Come join me for Surplus3: Labour and the Digital

Untitled-3I am participating in this wonderful symposium celebrating the publication of Nick Dyer-Witheford’s most recent book Cyber-Proletariat: Global Labour in the Digital Vortex. Participants will have 3 minutes to speak to a given concept. That’s faster than green grass through a goose folks. Sounds fun! See you at the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, Tuesday October 20th at 7pm.

Marxism Reborn

Ursula Huws and Leo Panitch were on CBC radio today to discuss the continued relevance of Marxism. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989-1991 freed Marxism from its tether to vanguard politics. The long-held distinction between the state capitalism of the Soviet Union and the free market capitalism of the United States was always a spurious one at best. Socialism and free markets have on different occasions both coexisted and come into conflict. However, both systems are premised on property regimes characterized by the division of labor. In this engaging discussion, Huws and Panitch discuss contemporary Marxian outlooks on global economic crises. Click the link below to hear the interview:

Is Marxism Facing a Rebirth?

New study finds no evidence that patents are linked to greater levels of productivity or innovation

Two Federal Reserve economists have published a paper that argues for the abolition of patent law. Patents—along with copyright, trademark, trade secret, and right of publicity protections—are supposed to provide the economic incentive necessary for production. Together these laws constitute what is commonly referred to as intellectual property. However, the metaphor of property is a poor one at best. Systems of property are designed to manage scarce resources. Yet the immaterial goods which are subject to patent and copyright restrictions do not exhibit scarcity. In fact, intellectual property systems are designed specifically to produce scarcity where none exists. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to refer to these systems as intellectual monopolies. They are artificially induced shortages of economic inputs and there is every reason to believe they create considerable inefficiency. Early 20th century economist Arnold Plant argued as much and later members of the law and economics school of thought like Richard Posner and William Landes make similar assertions. The major claim of the authors of the current paper—economists Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine—is that there is no empirical evidence of a link between patent protections and greater levels of innovation and productivity—unless you measure productivity in terms of additional patents (which has no correlation with productivity). This paper strengthens the position of those who argue that the increasing levels of intellectual property protections, both in terms of scope and duration, stymie technological innovation, research and development, cultural production, and the free flow of ideas. To read the paper click the link below:

The Case Against Patents

Free labor and unpaid internships

I am more than a little late with this excellent piece by Enda Brophy, Nicole Cohen, and Greig de Peuter on the exploitation of student labor. I’ve been busy with end-of-semester activities but I wanted to highlight this article before I head out the door for the holidays. It’s an important and sometimes invisible topic. As a professor I am very uneasy about unpaid internships. I want to do all I can to help my students as they prepare to enter the job market but I am leery of internship “opportunities.” There is a perfect storm of high levels of student debt, dwindling employment opportunities, and a surplus of graduates being dumped on the labor market by universities. Yet while jobs may be drying up there seems to be an unending wellspring of unpaid internships. Many of these internships entail crass exploitation of student labor and the concomitant elimination of low wage jobs. Despite the hackneyed adage that internships are a great way for employers to give much needed experience to future job seekers it cannot be denied that this is a particularly vulnerable subset of workers. As the authors assert, “Once an intern, it is difficult to take a stand against one’s exploitation. Internships effectively have gag orders built into them. No matter how distasteful their quasi-job, few interns would jeopardize the bait (graduating to full-time, a glowing reference) or annihilate their reputation for being “agreeable” by speaking out.” So hats off to Nicole, Greig, and Enda. Read the full article at:

Interns unite! (You have nothing to lose – literally)