Noises in the Attic

Who owns the world?

I recently discovered David Harvey’s Anti-Capitalist Chronicles, in particular I was very taken by the talk Capital in the Attic which discusses a useful metaphor for how life is conducted in the modern world:

  • We have day to day life where people live their lives. The basement.
  • We have the market that lets us get the things we all need to survive. The house.
  • There are a small number of people who are able to move the market around without having to follow its rules. The attic.

Most of us live in the first two zones. It’s a metaphor, and of course life is far more complex.

But when you look at the actions of the billionaire class, moving money around, using their wealth and social leverage to buy up foreclosed properties and establish monopolies, buying up nearly all of the telecoms infrastructure in Mexico etc. etc. none of this stuff is illegal, but it’s also not the something that happens in the market or the day to day world.

Their social and political clout means they can move things around in the attic, usually so that money streams from ordinary people like you and me end up pouring into their pockets. Given the neoliberal break up of the commons and the drive to privatise everything they have plenty of opportunity and it’s easy for them to get their hands on the vast sums of money they need to buy things up, even at discounted prices you’re often talking billions.

So we need to be aware of this, it’s not a conspiracy to acknowledge that the billionaire class can use their social weight and financial power to rob the rest of us. It just means that when  you hear how some new thing is going to make things better you have to think who for?