Technological innovation and the bases of the new rentier class

11 Dec

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Can you wear a T-shirt reading "Technological Innovation Sucks"? Probably not, at least in the era of Apple worship. Oh, and do you remember the pre-Lehman editorializing on how innovation or lack thereof explains everything?

These days innovation is in for the chopping boards when one looks at it from the perspective of the rents that the intellectual property regime generates. Some big wig economists are considering the negative effects. It seems, pace Silicon Valley ideology, that technological innovation is not about to usher in the Keynesian leisure paradise by itself.

Why is that? Ken Rogoff, for one, thinks that techological monopolies stifle ideas that recent changes extending the validity of IP patents have exacerbated this problem. This means that we may be entering a technology stagnation phase because incumbent interests now have the biggest incentive ever to impose artificial scarcity. If you think this is weird, read these fine lines from FT's brilliant Isabella Kaminska:

"We’ve now arrived at a point where technology begins to threaten return on capital, mostly by causing the sort of abundance that depresses prices to the point where many goods have no choice but to become free. This is related to the amount of “free working” hours now being pumped into the economy — the result of crowd sourcing and rising productivity levels — thanks, in part, to the sort of gadgets that allow everyone to work anywhere and anytime, in a work environment that’s generally speeding up as everyone tries to keep up with the competition by doing yet more hours voluntarily.

Wow, so far from reducing work hours, technological innovations increase labor exploitation, with technology rents exercised by companies playing a big role:

“, robot and technology power is reducing the natural employment rate. But rather than our subsidising those who have lost jobs to technology, so as to spread that manna wealth that’s literally dropped onto the surface of the earth at no-one’s physical disadvantage, companies are using monopoly power to extort rents on the capital that is creating all that free wealth.”

“As technology proceeds in a patent-obsessed world, the fruits of innovation flow to the owners of the capital and invention, forming a whole new rentier class. The financial assets/debts that back the innovation technology, meanwhile, get disproportionally valuable as their purchasing power gets completely out of whack with the output they radically accelerate.”

Such are the new forms of social power in our age.

More here


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