Gaming the Political System

Before you can make things better, you have to accurately name them. Put another way, it helps to understand why things are so fucked up, man. And then you can make a list of how to tackle the beast. The chattering classes call it a ‘crisis of legitimacy’ brought on by you know who.

Since we all know who…no wait, we don’t! Trump, as so many wise men and women have pointed out, is not the problem: he is merely the symptom of a disease known as Casino Capitalism. Which is not entrepreneurship, the capitalism my great great grandfather engaged in when he built an actual factory that produced useful goods, and is still producing them today. (Full disclosure: my father more or less gave away his controlling share..long story).image

Casino Capitalism is something else entirely and the only thing it produces is ever increasing inequality. It’s just a bunch of billionaires armed with the latest algorithms trading vast amounts of capital with an electronic click and presto, made another billion. Call it click for click wealth creation. It’s betting, gambling, gaming the global financial system, and it’s screwing all of us who are non-billionaires. It’s the most exclusive club on the globe. And they are the ones who elevated Trump.

But even if you had a few billion like Trump, who is #156 on the Forbes list, and wanted your fair share of the easy money, they wouldn’t let you in. They won’t even describe what, exactly, they’re trading, if they are sequestered inside the Medallion Club, said to deliver returns of 70% on the dollar. The 300 members haven’t let anyone else share the loot for the last decade. Nobody knows who they are.

But one of its founders might condescend to buy you a Presidency, even if you’re only #156.

Who is that? Why Robert Mercer, hedge fund genius, nerd, and owner of the famous Renaissance Technologies firm, for starters, and the brains behind the Medallion Club.

Mercer is not your usual billionaire, he’s a nerd who has hired the best nerds in the Big Data business, and got very wealthy in the process.  During the summer when Big T-Rex was stumbling, he and his daughter, Rebekah, switched allegiance from Cruz to Trump, to the tune of $15billion. But that’s not all: with that nice sum came an entire network of front end crazies like Steve Bannon et al and behind-the-scenes mathematicians. There’s a nice little Youtube video about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQUkaEVe7II

Then there’s Peter Thiel and his company, Cambridge Analytics. According to The Guardian, dhttps://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/19/crisis-of-statistics-big-data-democracy, they fed the Trump campaign the ‘intelligence’ that only Big Data can mine: how people actually feel, what drives them, how they talk, what their personal hates and fears are. Because it’s no longer the pollsters who know and predict political fortunes: they are usually way off the mark nowadays. The author of the article, Sociologist William Davies, makes fascinating points: “Figures close to Donald Trump, such as his chief strategist Steve Bannon and the Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, are closely acquainted with cutting-edge data analytics techniques, via companies such as Cambridge Analytica, on whose board Bannon sits.”

The article makes clear that old style stats represent national groups and categories that frequently fail to hit the mark with local conditions, thus undermining their credibility. But Data Mining does the opposite: it zeroes in on the individual, and catches the emotional truth of the moment in a way that is ripe for dictators, especially since so few of us are aware of its power:

“These vast new data sets can be mined in search of patterns, trends, correlations and emergent moods. It becomes a way of tracking the identities that people bestow upon themselves (such as “#ImwithCorbyn” or “entrepreneur”) rather than imposing classifications upon them. This is a form of aggregation suitable to a more fluid political age, in which not everything can be reliably referred back to some Enlightenment ideal of the nation-state as guardian of the public interest.”

It’s not the whole puzzle, but an important chunk of it. And just imagine someone like Trump having unlimited access to Big Data intelligence. It trumps (sorry) all horror scenarios I’ve come across lately, especially since these companies are utterly opaque and secretive. Furthermore, Trump is very friendly with other examples of the club of deplorable billionaire gamblers: Sheldon Adelman, owner of casinos, other big players from Silicon Valley like Tom Steyer, and the list goes on. They are gamers, they own the house, and the house always wins.

These people and what they’re like have been brilliantly characterised by the late William S Burroughs, whose father was an early version of Mercer: he had a company that made Burroughs Business Machines. ( I stole this quote from the Roaming Charges, by Jeffry St Clair, the editor at Counterpunch).

“We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures, and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision. They are representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident, inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.”

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