For Open Source: Art at the Eclipse of Capitalism, Lisa Schiff, Galerie Max Hetzler and ARTUNER presented an afternoon with the economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. After elaborating on the new economic paradigm that he envisions coming to fruition in the near future (also described in his book The Zero Marginal Cost Society: The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism), Rifkin was involved in a panel discussion with curator Natasha Petresin-Bachelez, artists Josh Kline and John Gerrard and collector Arnaud Brillois. This panel was moderated by Simon Castets, the director of the Swiss Institute in New York and co-founder of the 89+ platform. Below you can view footage from the afternoon along with an edited transcription.
In our current social and political climate, all over the world, the GDP is slowing, productivity is waning and unemployment is high. We’re at the early stages of the endgame of a way of life which was entirely industrial. On the other hand however, we’re just beginning to glimpse the birth of a new economic paradigm.
In order to understand this current crisis and the opportunity it poses to young people, we need to get a handle on how all the great economic paradigm shifts in history occur to provide a roadmap to move forward. There have been seven major economic shifts in the history of human beings. To surmise; the first, our agricultural and pastoral ancestors the hunter-gatherers, around ten thousand years ago; then early agricultural pastoral civilizations; hydraulic civilizations; predatory empires; Eastern and Western feudal societies in the first and second millennia; the 18th Century market economy; and finally, the advent of industrial capitalism.
There is a common denominator evidenced in these shifts; new, defining technologies emerge and converge, and there remains a general purpose technology platform, a new infrastructure from which we may completely reorganise our economic systems. We have communication systems to efficiently manage, energy systems to efficiently power and transportation systems to efficiently move. For example: the first Industrial Revolution in Britain saw cheap and efficient printing, being powered by steam engines; during the 20th Century in America, the advent of the telephone became the communication medium to manage cheap Texas oil, leading to the internal combustion engine. We witnessed this phenomenon peak in July 2008 when crude oil hit the high record, and prices increased dramatically because everything was pegged to fossil fuels. The inherent problem is having built an entire civilisation on the Carbon Age; this was the economic earthquake, with the collapse of the financial market being an afterthought. We’re in the throes of a great recession and the sunset of a second Industrial Revolution at the end of a great economic era. The most prominent form of communication now is the internet, which morphs and converges with a digitalised automated GPS guided driverless transportation logistics internet. Three internets in one situation. These three internets are a kernel of a new platform called the internet of things.
We’re imbedding sensors into every device and machine to enable machines to talk with each other and us, sending large quantities of data back to crucial internets to manage power and move inventory. Sensors everywhere sending data back in real time. We’re creating a global brain, not a centralised global brain, a distributed, collaborative and collective consciousness. The opportunities are enormous, with the potential to directly engage with each other, vertically bypassing organised enterprises to democratise economic life.
The difficult and challenging issues of data security, cybercrime and cyber terrorism will take generations to resolve, but a huge political struggle ensues to ascertain digital rights and digital responsibilities.
Everyone influences the value chain, because every day we are marshalling economic resources by producing, consuming and sharing; capitalism has given birth to the sharing economy, and is flourishing beside its parents despite being so young. Capitalism isn’t sure how to deal with its child, having to grow, nurture and create an economy. The child transforms the parent too; we’re seeing an amalgamation of economies. By mid-century, the sharing economy will be a grown up child, and digitalisation is making this happen. It is a paradox that no one predicted, as we teach each generation of business leaders to always be on the lookout for new technologies to increase efficiency and decrease marginal costs. The optimum market is where you sell at marginal cost, by detaching goods and services from said market to make them free; yet no one anticipated that this could actually happen.
Everyone here in the digital generation knows that the sharing economy is here; as it began with Napster. At any given time, everyone in this room has been a prosumer. You have produced and shared goods and services at near zero marginal cost – the only element required is a service generator. For example, YouTube videos, news blogs, social media, contributing to Wikipedia, online college courses, sharing music. Some of the biggest industries of the 20th Century; television, magazines and newspapers, have died. The democratisation of entertainment and news culture on a mass scale.
These events have been very disruptive for artists; how are they supposed to make money and survive? Yet the artistic community is ultimate entrepreneur, and they will move from deep work to deep play.
