Our New Cloud-Based Ruling Class
Capital is everywhere, yet capitalism is on the wane. In an era when the owners of a new form of "command capital" have gained exorbitant power over everyone else, including traditional capitalists, this is no contradiction.
ATHENS – Once upon a time, capital goods were just the manufactured means of production. Robinson Crusoe’s salvaged fishing gear, a farmer’s plough, and a smith’s furnace were goods that helped produce a larger catch, more food, and shiny steel tools. Then, capitalism came along and vested owners of capital with two new powers: The power to compel those without capital to work for a wage, and agenda-setting power in policymaking institutions. Today, however, a new form of capital is emerging and is forging a new ruling class, perhaps even a new mode of production.
At the beginning of this change was free-to-air commercial television. The programming itself could not be commodified, so it was used to attract viewers’ attention before selling it to advertisers. Programs’ sponsors used their access to people’s attention to do something audacious: harness emotions (which had escaped commodification) to the task of deepening… commodification.
The essence of the advertiser’s job was captured in a line spoken by Don Draper, the fictional protagonist in the television serial Mad Men, set in the advertising industry of the 1960s. Coaching his protégé, Peggy, on how to think about the Hershey chocolate bar their firm was peddling, Draper caught the spirit of the times: