Category Archives: capitalism

Tax Havens-R-Us: Digital non-geographies and the financial gaming of distance and difference

In today’s world of off-shore tax havens,i quantitative easing,ii high frequency trading,iii and rampant global asset and real estate speculation it seems that a sort of gamified monetary space-race is going on and that it’s advancing with increasing speed. This monetary space-race game is one that is partially defined by both off-shoring and “on-shoring,” by both making assets disappear behind the legal shrouds provided by nation states that profit by providing secrecy to wealthy international clients and conglomerates, and by making virtual assets material in the form of, for example, international real-estate speculation.

But this immaterial/material financial binary is not adequate if we are to identify more comprehensively the space and spaces – the game dynamics – being put to work in service of global finance capital. For example, as but one expression of this monetary space-race, the recent tax haven scandals surrounding Panama’s Mossack Fonseca (which after two weeks of headlines is barely discussed anymore) is not so much about securing or profiting from locating capital in distant geographical spaces – tax-free islands, sandy beaches, and sun-drenched shell-company postal boxes, as it is about taking advantage of new and emerging forms of: 1) interstitial temporal spaces; 2) immaterial or undetectable digital spaces; and / or 3) invisible spaces that, as far as the public is aware, simply do not exist. That is, despite superficial appearances, the new monetary space-race is less about physically off-shoring capital and currency, than it is about staying ahead of the embittered and comparatively impoverished masses and the increasingly indebted governments ever more desperate for funds by hiding, or making invisible, digital money that’s been stored in “the cloud,” on the internet, or on an array of hard-drives. In other words, generating financial distance between wealth and the tax-hungry governments who would love access to it is not achieved through the separation offered by geographical space, but through the creation of new spaces, non-spaces, unknowable spaces that may or may not be physically located in a data-centre or business park next to you in Canada, London, New York,iv or Delaware.v

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London’s NeoColonial Skyline

The Guardian’s architecture writers have been fretting for a number of years over the “jumble” of highrise office towers that have gone up in close proximity to each other.  The Guardian provides a flash interactive view here, built on a 3D model of London created by Vertex and currently shown on their homepage.  The focus is on sightlines at ground level.  However, missing is a more direct social analysis of the buildings and gardens high aloft the ground as inaccessible, private vertical enclaves.  Even the blocking of solar access will one day come to be seen as a major gap in the reporting.

This “tortured heap of towers” seems to be exactly a continuation of the ad hoc quality of the development of London over centuries.  The unifying elements of brick, building height and the twisting streets, were most disturbed in the the modernist mid-century. This is both good and bad.

In the twenty-first century, the shift in height and use of glass as building cladding is the most obvious provocation, not that they jostle together in a tight group.  The domestication of brute forms through nicknaming buildings in the media, such as the gherkin or cheese-grater, is a relatively unique London phenomenon amongst megacities.   Cute names elide the identity of building owners and builders who are amongst the worlds “least environmentally friendly companies” according to the Guardian and major purchasers of land globally.  In as much as cute names obfuscate the extraction and destruction of resources in one place and the creation of profitable facilities and environments elsewhere, the architecture of highrise office developments could come to be seen as a symbol of neoliberal economic relations that have a neocolonial quality.  It would be nice to see this level of analysis which spells out some of the implication.

The popularity of this naming distracts from the unifying idea of a skyline, however.  The skyline could be thought of as a kind of 4th dimension not captured in the 3D flyover.  New York promoted the skyline of Manhattan but is still coming to terms with the destruction of the World Trade Centre and the filling back in of this cavity in the vista.  In this sense, the buildings do overshadow London, not only physically but in the virtual world of media and place-images.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)

Slavoj Žižek, Yanis Varoufakis & Julian Assange @ Europe is Kaput!

Slavoj Žižek, Yanis Varoufakis & Julian Assange  at ‘Europe is Kaput!’ in London Nov. 16 2015.  What was said:  Video.   Alainah Rook has provided a transcript  of the evening at Southbank Centre.

hovat zizek varoufakis

Crucially, solidarity with Paris includes recognizing that similar experiences of bombing has been endured throughout Syria and Iraq by civilians.  Why is there no discussion of the role of the Gulf States?  Rather than repeating the tragedy of ‘us’ against ‘them’ in which countries declare that they are at ‘war’ with the Other, attention to the root causes of inequality and inhumanity are required.

War on the Other

Declaring war is the easy way out.  It panders to desires for revenge which perpetuate a cycle of violence on an international scale.  We need to confront the fear of difference and the operation of states for corporate interests rather than the rights and interests of citizens.

War on the ‘Grey Zone’

Assange points out how Clinton and Hollande are in effect consenting to Isis’ stated strategy of eliminating the ‘grey zone’ of tolerant, secular societies centred on human rights and creating a polarized, intolerant situation instead.  There is no ‘exit option’ being pursued for radicalized Muslims that would allow them to to see a more compassionate but still religious alternative.

‘You end capitalism; you end Isis’

Zizek’s closing call is to remove the competition over oil resources for which the Middle East is been an imperial playground for over a century.

Rebordering

Assange calls the Trans Pacific Partnership a “rebordering” of the economic and legal world.  A geostrategic shift such as this unites multiple, heterogenous forces in an ‘economic NATO’.  It locks in neoliberalism across continents but has not been engaged intellectually.

This is a provocative conversation for Canadians, sitting on vast energy reserves and themselves trying to grapple with these challenges: how not to be shunted aside by foreign, often state-owned, corporations; and how to move from an economy based on fluctuating ‘rent’ from the value of raw resources to ‘profit’ from the ingenuity of its people; how to courageously extend an ethics which is neither charity nor humanitarianism to welcome new refugees.

Listening to the Chair’s struggle to allow all three of his speakers to be heard, the last word to Rook for her hard work:

‘I believe it is not simply just that the content of the evening many will find either compelling or arguable, but that the success is in having the conversation at all. If there is a movement towards those who wish to unite, globally, sharing ideas and perspectives, reforms and solutions, many more conversations such as this will need to take place. But if the potential for its success is already laid out in available means: the Internet, discussion, and education – it is not unattainable.’

-Rob Shields, University of Alberta