Believing there to be a firewall, we thought that marginal cost at zero would only affect the virtual world and would not move over the wall into brick and mortar world. With this firewall having been breached, in 25 years the creation of all alternative energy producing their own energy and sharing it.
Since the German chancellor expressed volition for the use of alternative energy, they’re now at 27% green electricity. By 2040, they will be using 100% green electricity. The fixed cost of wind and solar on an exponential curve are just like computers to smart phones. Our mind thinks lineally not exponentially. The demise of fossil fuels and nuclear energy has come, because energy with a near zero marginal cost cannot compete with a cost of zero. Once you have paid for solar panels and wind turbines the marginal cost is zero; it is ultimately free. What happened to the energy giants happened to television and music, with millions of people across Germany, (consumers, farmer etc.) creating electricity cooperatives, who manage to get loans and produce most of the energy. Vertically integrated organizations which create economies of scale for investment are being superseded by millions of little players called lateral economies of scale, and are much more efficient.
Does this signal the end of the power companies? In order to get along with new alternative businesses, they must change their own business models, and acknowledge that there is more money to be made by selling less electricity and increasing efficiency.
The problem is that the entirety of the second revolution was based around the automobile, and today everyone under the age of forty doesn’t seem to want or own cars. Access to mobility is still required, but without the ownership of the vehicle. In ten years there will be driverless vehicles up and down the street, leading to the conclusion of car production. Access to mobility will be through automated networks, such as car sharing.
Young people are 3D printing with open source software through crowdsourcing, and anyone who holds onto their own little piece of knowledge will be left behind. Garbage is being used to fuel innovation, and labs are being powered on alternative energy. In ten years, Lego play will swiftly be replaced in favour of 3D printers, and kids are going to become little recyclers, working with each other to use material and software to create new products. How can big corporations compete with that? Manufacturing industries who survive will have to work on an even playing field in aggregate networks.
There is always a way to find value, we simply have to change the way we think.
We are now sharing homes, cars and even toys. We now have a whole generation of millennial parents, who pay a subscription fee, and receive a toy which belonged to another child. Parents tell their children to take care of the toy, because if they break it, they will be excluded from the network. Kids are being prepared for taking part in the sharing economy.
Considering aggregate energy efficiency, there are two major factors to productivity – better workers and better machines. But in reality this only accounts to a 14% increase in productivity. Where does 86% of productivity go? The reason they didn’t know, used to be for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction, a body in motion stays in motion (the relationship between supply and demand). Yet Newton’s laws of physics don’t have anything to do with economics. Economics are based on laws of thermodynamics. We’ve never created or destroyed energy since the Big Bang. The Second Law says that energy is concentrated but that is does change form. Energy lost. Open system matter and energy, closed is energy, isolated is exchanging nothing. The Earth is a closed system; we exchange energy with the sun and we take energy out of nature. In every step of conversion we are attempting to add energy into the product, but rather in the conversion we are losing energy. Productivity is waning because the platform of the second Industrial Revolution is moribund; we cannot get more than 13% efficiency in the platform at all. With the establishment of the third Industrial Revolution, data will be monitored in value change, and we will be able to constantly find ways to increase aggregate energy efficiency with analytics.
How do we pay for this? We’re unlocking digital Europe, but where is the money? The money is there. The issue is where it is going. Too much money circulating but it is being invested into the old selling industrial revolution, and as a result there are no returns. We need to reprioritise our existing investments and democratise economic life. Whole industries need to be engaged in the build up and scale out of it, and then you need humans to manage these systems.
We are very quickly moving towards an automated world. In the short to mid-term, we have two generations to put people back to work to create automated Capitalism which will be run by very small work forces. In the long run, where will employment migrate to? It will move from deep work to deep play, because these new employment opportunities are in the social and sharing economy. Humans are engaging with humans to create cultural capital and to create loyal relationships that help us cohere as a society. We need to have services such as schooling and veteran care which require humans to maintain a social sector. This is the basis of how we create trust, and without it civilisation would collapse. A culture always comes before government; trade follows, and then politics. This is because governments live off the trust created by cultural centres; nothing could happen without these confidences. The fastest growing sector is the non-profit centre, and it grows exponentially in revenue and employment. How does this sector get paid? By deregulating the government, it stops providing public services, then it creates good businesses; non-profit organisation are good businesses because they are self-sustaining. Technology is being displaced and machines are replacing humans faster than new jobs. This is liberation; let the machines do this, lets free up the human race, explore humanity, and find ways to live on this planet. If we get any of this right, by 2070 young people won’t look back with a sense of revulsion. We can do it better!
