Landscapes of Global Capital
tv globe icon link to home Casino cyborg

Critiques of free market capitalism focus on the structure of markets and their relationship to social institutions. The instability and volatility of active markets can devalue the economic base of real lives, or in more macro-scenarios can lead to the collapse of national and regional economies. Susan Strange (1986: 9-10) calls this instability 'casino capitalism,' a phenomenon she links to five trends: innovations in the way in which financial markets work; the sheer size of markets; commercial banks turned into investment banks; the emergence of Asian nations as players; and the shift to self-regulation by banks.

According to Strange the speed at which markets work combined with their now, near-universal pervasiveness results in a volatility that extends globally. Approximately $1.5 trillion dollars are invested daily as foreign transactions (Khor, 1998: 2). It is estimated that 98 per cent of these transactions are speculative. In The Crisis of Global Capitalism, investment guru George Soros (1998), also highlights the potential for disequilibrium in the financial system, and the inability of non-market sectors to regulate markets. In False Dawn, John Gray echoes that "national governments find themselves in environments not merely of risk but of radical uncertainty." (1998: 74) Gray attacks neo-liberalism for weakening social and political institutions in both First and Third World nations. "In the late twentieth century there is no shelter - for corporations or for governments - from the global gale of creative destruction." (76)

The rapidly shifting economy driven by markets has real consequences on the lives of individuals. The velocity of social, economic, and technological change as well as the shifting of ownership in the forms of mergers and take-overs results in an unpredictable relationship with work. In Corrosion of Character, Richard Sennett (1999) explores the impact of flexible capitalism across two generations of workers. From service workers in a bakery to IBM software engineers, work has become increasingly illegible and job security increasingly tenuous. Technological innovation drives organizational instability. Shifts in technology can destabilize whole sectors of the economy both eliminating and creating jobs. Sennett describes Rico's effort to hire young tech wizards since his knowledge has become outdated. Risk and uncertainty lurk on the edges of one's work. Adapting to the volatility and unpredictability of the economy is difficult and anxiety-ridden.

Reflecting market volatility and the creative destruction energies of the technology sector, the shadows of risk and economic uncertainty lurk in the background of this genre of advertising. The risk appears in the form of investment insecurity, failure to innovate technologically, the lack of flexibility and speed, or being overwhelmed by information. Ironically, the bottom stratum most susceptible to financial volatility is absented from these commercials. The risk experienced is by investors or by executives. But with risk there is opportunity.

This is precisely the premise of an IBM ad (2000) that features a young businessman sitting on a bench surrounded by pigeons in an Italian Square. He is wearing a voice-activated computer. As he excitedly buys and sells commodities and jumps into the air, pigeons take flight.

Ah give me soybeans
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!
Ah, scroll up
Buy it!!! buy!
Next page
Close that. Close that.
All right, beautiful
Sell, sell, sell it!
All right highlight four
Scroll up. Up, up, up,
Buy it, buy it, buy it! Yeah baby!
A female voiceover: "The voice activated wearable computer. It may be far out. But it's not far off"

After his last sale, his computer phone rings and he lets his wife (or girlfriend) know the meeting went well and he is taking the next flight home.

"Traveling light, rather than holding tightly to things deemed attractive for their reliability and solidity--that is, for their heavy weight, substantially and unyielding power of resistance--is no asset of power." (Bauman, 1999: 13)

Capital flows everywhere and this new highly mobile elite both aids it and travels as lightly as capital does. Our young entrepreneur travels light in many senses. First, his technology is light, a wearable computer with a wireless connection to both the Internet and global communication network. The computer screen is a miniaturized for the eye. The computer itself is not visible. Voice-activation frees his hands to feed pigeons as he interacts with a global economy. Second, his relationship to space is light. He sits on a bench in front of St. Mark's Basilica. An operatic background connects images of St. Mark's Basilica with the selling of commodities. The space is weighted in sacredness and tradition. And yet, our young entrepreneur has no relationship to history or meaning associated with it. Third, this space affords him emotional freedom. Could he express such emotion in an office space? He is freed from organizational restraints. He's no burnt out affectless bureaucrat. Fourth, his relationship to the commodity market is speculative. The tonal structure of his voice mimics the excitement of the crap table. The ad captures the psychological dimension of casino capitalism. Winning the game has intrinsic emotional rewards for the player. Fifth, his relationship to family is expressed nonchalantly as if he were down at the corner grocery store. It does not seem to matter that he is in Italy. These nomads do not have ties to community but to a scaled down nuclear family.

Donna Haraway (1991) refers to "a cyborg as a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction." Here, certainly is an incarnation of the cyborg. IBM's methamphetamined cyborg is designed to match the speed of the market. His animated, out of breath style mimics the speed of capital. He wheels and deals in the hypercommodity markets of basic commodities futures. Here cyborgization is about catching up. As one of my students argued, cyborgization is a response to acceleration. IBM boy is jacked up and jacked in.

New Economic Formations
Social Relations of Production
Information Economy

Performance anxiety< Previous

Next > The new organization man

© Copyright 1998-2003
Robert Goldman, Stephen Papson, Noah Kersey