The digital economy, surplus value and monopoly

The digital economy, surplus value and monopoly

More thoughts from a seminar. It was organised by one of the North London CLPs and was advertised as a look at the Digital Economy. So what did I learn and what did I think?

On asking how transformational is the Digital Economy, I am reminded that CV 19 has shown who are essential workers and raises the question as to why they are so poorly paid and that the Digital Economy is not yet ubiquitous. Distribution is not yet virtual and will never be, although with AI driven trucks and airborne drones, a lot of jobs can still be eliminated but I am reminded of Carlota Perez’s comments that the railways created demand for more horse drawn freight miles. The other work apart from the obvious health service workers that cannot be virtualised is cleaning and security.

One thing that was not said is that the platform companies and their software benefit from massive economies of scale, and the critical scaling factor is the number of market participants i.e. the consumers and suppliers; for Air BnB, room providers and renters, for Uber, drivers and riders. While some market place creators have applied massive imagination and science to the problems of IT scalability to support their global marketplaces, the IT plant is not at the heart of the value of these market places although we need to recognize that we’ll have to pay for cycles and the power they consume.

Copyright and closed source makes the software monopolistic which is then applied to the relationship with Labour, and in the case of both Air BnB & Uber non software capital is outsourced to the supplier! The value of the company is based on this market activity, not the value of capital employed and not the so-called cost of the software; the software expropriates the surplus value from the suppliers and the size of these markets acts as a further barrier to entry for competitors.

Copyright since it inhibits copying of the software, also underwrites the share value. This is important as we consider if these monopolies should be placed under common ownership. We need to recognize that copyright enables rental income on an infinitely available resource i.e. the software.

These problems are not new, it’s about how combine labour and the world’s natural resources to produce new stuff, the market is meant to optimise this and the platform companies break these economic rules, but fortunately we know how to regulate monopolies.

There is a need for some new thinking about the value of software and how markets might ensure optimal resource allocation but today the basic facts are that software copyrights enable the expropriation of surplus value and establish a rental income yielding super-profits, super-profits funded by the consumers.

The relationship between these marketplace platform companies[1] and their suppliers is exploitative, copyright laws add to the barriers to entry. Their practices are contrary to decent behaviour and the monopolistic nature of the enterprise, together with the subversion of the capital markets undermines their economic justification.

That’s the problem for socialists

[1] Banks are platform companies. …

Automating the professionals

Automating the professionals

I attended a seminar the other day which raised some questions in my mind about the next and prior waves of automation, the location of value creation and the legal/social barriers to adoption. Much is spoken of the use of artificial intelligence to augment or replace professional workers and this note briefly looks at this. It examines the nature of decisions and the need to transparently serve a human rights agenda, the question of regulation and assessment by one’s peers, and why it’s so hard to organise Trade Unions amongst the software authors. …

Theory matters!

Theory matters!

I have just posted a blog on linkedin about business and IT strategy.  I say a bit more here! This was provoked because I was doing some research for a job application which involves IT strategy. I was considering the alignment of business strategy with that of the IT department and what I might say. I outlined three models, although they were all developed a while ago, I think they all have relevance today. The three models address business strategy, software portfolio management and architectural pattern selection. Business strategy should drive portfolio and project management choices. While business strategy will outline how to do what must be done, it also defines what will not be done.  Portfolio management determines the allocation of development funding, priority, maintenance funding, project risk appetite, people skills, project governance and software sourcing policy and as result of choices made, one can select the appropriate platform super architectures, of which you may need more than one. I conclude that theory matters. See more below/overleaf … …

QE 2020

QE 2020

Goodness, here’s the Bank’s page on Quantitative Easing. The last tranche is £645bn. It’s a shit load of money and I find this an important quote,

Suppose we buy £1 million of government bonds from a pension fund. In place of the bonds, the pension fund now has £1 million in money. Rather than hold on to this money, it might invest it in financial assets, such as shares, that give it a higher return. And when demand for financial assets is high, with more people wanting to buy them, the value of these assets increases. This makes businesses and households holding shares wealthier – making them more likely to spend more, boosting economic activity.

The italics and underlining are mine. This is not a plan, it’s a dream. More likely!

