by Eric Anton
It can be fairly stated that the stock market doesn’t accurately measure the health and productivity of companies; rather, it is a graphic representation of the tension between fear and greed. While this might not fully encapsulate what is being measured, stock prices are far more an expression of emotions than of facts. This is a large part of why companies invest so heavily in public relations and media management; campaigns of greenwashing, social-media outreach, and celebrity endorsements help create emotional responses in the public and investors that encourage us to overlook the fact that a company fails to actually produce useful goods, exploits its workers, and props up its supply chains with slave labor or blood minerals. This approach succeeds in part because we as a society still tend to see news media as a source of information that describes reality rather than one with the power to create reality.
Over the past week, this has seldom been more apparent than with the sudden surge in the stock price of the retail company Gamestop. From last week until this writing, the stock price of Gamestop (GME) has skyrocketed from about forty dollars per share to around three hundred and forty dollars per share. Now, this company has not created an impressive new product or somehow resolved a longstanding problem in the last few days, thereby creating an increase in productivity or profitability which could even remotely explain this change; rather, this increase has been driven almost entirely by emotional factors affecting large numbers of smaller traders who have chosen to challenge institutional Wall Street traders. There are now calls from the large traders to have the government regulate “manipulation” from non-institutional sources like Reddit, ignoring, of course, the large hedge funds who so eagerly contribute money to various political campaigns.
So what is the lesson we can take away from this still-unfolding drama? As of this writing, the Treasury Department is “monitoring” the situation, Wall Street is in a greater state of chaos and confusion than usual, Reddit is crowing with victory, and there is even talk of another federal bailout for Wall Street. And yet for all of this, not a single new product has been made, no new productive forces have been created by any of the companies involved in this drama, and all the money “made” in this event has been the result of speculation and emotional manipulation. The regulation of stock prices through the “normal” channels of press releases and public talk from established institutions being overridden by the abnormal channels of viral social-media marketing is not necessarily a good thing, but it does serve as an intriguing example of the disintegration of establishment institutions.
It is not unreasonable to be worried about how this spectacular show of force by non-institutional actors can impact stock prices because of the central place that the stock market takes in our modern economic discourse. While some may call for the use of power to block out non-institutional actors, this will simply solidify the power of the institutional actors and perpetuate the falsity that “legitimate institutional actions” decide what is right and just. Instead, we need to decouple our economy from the false idol of the stock market. Workers and communities need to be able to insulate themselves from this sort of manipulation entirely through owning the land, tools, and resources that they need to live their lives and raise their families. These sorts of stock manipulations have resulted over and over in recessions and contractions of local economies, while the wealthy profit at a distance from the misery they have caused. A just system of investment would focus on increasing worker ownership of productive forces, not on padding the bank accounts of scaremongers and speculators in faraway Wall Street.
What steps can be taken to help us move from our current system of speculation to one of just investment? One step could be to levy taxes and increase regulations on the hedge funds and investment brokers who produce nothing and helped spark such events as the Great Recession, and whose institutional legitimacy allows them to live in decadence while ruining the lives of millions. A less confrontational approach would be for local communities and families to make deliberate choices to detach themselves from the gambling that passes as legitimate behavior on Wall Street. This would involve measures like forming local cooperatives between farmers and shops, allowing worker-owned cooperatives to organize and run businesses on the same legal level as “traditional” corporations, and supporting the growth of small businesses and local production rather than the “Walmartization” of America. This would also mean abandoning the commercial fetishization of “keeping up with the times” by having the latest and greatest products, even if they may have been made with the stolen wealth and blood of far-off people. Most of all, this would involve us all rediscovering the fact that we can work with our neighbors to sustain ourselves. Right now, our standard of “freedom” mainly involves us being free to work long hours for low wages to help someone we’ve never met before buy a fourth house. Perhaps our idea of freedom should instead be geared towards helping our neighbors be free from want, free from the fear of eviction, and free to live lives of dignity.