Inventing commodities and policies

Nigel Thrift (2006) has written recently about the way in which capitalism increasingly uses the whole intellect as a means of innovating new commodities. What he means by this is that – in a desperate search for profits – capitalism is increasingly trying to ‘outsource’ the process of commodity innovation by using the (tacit) knowledges and experiences of consumers. For instance, Thrift discusses how capitalists actively seek to create ‘consumer communities’ with a view to forming groups of people with both a loyalty to a particular commodity and an ability to contribute in substantive ways to the ongoing and continual process of re-inventing that commodity. innovative chairs by alex osterwalder@flikr

Is it possible to think about the way in which the state – potentially through its emphasis on libertarian paternalism – is also increasingly seeking to make use of this kind of creative outsourcing of innovation and inventions? To what extent are state policies or strategies commodities that must be sold to citizens? To what degree do citizens contribute to the process of fine-tuning state policies and strategies through their own (tacit) knowledges?

Thought-experiment…
Capitalism is in crisis because of a long-term profit squeeze…
The state is in crisis because of a squeeze on democracy and citizenship
Capitalism seeks ways of making profits by intermeshing commodities with consumers…
The state seeks legitimacy by intermeshing policies with citizens
Affectively binding consumers through their own passions and enthusiasms sells more goods…
Affectively binding citizens through their passions and enthusiasms sells more policies
Commodity projects are extended over time through incremental innovations derived from consumers…
Policy projects are extended through incremental innovations derived from citizens
Commodities are placed into new worlds created by capitalists/consumers…
Policies are placed into new worlds created by the state/citizens
There is a new market in which dialogue takes place between capitalists and consumers…
There is a new agora in which policies are co-produced by the state and its citizens
Capitalism seeks to increase profits through a spatial extension of intelligence, particularly with regard to IT…
The state seeks to increase legitimacy and rule through a spatial extension of intelligence

Two separate but interlinked issues seem to arise here. First, the possibility of thinking about policies as commodities that can be ‘sold’ to citizens or that can fine-tuned to take heed of the disparate needs of citizen. Echoing Walter Benjamin (1977[1938] quoted in Thrift 2006: 284), can we suggest that ‘if the soul of the commodity [read policy]…existed, it would be the most empathetic ever encountered in the realm of souls, for it would have to see in everyone the buyer [read citizen] in whose hand and house it wants to nestle’ (Benjamin 1977[1938] quoted in Thrift 2006: 284)?

Second, we need to think about the extent to which citizens are part of this process whereby policies are developed, adapted and fine-tuned. Are citizens part of this agora within which new kinds of state policies are developed, whether explicitly or unwittingly? Which citizens actively contribute in a positive manner to the development of these policies, e.g. through contributing to blogs, participatory planning events or focus groups? Which citizens are merely an unfortunate backdrop against which policies are framed?

Rhys

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