If this is designed to boost aggregate demand, then it does so through the lending market and is mitigated by peoples expectations and animal spirits. Poor people spend more of what comes in and are also more debt adverse or will be excluded from borrowing [more] and there’s more of them. If it’s defending aggregate demand that’s needed then we should be pumping this money out through the benefit system nc. the in-work benefit payments; SSP and Redundancy should be state paid/underwritten benefits, not paid by employers nor underwritten by loans. If it’s about protecting the poor inc. the in work poor and vulnerable, then doubly so.

See below/overleaf for a chart showing its size compared with both the fiscal deficit and balance of trade deficit. …

It’s cold outside

It’s cold outside

Carlotta Perez argues that Kondratiev Long Waves have an internal shape. One of the trends is the rollout of the driving technology from the core to the periphery and this takes place in the maturity phase as profitability of the once new technology declines. Another important event is the next eruption and where that takes place. Between the Steel & Oil phases, the world’s core moved from England, the economic and political epicentre of the British Empire to the USA and we should remember that this role was contended for by both Germany and the Soviet Union. It’s moved once, it can move again but it’s most unlikely to come back to England. I wonder what being part of the periphery will be like. I suppose it depends upon where the core is. Will it remain in the USA or move, to China or even the EU. The key will be the dynamism of the innovation economy; it looks like, due to Brexit, the UK’s Universities will decline and that much of aerospace and biosciences will leave the UK. Otherwise the UK & US industries may be defended by the ubiquity of English, but the EU has had 40 years of using it as their language of commerce and to a great extent the language of government.

I can’t see it clearly, but the corruption and financialisation of the anglosphere economies are stymieing innovation and inhibiting “creative destruction”; there is opportunity for other national economies to do better. It would also seem that Perez’s predicted regulatory correction is nostalgic this time, looking back to times when things seemed better, or defending old out dated business models. We  cannot recreate the industries of the steel revolution.

It’s unlikely to be pleasant, especially if the UK moves from being a 2nd tier economy to peripheral one. …

More from Meadway

More from Meadway

I went to one of the local labour political education workshops at which James Meadway was speaking. Odd, since I had been reading of his views, in particular with respect to his contention with MMT; I wrote them up on this blog. but it was good to hear him in person.

I have written about MMT and its contention with the Labour front bench a couple of times and summarised my understanding of the MMT position on International Trade. A couple of years ago I wrote on their views on Monetary vs. Fiscal policy, this latter article also summarises and links to articles critical of MMT.

Meadway emphasised two things, “Not all Currencies are equal”, the dollar is still the international trade denominator. The second point is that making debt default the policy tool to deal with private sector foreign exchange debt is not wise as the biggest FX debt holders are probably HSBC and Barclays. While the UK public sector FX debt is tiny, this private sector debt is not and it’s questionable if we could bail the banks out a second time which since the ring fencing of retail and investment banks is mired in the swamp would jeopardise the people’s savings.

He also emphasised the importance of ownership, investment and universal services as socialist agenda items and thus the creation of an irreversible shift in power; not so sure my memories of Thatcher selling off the Mutuals is evidence that this will work but it will be a powerful manifesto. …

The politics of MMT

The politics of MMT

I was prompted to remember some of my recent Macroeconomic reading as someone was asking about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). I read Reclaiming the State (Gibson & Faizi) last year, and I picked it up again to re-read the section on International Trade. I have not yet finished it, but I remember thinking that while public finance may not be a constraint on the economy, the long term balance of trade may well be, even for a monetary sovereign.

Meanwhile this article “Brexit the slippery slope of left sovereigntism from modern monetary  theory to spiked” at explores the political inertia that MMT’s exponents may be riding. Much of it is based on an interview with James Meadway, once John McDonnell’s economics adviser which is available, at the link below/overleaf. For Coatsey’s regular readers they will be unsurprised at his pugnacious attacks on Faizi’s endorsement of the Full Brexit and Spiked. Meadway’s musing are interesting in that he emphasises that MMT, like Keynesianism  says nothing about inequality and ownership of the means of production. The interview also addresses the moderation in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto. Below/Overleaf are links and excerpts for further reading of Meadway’s views …  …

Ships, Steel & Gas

Ships, Steel & Gas

I have worked as a London (or Thames Valley) white collar worker for all my working life but the GMB is strong in manufacturing and energy. We had several debates of special interest to Shipbuilding, Steel, and Energy, especially the Gas industry and there was also a motion on fracking. For more see below/overleaf.


