If you want to see the collapse of complex business models made flesh, walk the streets of Detroit. Now walk the streets of Burnley this summer, George…

I’d seen the Twitter link before and not thought much of it.

And then it re-appeared again, via @garyyounge.

And this time, curiosity got the better of me; that and the accompanying ‘commentary’… all 110 characters of it. Enough, needless to say, to have a nose.

This was the Tweet in question:

RT @garyyounge: Dramatic pictures of Detroit in decay or what happens when capitalism decides it really doesn’t need people anymore.

And that was the line… ‘when capitalism decides it really doesn’t need people any more…’

Because that, in turn, sprang another thought; another one of those odd, little connections; a light bulb moment in the darker recesses of an idle, Bank Holiday mind.

Again, one of those you wander by; waiting for the switch to flick….

Algorithms Take Control of Wall Street | Magazine – jonbaer: 12:13 AM Dec 28th via Tumblr Retweeted by 1 person via @sznyelveszet

This was the original ’source’… from Wired Magazine…

It kinda touched on an area we’d visited before; in fact, it wasn’t kinda… it was.

‘Flash trades’ and the ability of one computer glitch to completely spook ‘the markets’…. send shares into a sudden, free-fall where only the boys with the biggest of algorithmic toys can compete.

Read the Wired piece on the impact that ‘Lexicon’ and its like has had on Wall Street and beyond and one line leaps out…

‘By some estimates, computer-aided high-frequency trading now accounts for about 70 percent of total trade volume…’

The human as the middle man; the negotiator; to barter with and berate has gone. The unforeseen consequences of which are being seen with increasing regularity.

‘These sudden drops are now routine, and it’s often impossible to determine what caused them.

‘But most observers pin the blame on the legions of powerful, superfast trading algorithms—simple instructions that interact to create a market that is incomprehensible to the human mind and impossible to predict.

‘For better or worse, the computers are now in control.’

It’s when capitalism doesn’t need people any more, as Gary Younge might observe on the derelict streets of Detroit.

It is, likewise, a situation that both Messrs Tainter and Shirky would recognise instantly.

Because, to my ‘umble mind, handing control of the trading floors of Wall Street and the City of London to vast algorithms is playing with fire; we – or rather they – are pushing and pushing already complex business models to the point of collapse.

Tainter’s thesis is chilling when you place those pictures of Detroit on top of global financial markets now run by machines…

‘Every one of those groups,’ says Shirky, distilling Tainter’s thesis and citing the Romans and the Lowlands Maya as examples, ‘…had rich traditions, complex social structures, advanced technology, but despite their sophistication, they collapsed, impoverishing and scattering their citizens and leaving little but future archeological sites as evidence of previous greatness…’

Which is what, you could argue, is all that it left of Detroit. An archeological site evidencing ‘previous greatness’.

But if capitalism can now do without people; if the algorithms are now king… what are the people to do without capitalism?

That, for me, is the key to understanding where we might all be heading. Because it wasn’t Wall St that – in itself – left Detroit an archeological ruin.

It was the big business that was the motor industry; that’s already gone bust.

What’s interesting in a UK context is what if ‘big’ goverrnment – be it with a capital ‘G’ or without – is likewise all-but bankrupt? Or pretty much will be the next time the banks come a-calling.

There are, what, 400,000-odd public sector employees out there who – for good or ill – were reliant on ‘big’ government for their jobs, their pensions, their futures and their families.

And that’s gone; or going. P45s hitting the door-mats in the next 48-hours.

So for those ‘dark corners’ of the land where George Osborne has never ventured for fear of meeting the revolting lower classes, what next?

If capitalism in its ‘big’ format – and, whilst we’re here, you can add ‘big’ media to that brew – has abandoned the people, what now for the people left to huddle in the long-abandoned doorways of downtown Detroit – or, by the same-token, left without their drop-in centres in Burnley, Blackburn and beyond?

For me, and for many, the answer has to lie in collaborating like never before; to re-building our lives, our hopes and our prospects from the streets and the estates up; to looking to ourselves for our own salvation. For big ain’t coming.

Just ask anyone waiting for a BT fibre to be laid to their door.

Big ain’t coming. Big is bust; broken beyond repair. The ‘Race To Infinity’… coming to six exchanges nowhere near you; maybe by the beginning of 2012.

One final – and belated – prediction for 2011. At some point this summer, HM Government will sanction the shut down of the mobile phone networks over and above a sector of London streets.

That’s how order was restored in 1660; by denying the people the ‘liberty of printing’. That and restricting the freedom of movement; kettling people in their parishes.

In 2011, that same ‘liberty of printing’ is access to a SmartPhone. Sit yourself in a Cobra committee room as the people march down Threadneedle Street….


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