Capitalism and Social Information

The 20th century witnessed the triumph of Capitalism as the standard of economic doing. With the fall of communism and the gradual transition of ‘socialist’ economies towards more ‘capitalist’ ones ended, in the mind of many, the era of economic experimentation. The victory of Capitalism was indeed a net one: it proved to be the most resilient of the ways of economic doing experimented with thanks to its dynamic, adaptive nature; a clearer accountability in it; and a special effectiveness in ultimately correcting complacency and inefficiency. We refer to Capitalism as a standard of economic doing more so than an economic system simply because, the common opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, there are many different capitalist systems possible, and the economic outputs of such capitalist systems can be distinctly different from each other. However, all capitalist systems include the following features: private ownership of society’s productive assets; a market-based exchange system for products and services with a large degree of freedom (although not a complete freedom); and, of course, the notion of capital itself, of equity and of debt, and the associated notions of money and interest.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the triumph of Capitalism was lauded by most. Its proponents, especially in the United States, went on further ‘colonising’ with it all possible social aspects; for most, almost everything in society became subject to Capitalism. Under this extended capitalism, every notion became a product or a service that is produced and can be traded. Only, this ‘over-colonisation’ of Capitalism poses grave risks in many areas, the most important of which is the transformation of ‘information’ into commodity. But before we continue further, it is important to clarify that we are talking here about information in the social context and not at a more fundamental level of nature. We are talking about information as received, emitted, and traded between different social agents in an economy or in a society. It is ‘social information’ that is becoming a commodity with this over-colonisation of Capitalism.

Today, social information suffers from the major ill of becoming a simple commodity. What we mean to say by this is that a piece of social information is not weighed any longer by its moral impact, but only by how much money it is capable of generating. The quality of social information faces a grave risk of erosion because of this. We live in a world where many news agencies and agents dealing with social information are unfortunately more interested in information that provides ephemeral crowd attention (and hence attracts advertisement money) or pleases certain political constituents (and hence attracts backers money). We also live in a world where websites are ranked and monetised not based on their social and moral utility, but simply based on their traffic numbers, regardless of the ultimate informational content behind. A reality program becomes more valued than stories of human rights abuses simply because they entertain more and are more ‘easy’ – this is what happens when social information becomes a simple commodity.

Capitalism can make us – as much – more stupid or more smart, more destructive or more constructive. The limits of Capitalism are typically decided outside it and are not made subject to it, and this is greatly done through attributing to social information the proper moral weight they deserve. Karl Marx considered that men became objects under Capitalism and that Capitalism dehumanises them. I do not agree with Marx as I do not see how we cannot say that every social science that considers humans in aggregates, including sociology, which Marx co-founded, does not somehow look at humans as units and so in a certain way dehumanises them. Capitalism is an effective way of economic doing provided that we are clear on the boundaries within which it should be allowed to operate. However, we do retain from Marxism this idea of Objectification but in a more limited manner: Capitalism should not be allowed to commoditise all types of information, to commoditise Morality. Moral ideas should not be transformed into objects that can be traded according to the capitalist way of doing, as this would ultimately lead to Capitalism destroying itself from within. As we know, Capitalism can itself lead to monopolies and to ultimate market failures if not properly governed by Law and Morality.

JHTF

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One comment on “Capitalism and Social Information

  1. […] blog about our modern world’s propensity to rank and monetise all that is of human interest (https://johnhtfrancis.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/capitalism-and-social-information). Equating intangibles with money is no modern invention; even barbaric societies in Europe around […]

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