Session 1

New Horizons & Counter Narratives

This panoramic opening session offers an overview of the diversity of topics on the horizon. An alternative political economy is not merely about including voices that have long been marginalized or excluded. For one, an alternative political economy understands that the history and the development of capitalism and global finance—including its concepts, theories and methods—are gendered, racialized, sexualized, and eurocentric. A critical approach to global finance requires the examination of its operations in terms of how it normalizes unequal relations, how it is shaped to prevent equal access and opportunity. This work includes the dismantling of strong-holding grand narratives that seem to be impervious to change and criticism. 

During this panel, Micky Lee offers a feminist political economic and postcolonial critique of the Tulipomania discourse. Brett Scott discusses the politics and many faces of digital cash. Ana Teixeira Pinto delves into the xenofobia and anti-Semitism of Bitcoin ideologues. Reijer Pieter Hendrikse explains the relation between offshore finance and the breakup of social contracts underlying welfare states, ecological disaster, financial crises and rising authoritarianism. 

Speakers: Micky Lee, Brett Scott, Ana Teixeira Pinto, Reijer Pieter Hendrikse

Moderator: Geert Lovink

Disruptive Technology: The Tulip

Even though economists and historians have argued against a widely-held belief that tulip speculation destroyed the Republic of Holland’s economy in the 17th century, popular culture about financial markets continues to make reference to tulipomania, making it an ahistorical, timeless truth. In this truth, tulipomania is said to be the “mother” of all economic crises; it explains all market collapses with innate human flaws. This tulipomania discourse needs a feminist political economic and postcolonial critique. One embedded orientalist ideology in this discourse will be unpacked: the East stays the same while the West progresses. This ideology contrasts the masculine, rational economy in the West with the feminine, irrational Eastern one. The tulip, called “the stranger from the East”, was seen to be a proxy to gain access to the Oriental psyche. In addition, the flower became a femme fatale that disrupted a masculine and rational economy. In order to tame the madness around the flower, professional men used a wide range of technologies to describe and objectify nature so as to materially and symbolically control the flower, the East and the feminine.

Micky Lee is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at Suffolk University, Boston. She has published in the areas of feminist political economy; information, communication, and technologies. Her latest books are Bubbles and Machines: Gender, Information and Financial Crises (University of Westminster Press), Alphabet: The Becoming of Google (Routledge), and Understanding the Business of Global Media in the Digital Age (Routledge).

The Changing Faces of ‘Digital Cash’

With the apparent decline of physical cash, we have seen a rise of speculations and experiments around ‘digital cash’, but what is it and who is claiming to create it? Cryptocurrency crusaders have long claimed to be building a ‘cash’ for the internet, and states are now dabbling in the idea of central bank digital currencies, while corporates like Facebook lay out plans for their own hybrid currency system. Can any of these authentically claim to be ‘cash’, or are we seeing the emergence of something entirely new

Brett Scott is an author, journalist and financial campaigner. He is the author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money (2013), and collaborates with a wide range of groups on monetary systems, banking reform, alternative currencies, financial activism, digital finance, blockchain technology, hacker culture, and technology politics. He has a new book on money and financial technology forthcoming in the next year. 

Bitcoin and the Basilisk

Bitcoin is a technology whose social and political functions, as David Golumbia argues, far outstrip its technical ones. Economically speaking, Bitcoin is the answer to the wrong question: the problems with value fluctuations are not formal but political, they cannot be solved by software engineering. Ideologically, however, Bitcoin reflects deep-seated anxieties about “foreign” control of the Federal Reserve, and more broadly, an anti-Semitic creep: The literature of anti-Semitism is marked by the putative illegitimacy or unnaturalness of interest-bearing capital, whose ability to generate money from money is represented as a kind of parasitical, or deviant sexuality, generating like from like. Hence the all-pervasive anxiety about the potency or authenticity of the male issue, whether this issue is a child or a currency

This is where Bitcoin intersect with the weird urban myth known as Roko’s Basilisk. Within a patriarchal system, authority ––the bloodline––is transmitted via semen, but as evolutionary biology began to treat genetic information as an essential code––the very code of life––a semiotic slippage began to entangle computational and genetic code as the bearer of the male seed. Hence the personification of AI as Oedipal beast, going out of its way to punish the bad fathers who refused to nurture him.

Ana Teixeira Pinto is a writer and cultural theorist based in Berlin. She is a lecturer at the DAI (Dutch Art Institute) and Leuphana University, Lüneburg. Her writings have appeared in publications such as Third Text, Afterall, Springerin, Camera Austria, e-flux journal, Mousse, Frieze, Domus, Inaesthetics, Manifesta Journal, and Texte zur Kunst. She is the editor of The Reluctant Narrator (Sternberg Press, 2014) and of a forthcoming book series on the antipolitical turn, to be published by Sternberg Press

Offshore: How capital rules the world

Despite increased scrutiny following a streak of data leaks, unpacking the offshore financial system remains a daunting task. Besides legal complexities, powerful interests are dedicated to obscure the workings of tax havens and secrecy jurisdictions, resulting in enduring definitional and statistical limitations, feeding the blatant denial of their existence. Far from being a fringe phenomenon, however, offshore finance constitutes the contemporary nerve center of global capitalism, as the world’s dominant capital stocks and flows are today habitually routed and deposited offshore, with global corporations and elite wealth thoroughly interlaced with the offshore world – for reasons of secrecy, tax and related aims to boost asset protection and financial returns. Amongst others, offshore finance is a key driver of mounting inequality, the breakup of social contracts underlying welfare states, ecological disaster, financial crises and rising authoritarianism. This presentation unpacks the key mechanisms and players shaping offshore finance, which as an integrated system systematically accumulates and assumes, and effectively enjoys and exerts, slivers of state sovereignty to anchor the planetary rule of capital.

Reijer Pieter Hendrikse is a postdoctoral researcher based at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research interests are centered on the interfaces between corporations, business services and states, with a focus on finance, lawmaking and technology. His recent publications focus on financial digitization, offshore finance, and the rise of neo-illiberalism.