[It s]ounds a bit like a science fiction novel; are the financial algorithms, models and computers taking over from their human creators? Have we reached a financial singularity? Is this what a world created by the demonic love child of Gordon Gekko and Bill Gates would look like? This would be an amusing thought if it had not leapt from our collective Kindle screens and into our real world economy. But as Eric B. and Rakim might say, this ain’t no joke. Have we reached the point where our financial markets are so complex that we no longer understand how they really work? And if so, how can we manage what we don’t understand?It is true that many did not understand what was going on when the digitization of planetary monetary transfer enabled a handful of predatory con-artists to engage in incomparably vast-scaled rapid-paced looting and fraud via financial algorithms and financial instruments like the bundling of subprime mortgages into phony prime assets. But, then, it is always true that the marks don't understand what is going on when a scam is underway.
What it is crucial to emphasize about this provocative little science-fictionalized ditty about a "financial singularity" is that -- even if it is coming from a place a disgust and despair about our unprecedented economic distress and about the suffering and injustice it has brought about -- this way of framing the crisis functionally abets the scam it decries.
It is not computers and programs and autonomous techno-agents who are the protagonists of the still unfolding crime of predatory plutocratic wealth-concentration and anti-democratizing austerity. The villains of this bloodsoaked epic are the bankers and auditors and captured-regulators and neoliberal ministers who employed these programs and instruments for parochial gain and who then exonerated and rationalized and still enable their crimes.
Our financial markets are not so complex we no longer understand them. In fact everybody knows exactly what is going on. Everybody understands everything. Fraudsters engaged in very conventional, very recognizable, very straightforward but unprecedentedly massive acts of fraud and theft under the cover of lies, and have very nearly destroyed civilization in so doing. If our governing institutions cannot recover quickly enough to become capable of organizing an effective and equitable collective address of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change and resource descent then they will have succeeded in fact in destroying civilization.
The very experience of "accelerating change" that has preoccupied the discourse of the digital-utopians and futurologists throughout the post-Reagan neoliberal era has always, in my view, simply been the way increasing precarity for ever vaster portions of humanity and earthly life -- produced by outsourcing, crowdsourcing, externalizing, informalizing, union-busting, welfare-looting, deregulatory, race-to-the-bottom globalization -- is experienced and described from the vantage of the privileged people who either benefit from this destabilization or who (rightly or wrongly) identify with the beneficiaries of that destabilization.
When it comes to the financial crisis, we are not living in a science fiction novel, we are living in a bleak naturalist novel.