It Is Better to Have Wanted and Lost Than Never to Have Wanted At All

Kickstarter is, not at all on purpose, saying some interesting things about this moment in the history of capitalism and about this moment in terms of the availability of disposable income.

About capitalism, I think this: people will give to Kickstarter even more than what they’d pay for the delivery of the product they’re backing if the product were available on a store shelf. Kickstarter is being used to signal desire. What’s striking is that it shows that consumer capitalism is in some sense just as hamstrung as the modernist state in its ability to deliver what people want and will pay for. All our institutions and organizations, of all kinds, are now tangled up in their own complexity, all of them are increasingly built to collect tolls rather than build bridges.

All that money spent on market research, on product development, on vice-presidents of this and that, and what you have, especially in the culture industry, is a giant apparatus that is less accurate than random chance in creating the entertainment or products that consumers can quite clearly describe their desire for. So clearly that the consumers are giving money to people they like who have no intention of or ability to make what the donors say they want. Because, rather like the lottery, at least you can imagine the chance of the thing you want coming into being. Waiting around for Sony or EA or Microsoft or Ubisoft to make it feels like an even bigger longshot.

Which also says something about money and its circulation. The crisis of accumulation isn’t just visible in the irrepressible return of subprime loans, or in the constant quest of financiers to find more ways to make money by speculating on the making of money by people who are making money. It’s even visible in more middle-class precincts. Who wants to invest a bit of spare cash in the long-term deal or the soberly considered opportunity now? It’s like waiting in line to deposit a small check while the bank gets robbed repeatedly.

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5 Responses to It Is Better to Have Wanted and Lost Than Never to Have Wanted At All

  1. Jerry Hamrick says:

    I guess I haven’t been paying attention lately, but this post and “Subtraction Stew” seem to be about our economic system. Today you summarize some of the well-known problems with capitalism, including the eternal failure of the bogus model of the “free market” and the “creativity” of the capitalists. Always has failed, always will.

    The kickstarter fiasco is as old as general-purpose computers. It started in 1959 with the release of the IBM 1401 which performed as advertised, but the entrepreneurs of that day pitched their cons to wise leaders of big corporations. Many more system development projects failed than succeeded. Of course that is the way the free market is supposed to work, right? You win a few and lose a lot. Sort of like the stock market. In developing systems the rule of thumb is that if it looks easy it is hard and if it looks hard it is easy. Game players are easy to gull. Creating an exciting new game is a snap especially over a few beers or a joint or two.

    But anyhow, you have clearly identified a couple of very serious problems with our system of economics. Yesterday, in “Subtraction Stew,” you put you finger on the biggest con of all: neoliberalism. And you shot your arrow straight to its heart: scarcity. You are not alone in your identification of these problems and you are not alone in your failure to provide any solutions for them.

    Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of my research into these and many related problems. In 2008 I began to read many books that were being written in response to the Bush crash. I think I read about 200 or so, I am a very fast reader and I was looking for something very specific: a solution. None were to be found. I then got a Kindle and started downloading samples. By reading them and checking the table of contents and reading a few Internet reviews, I could easily see if there was anything of value in them. Eldar Shafir’s book is void of solutions and a lot of what he says is really, really obvious. There is another book on economics that is similar but more successful because its authors are well-known economists, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Shafir’s book is just old news in new terminology. In my day we would have written about “privation” or “deprivation,” but “scarcity” is the latest noun.

    For many years I have written comments like this one on many, many blogs. I have asked the smart guys to give us a solution. Krugman is a favorite of mine. Anyhow, nobody has a solution. One man, Joe Firestone, has a book that makes an effort to solve the problem but it falls woefully short of the mark. But he is far ahead of the pack.

    The problem is integrated across many aspects of our economic system and other public institutions including education, including the arts and humanities. The solution can only be carried by groups of ordinary citizens, and can only be successfully led by people age 25 or less who are aided by the virtuous wisdom of the professors and teachers. And the humanities is just the place to start the effort to save the world. I am not kidding. The task is that important, and only you and your students, and teachers and students in other fields can make it happen.