The reason I wrote The Zero Marginal Cost Society is to explain what this theory means in the context of every day life. The elephant in the room is climate change, and we are terrified of it. If we can find ways to use less of the Earth’s resources more efficiently, then what we produce at zero marginal cost will be shared.
We as a people tend to spend too much time in cynicism and despair, and it’s exhausting. We need our best and brightest in the arts to engage the story and air the narrative to help us create the trust and confidence that we can initiate a new journey for the human race. Life is indeed very strange, but it’s interesting and we want the experiment to continue. If not the cultural community and the arts, who else is going to tell the story and share the journey?
Simon Castets, Director at the Swiss Institute and Co-Founder of 89+
On The Panel:
Natasha Petresin-Bachelez, art critic and independent curator, managing editor of the online platform, L’internationale
Josh Kline, artist
John Gerrard, artist
Arnaud Brillois, Director at Lazard Frères Gestion and private collector
The connectivity of the darknet is worth examining, and consequently we must consider what we should do with the problems therein. I have empathy with images from the developing countries, places where there are wars but people from the developing world don’t have such privileges. As a curator I am speaking from my position and I am conscious of that. Sibia Federici says that online communication and production depends on a series of economic activities which are extremely destructive. There is the problem of the first world’s exportation of e-waste to developing countries (such as Liberia and India) and inhabitants have not been taught of the correct way to recycle. Disposal occurs in these countries because it is cheaper and these people are paid basically nothing. It is often burnt, where children are left to play with it. When I was analysing what could have been done, I found that the soil and water contamination has produced waste that remains permanently in the anthropocene (a layer of the Earth).
There is a problem with content moderation; when you look at the social networks you are using in order to be in contact with your peers and friends, we are privileged not to be faced with pornography, rape scenes or beheading because this content is being outsourced to content moderation companies. As of now in the Philippines there are companies who moderate terrorist activities and delete this grotesqueness. This ‘reactive moderation’ manifests itself by reporting content and snitching on your friends.
The internet of things is also the internet of drones, in the negative sense which pertains to the power of electronic colonialism. It insists on the 21st Century obsession with mass media and the fact that mass media makes people happy; something only present in the first world. Online countries are linked to the historic traits across colonial trade because this is dictated according to where the cables are laid.
The importance of collaboration in arts, and the way it can result in production. Licence projects are slowly developing and establishing creative commons, sharing issues and questions, calling themselves “Do It Together” collaborative and groups. It is happening through the scalable promise of the internet and their promise to go beyond the physical room. I will provide for you some examples of the “Do It Together” logic in terms of production, rather than of the final result. Marco Billhelm is an artist who works in rural, urban areas. To these locales he invites scientists and artists to work together in a certain period of time to reflect on telecommunication, producing something he calls “evolutionary code”. By setting up a modular lab for a few months, the intimate nature of the area facilitates a lucrative environment for residencies. Billhelm also worked with Inuit communities in the Arctic, where he tries to enable (through Open Source technology) the protection of their skills, culture, heritage and communication of these communities.
I curated the Ljubljana Triennale which was entirely devoted to the concept of resilience. It is a concept which in a way tries to go beyond pure self-sustainability, and demands us to question the way we think, to introduce shocks as a permanent part of the status-quo. I have been trying to put this forward the metaphor of resilience for younger generations and promote their capacity to work together.
Jeremy, what do you think about this idea of a division between countries who see the benefits of the internet revolution and those who only see the crumbs of it?
In Africa, 40% of people live without electricity. But what is surprising is that a large majority of the population have cellphones; the towers came, and we witnessed young social entrepreneurs bringing in solar panels and power. Everyone will be connected in twenty years. Cost of technology is going down. I am not concerned with connectivity, but rather who is going to control facets like security and domain registration.
Issues in the first world are certainly not centred on connectivity; Obama introduced a website called healthcare.gov which was failing repeatedly. Because it was such a great idea, a team of volunteers came onboard to fix it. They found that there was a spike in connection from cheap cell phones at three in the morning because these people knew that at that time there was less traffic. With their bad internet connection they knew that during this short period they would have a better chance of reaching the website.
