate their political energy on keeping their lands attractive to outside investment, particularly bondholders, which means keeping their own credit rating high. Therefore, the political ability of the bond market has come to equal, or even override, that of popular sovereignty in many advanced democracies. (When Bill Clinton’s advisor James Carville said he died he wanted to come back as the bond market rather than because the presidentor even the pope, this is precisely what he had been referring to — which was 25 years back.) Yet as 2008 demonstratedthe creditors of last resort proven to become “we all the people”, that shifts their — standing “borrower ” to “creditor”, together with all the empowerment that goes with this title. Such social self-consciousness, along with the platform technology and especially the cross-referenced rating systems that include Uber, M Turk and others, points, in Feher’s believing, into a potential renewal of cooperativism. Call it Uber without the C-suite rent-seekers.
Feher recognizes that what he describes these brand new “measurements ” of all investee politics — stakeholder activism, the promises of social creditors, also cooperativism — are “experimental” at this stage. But as Feher writes in one of the most helpful summation statements: “In a universe where both legal entities and physical persons are enjoined to dedicate themselves to improving their own credit, hard lenders ’ rating power primarily involves counterspectulating so as to change the conditions under which creditworthiness is described and distributed”. Sarah Mehoyas’s growth of “BitchCoin,” the artist’s cryptocurrency that collectors could use to purchase her art, or even Real Flow, a collective project in which the “author function” of the artist is reimagined as a “portfolio director ” and the artwork as a derivative item, are just two examples of these counterspeculations from within the precincts of the art world.
Whatever one makes of the promise or pragmatics of Feher’s investee politics, his subtle but important conceptual change of emphasis “& value ” to “credit” may be Rated Agency’s most enduring contribution to political market going forward.
In the wake of the Great Recessionitself a rebuke to political scientist Francis Fukuyama’so argument that after the conclusion of history everything is economics, several significant thinkers attempted to re-anchor the issue of value in more solid moral and ethical grounds. Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy (2012), Debra Satz’therefore Why Some Things Should Not Be For Sale (2010) and Ronald Dworkin’s masterwork Justice for Hedgehogs (2011) most sought to put “value” to more objective and not as relative foundation, to give back it each the complexity that marketplace reductionism had squeezed out of it.
Ranked Agency, in contrast, indicates that worth might not be the theoretical notion we need. It’therefore not the worth is no longer applicable, just that, like Newtonian physics, so its descriptive accuracy can apply only at restricted scales of monitoring. How precious thing is, make it a luxury thing as a painting or even a common resource like clean drinking water, could and must now be reconceived in terms of its creditworthiness. The quantum mechanics of credit entail understanding how enticing something is to capital investment — social and human capital in addition to financial — and what agencies transmit rating power, such as institutional and social in addition to individual service.
From this vantage pointit’therefore not tricky to see how disagreements about and over value gained recognition in the wake of 2008. Moral philosophy and sensible reason offered a psychological refuge from the terrible news of what had just been shown to be accurate: that there is no outside to fund capitalism. To accept this as the case may signify adopting Feher’s investee politics of counterspeculation and credit. At the very least, it shows us how critical it is to follow the money.
Rated Agency: Investee Politics in a Speculative Age by Michel Feher is available through Zone Books and other online booksellers.
The article Why Leftist Activists Should Learn how to “Follow the Money” appeared on Hyperallergic.
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