    Everywhere I press this argument I become unwelcome. It gets really nasty in a hurry. But that is part of the job of designing and implementing large-scale systems. Whenever I get low, I go back to the first time I presented a small part of my solution on your blog. Things got nasty in a hurry–not from you but from some of your regulars. I don’t mind, but I am discouraged that brilliant academic minds are so closed to new ideas. They work so hard to put them into old slots. The solution to our problem is not old but it is a new variety of evolution.

    But to return to neoliberalism and scarcity. In 1949 I learned that the scarcity of money is bogus. It is a deliberate product of neoliberalism. The men who were discussing this matter talked about “Rocky Mountains made of gold.” They determined, over a period of several years, that there is no reason that a sovereign government has to borrow money to have money. In fact we can print all of the money we need. We can, of course, misuse this unlimited supply of money, but we misuse the limited supply we have today and our nation is always in economic trouble. But the only thing we really have to worry about is inflation, and those old-timers that taught me had many workable ideas for recognizing and controlling inflation.

    Once any institution has unlimited money available that comes with very few strings attached, what would that mean? What would your university do with it? What would your family and friends do with it?

    It seems to me that humanities are perfectly positioned to ask the right questions and lead young people in the development of good answers. There is a nobel prize waiting for the professors who organize, kickstart, and lead that effort.

  2. Nord says:

    two words:

    “solar roadways”
    A little more practical than funding the 100 year spaceship or fusion, etc.

    But on a serious note, if not for Tesla (and a boatload of government incentives/requirements), would Porsche now have 3 different plug-in hybrid vehicles, more than any other manufacturer? Capitalism is about a guy coming to America with only a little, and now reinventing the automobile industry AND the space flight industry. Brings a tear to my eye. So, if $50 makes that dream a little closer for solar freakin roadways, good on them!

  3. Justin says:

    Don’t really get the whole hullabaloo. Kickstarter is a way to fund a project, business, idea, whatever. Ideas, projects, businesses, fail more often than not. As they should. Most ideas we have as human beings are stupid ones. When you contribute to one of them I don’t see why you should have a legitimate beef if it fails if literally all you are doing is ponying up a bit of cash. You took a chance. It didn’t pan out. That’s sucks……move on. Not every payment you make for something requires the recipient to meet your expectation. How many times have you been to a restaurant and been disappointed with the food? Did you get your money back? Or if you took a course at uni and the professor turned out to be dick, did you get your money back? Or the battery on your laptop went from 8 hours per charge to 3 in a year, did you get your money back? Capitalism sucks but it doesn’t do so anymore than the people who enact it. I’m not sure clothing yourself in the robe of a victim is either accurate or helpful. When it is legitimate to bitch about a perceived to be crappy exchange and when it isn’t is a deeply culturally constructed and variable thing and it is good that we fight over it, but again I doubt the victim angle is the best way to engage in that fight.

  4. mch says:

    The crisis of accumulation. Interesting that accumulation should constitute a crisis, no? I mean, if our store of corn is plentiful for getting us through the winter, is that a crisis? If our store of corn seed is plentiful for planting next season, is that a crisis (rather than opportunity? Ah, Opportunity, a nice Puritan name!)
    Or maybe agriculture (+ husbandry, the two go together) still governs too much our thinking about these things. I do think that may be our block. (Not that hunting and gathering is the alternative — what?)
    I am plaintiff and philosophical both, as I contemplate my Massachusetts garden (not doing very well this year), prepared for me (in some abstract but very real way, whatever the reality of my own efforts) by Indian gardeners (well, not literally here in my part of MA, but really). Not doing well because of an explosion of rabbits and also the usual culprits, deer and woodchucks. (Plus local developers, who have upset the drainage into my yard. Hard to garden in a semi-swamp.)
    Hard to escape the agricultural framework (which includes patents and proprietors, and those shares and percentages of shares — hello, capitalism!) but somehow we have to escape all that. I say this as I studiously buy local from various farms that proudly advertise their names (I don’t grow corn in my garden, for instance –or tomatoes! who would? really good tomatoes come from warmer regions nearby). You see? I am so embedded in agriculture (and husbandry), that I have trouble imagining my way out of it.
    Suddenly I am remembering another Indian, a Hindi India Indian, who admiringly declared me to her daughter “an old soul,” after she’d watched me work in my garden next door and then engaged in brief conversation with me by their porch….. What did she see in what I was up to? The work, I think, the loving work. And the happiness in it.

  5. chris says:

    Pet Rocks

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