Josh Kline: as an artist in America today, how do you understand the relationship between deep work and deep play?
I generally agree with JR; the people who are driving these changes in technology are driving much of the populous of the world to this direction. It is important as an artists to look at this, and my work does. For me as an artist it is critical to start addressing such issues. Some of what Jeremy is saying might in fact be a too optimistic appraisal; being an integral part of the sharing economy can be horrible. Airbnb is awful; I know people who rent out their rooms once a month and sleep on a couch because they have to in order to survive. A time comes when you don’t even have access to your own bed. These conditions are being gradually exacerbated by our current economic climate. There is no safety in precarious labour and freelancing, both horrible experiences. Obamacare isn’t working, it is taking us in a neoliberal and inhuman direction. We spend all our time putting content online; all the likes we receive on Facebook can’t actually pay for rent. So with these things working together, how can we preserve human life without being exploited by the huge people whose goal is the incessant accretion of capital?
To believe that this whole generation is going to sit their passively and continue to accept their exploitation is unreasonable. In the case of factory workers, people eventually got their compensation through the establishment of unions. It is naïve to believe that this new generation will continue to allow the exploitation of their contemporaries. I am never optimistic about technologies. I am guardedly hopeful.
There is no period of history where people have been totally passive, we have to put in codes and regulations to be political, social and be sure that the architecture starts to benefit everyone. I’m hopeful that there is a better journey you have to prove this to me.
In spite of the art that I make I am optimistic about, the “end of work”. It would be great if we could all be liberated from it. But technologies are harming the ability to organise. I was involved in Occupy Wall Street in 2011, which was actively dissipated by Mayor Bloomberg. Across the country there was the intention to actively neutralise the campaign, and now with the Black Lives Matter movement, the news media has attempted to do the same thing. It has rebranded it in a negative way where people stop getting air time, and has attempted to totally shut down coverage. I’m all for making everything free, as long as we can have food and shelter at the other end of this. The movie industry and lobbying money is making it harder to access such things at a lower rate, and consequently it will be harder to take them into a democratic dimension.
One area which is very much tied to capitalism is the art market. As the exhibition statement notes, the economy of the art market is a unique ecosystem with a complicated history. In this new paradigm, ideas of ownership and possession give way to sharing and experience. So Arnaud, I pose to you this question: is there a different idea of the creative act of authorship? How do you envision the act of art changing in a collaborative commons framework and how do you see access to art changing and how do you see access to institutions changing as a collector and a patron?
I feel like answering as a capitalist to your question…Capitalism is related to scarcity; and reading the book [The Zero Marginal Cost Society] when you don’t have scarcity you don’t have capitalism anymore.
This happens with information, yet information is never scarce. Energy is not scarce anymore either. Yet I think there are things that are still scarce: time is scarce, human time is scarce, talent is scarce and therefore capitalism will survive, but not as an eclipse but as a sort of sunrise. To go back to the question, the arts part, I think that the art market is one of the best example of capitalism. It is exactly the same as the real estate market where you have some goods, most of which are scarce because they are unique. You can find some cheap copies as posters but it doesn’t have the true value of a painting. All of you are still going to museums to see the ‘true’ painting. In my bedroom I have some Van Gogh paintings and I’m still going to see Van Gogh in museums. So we are giving a unique importance to art and we are still giving a price to art. So the art market is linked in a collaborative way… but what is important is its uniqueness. I believe it will not stay exactly the same.
I think that the concepts of uniqueness has been constantly challenged by artists such as John and Josh through editioned work, do you think that signals something?
Sorry to interrupt – when reading the book, I was afraid of the society of abundance, where everything will be close to being free. I thought about the society of the spectacle, and the ability to be able to make some art and conduct experiments in art. It is hard to see myself in my home, seeing art on my computer and then have a 3D printer which produces a sculpture for me. I want something living. We already have nice products and designs in our kitchens, like knives for example, but it is not the same as unique art.
Jeremy, how would you like to respond to this? I think this idea of uniqueness has been challenged.
Before the industrial age, people shared their talents on commons with each other.
The idea that someone could own their ideas was absurd. You take people who are writers and in the film industry, do you know how difficult is was to be heard four decades ago, and to actually make your presence known? It was very difficult to produce a film, a lot of it had to do with luck. Now we have a small fixed cost and there is the opportunity to move the creativity in ways that no one could have imagined before. Google revenue has slowed because young people are ignoring the advertising – if a newspaper says we are going to give you thirty articles and then buy up, how fast will a political or social movement emerge that will address these issues?