The shipbuilding motions refer to public procurement policy and reference concepts echoed in the “Just Transition” movements, about not leaving communities nor workers behind. While looking for a picture to decorate this article, I came across an article, entitled, “Another RN supplier goes under – the closure of Appledore shipyard”, which documents the impact on the community but critiques Babcock’s commercial strategy. In reading the article, it makes clear that Appledore was part of the Aircraft Carrier supply-chain and so their commissioning prolonged the life of the shipyard. GMB Congress also highlighted the failure of the Government to “Buy British” for the latest generation of Fleet auxiliary ships. I have written several articles mirroring arguments about  what I consider to be the mistakes of renewing Trident and the building of the new Fleet Carriers. I think the Union needs to engage in these arguments i.e. what do we need and can they be built in multiple sites. It’s not just about how many hospitals could have been funded; what defence assets are we missing to fund the subs & carriers. The country needs to also address retraining and skills reuse. Labour’s promise of a National Education Service, with free, life-long learning available to all is an important part of keeping the UK’s skills relevant and renewing them. The debate can be found on youtube.


The fate of what remains of British Steel was also debated, and I reflected on this earlier this month on this blog. A motion had been submitted to Congress over the winter, again calling for a “Buy British First” policy and this was supplemented by an Emergency Motion calling for the Scunthorpe Steel Works to remain open. [Video of the moving, in several ways, speech]


Nothing was mentioned about the Government’s handling of tariffs. (A mistake I would have thought).


The future of the Gas industry was debated via Composite 15.

While in entering the debate, I assumed that I’d have a problem with the GMB position as too often Unions take a no change position, the composite is well argued and highlights certain critical facts, although not others. (Electricity cannot be stored at scale, Gas can, electricity leaks over the grid. Hydrogen is not a fossil fuel.)  The science of innovation with respect to the use of Hydrogen has not been documented either by the GMB branches nor by Friends of the Earth. (I am trying to chase it down; I have written to SGN who had a stand in the exhibition space.) There’s no question that if Momentum and Friends of the Earth get their motion to Labour Conference, the Just Transition Unions will vote it down, unless they compromise on Gas & Nuclear. The GMB motions states that there is scientific consensus that gas heating in the home is part of a transition to a carbon neutral economy.

I think we need a better understanding of the science.

I read a lot about this in order to write this report, and my notes are on my wiki.


A motion on Fracking, basically opposing it, in the light of recently discovered facts and regulatory changes was withdrawn at the request of the CEC.


The words of the Gas and Fracking motions are posted on my notes are on my wiki. …

British Steel

Our minds have been distracted or mine has anyway, but British Steel became insolvent last week. Of course a huge blame game is started. Have the Chinese been ‘dumping’ steel on the rest of the world? Could the Govt. or the EU have protected it? Did the single market aid rules stop the Govt doing so?

Is China dumping? This article at the Conversation says “Yes”, big time!

This article at, “Is the UK calling for EU duties for Chinese steel?” deals with next three questions. The EU have raised duties but for many years the UK Government has been resisting more; they wished to avoid retaliation and for ideological reasons. There’s probably some “don’t give a shit” there too. It would seem that this is another policy area where New Labour failed to support its natural people.

The calls for renationalisation are now, rightly growing …

Creative Industry exports or not

Over 6 months ago, I decided to see how true the proposition that Creative Industries are foreign exchange earners for the economy as claimed by British Music and the Shadow Culture team. I asked my MP to ask a written question and the replies are linked to in a comment on the above article. I asked for a broader range of industry classifications as I was interested in broader questions than just the creative industry.

I think this is validly constructed.

EMI was sold to Sony & Universal in 2012 and so their balance of trade position was reversed at that time and they were a competitively large music publisher at the time. I last looked at the structure of the global music industry a long time ago, pre-streaming, pre-Apple and pre-Spotify (which is incorporated in Sweden).

Five years out of nine, the industry was in deficit. The final year surplus is extraordinarily large, it would be good to see 2017/2018 and/or understand the reasons for this number. It is not historically true to say that the Creative industries are a net contributor to the foreign exchange account.

I should add that the aggregate trade current account deficit is run as at about minus £2.5bn /month over the period in question.


I wrote about this last year, I have corrected a spelling mistake in the title, and so the SURL/permalink is now, …