It is essential to fight back and to organise. If not it will be purloined by a select few capitalist movements. We need to see social and political movements to make sure that our data and our content is not exploited. We have technology now which will allow us to democratize economic life.
This is a great introduction to John Gerrard’s work. You are fascinated by ideas of the concentration of power, such as the virtual state of oil and energy, and how they are linked to the crass reality of harvesting. Would you like to talk more directly about these themes and how they are linked to your work?
One of the greatest profit generators in Apple is iTunes, because people do not want to break the law, they want to enjoy content legally. One of the side effects of this is that a great amount of wealth is concentrated in one place, California in this case. Many small entities fall out of play because I rent from one entity. We have Jeremy Rifkin’s work which is certainly more optimistic than the Open Source exhibition about art and technology. Why is there such a difference between these two visions? I work with military grade simulation engines to make portraits of found places, which concern the pursuit of energy. We exist in a virtual state of oil, with conditions so profound and widespread that it is almost impossible to see them.
The pursuit of energy has to do with the three internets: communication, energy and transport. If farmers had them all available, with low marginal costs and fertilizers, there is not a single industry which would not benefit from ecological based organic agriculture. We’re going to see more and more of this open source and sharing and more and more people are going to be paid as we move into this non-profit social commons. In this system artists will be paid for their contributions to society, but it isn’t going to be a cakewalk.
We have come to the point in our panel discussion where we may open the floor to audience questions.
- For centuries art has been a fundamental aspect of civilization and social status, made for the rich by the rich. How do you feel art is going to move around? Since the advent of the internet I think the maker and the viewer can be one and the same. How do you see it evolving?
I think what we’re actually seeing with creative commons licencing. We are going to see art freed up from its former servile status. I mean that no longer will artists have to survive on the good grace of patrons and the capitalist market. Artists need to be able to express themselves through whatever medium in question, and they need to be compensated. We’re going to see the development of more art cooperatives where they will be paid for their services rendered to the community. No one is going to get rich overnight, but I seeing more and more young people, who are artists, being freed up from the capitalist market into the shared economy.
- There was an interesting tension about organising; Jeremy thinks that organsing should be done if it possible on the internet, while on the other side we have an opinion that the internet makes organising more difficult. Could you elaborate why you believe this is so?
Viral political movements are being generated on the Internet, such as Obama’s campaign in 2008, maybe one of the first of its kind. But they didn’t move forward or profit. The NSA is keeping a close eye on these kinds of groups through huge servers in Nevada; this is why these online movements aren’t taking off as people would assumed they would do. I’d say they are being deliberately neutralised by the various security infrastructures.
Government surveillance isn’t new, it was around in the 60s, 70s and 80s. So if that is the case, what are you, as a young artist, going to do? Will you put the technology away? I think we need to be out in the real physical world too.
This is why I make art, I want to encourage people to take action through my own limited agency. As an artist I’m not sure if I have solution. I deeply believe the goal should be a post-scarcity society, but I think where I disagree is the current form of the sharing economy. It is a disaster, and if it continues it will be horrible to live, until it is replaced by what comes after it, which will hopefully present itself as something better. I believe that post-scarcity society should be the goal, it is just a question of how we get there.
- I feel like what has been left out is not the politics and the education…but value.
If you’re a historian, you get a pretty bad picture of the human race. Wars, genocides, upheavals, all these events print a stamp on our consciences. Foragers and hunters were not the perfect society, as Rousseau said. If you were in a tribe, you identified with your people. Other tribes were seen as demons. After blood tides, people began to empathise on larger scales to religious ties. For example, Christians would empathise with Christians and not with other groups. Then in the 19th Century, the idea of the nation state came about. During that time it was the logical domain which they were operating in. Now which we are beginning to see is a younger generation moving towards the biosphere and global and ecological consciousness. They are learning that everything they do in the environment affects their fellow creatures. And so this is the question we must pose to ourselves; what do want for the next stage of our journey? Where do we want to take ourselves, and our children? If it isn’t the cultural arts that allows us to be resilient and critical, who will it be? I’m very hopeful that we will move these issues to a globally recognised scale.