‘Beyond Digital Capitalism: New Ways of Living’ by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo (eds) reviewed by Scott Timcke

and (eds)
Beyond Digital Capitalism: New Ways of Living

Socialist Register 2021, The Merlin Press, London, 2020. 324 pp., $24.00 pb
ISBN 9781583678831

Reviewed by Scott Timcke

About the reviewer

Scott Timcke studies issues of race, class, and social inequality. His second book, Algorithms …

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Completed ‘under the difficult conditions created by the pandemic’ (xiii) the 2020 edition of the Socialist Register seeks to ‘analyze the nature of digital capitalism and its contradictions’ (ix), doing so ‘within the history of technological change’ (x). In selecting this topic, the late Leo Panitch and Greg Albo’s goal was to highlight the extent to which ‘digital technology has become integral to capitalist market dystopia’ (ix), a necessary task given the prevalence of ‘cyber-utopian’ (ix) and ‘techno determinist’ (x) thought in the public and private realms. This kind of ‘celebrant’ ideology, which Robert McChesney (2013) outlined so well recently, provides a social license for centi-billionaires like Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos to continue to have a disproportionate say in directing investments, allocating resources and setting the terms of production. In laying out this agenda, Panitch and Albo rightly place greater emphasis on ‘capitalism’ than the adjectival ‘digital’, effectively suggesting that regardless of the various affordances platforms, algorithms and code may provide, in the first instance they are shaped by the imperatives of capital. Theirs is a welcome addition of materialist and class analysis to the general literature within Science and Technology Studies through demonstrating how digitalization is used to expand and deepen capitalist social relations.

All the essays have merit, offering numerous useful theoretical and programmatic insights in turn making the collection more than the sums of its parts. Still, three essays are worth mentioning in particular. Among the early theorists of digital capitalism like Dan Schiller (1999), and with several previous contributions appearing in past editions of the Socialist Register, Ursula Huws contextualises the differences between telecommuting professionals and ‘essential’ workers in hospitals, logistics and warehousing sectors within the broader reconfiguration in global labour markets that has been occurring in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession. By enrolling ‘near-universal access to digital technologies’ (1) by in large professionals could isolate and work at home during the pandemic, in doing so taking on different risk profiles compared to workers who were required to remain on hand and on-site during lockdowns. Typically, in the Global North, these risk profiles somewhat overlap with racial status, with racial minorities disproportionately bearing greater exposure to Covid-19. Taking the larger view, both sets of workers face great risk in the years ahead. This is because ‘platform work’ and telecommuting has provided a game-plan for companies wishing to ‘casualize or downsize’ (5) their labour force in the wake of the pandemic. In this respect, Huws links the ‘breaking effects’ in labour markets with ‘acceleratory effects’ (5) of financial markets which push for labour being at the beck and call, but off the company books. And when on-site, workers are subject to remote management surveillance practices that characterise ‘logged labour’ (Huws 2016). These items have aided the steady concentration of capital.

Complementing Huws’ reconfiguration of labour markets and capital, Bryan Palmer’s essay addresses ‘reconfigurations of time and how it is conceived’. The jarring of ‘capitalist temporality’ (14) during the pandemic had several effects, one of which was the evaporation of clear ideas of ‘working time’. Certainly, technologies like emails and cellphones had contributed to this development in the recent past, same too with the demands of coordinating work in transnational corporations. Still, with professionals telecommuting, there is additional meaning to Dallas Smythe’s adage that ‘all time is work time’. But Palmer also has a larger point about the role of primitive accumulation in the ‘the reconstruction of exploitation’ (32), suggesting that the evaporation of time boundaries around work speak to how digitization aids the sheer looting of workers time while, as Huws notes, their proper time at work (and hence remuneration) shrinks.

Grace Blakley’s contribution addresses the ‘tendency towards centralization’ (100). Through micro-managing the extraction of surplus value, dispossession and relatively low production costs, digital technology companies are extremely profitable. ‘They collect an extremely valuable commodity produced by their users – data’, Blakley writes, while ‘network effects to establish near total market dominance’ (101). The size, position and power that these firms have gives them an effective monopsony power over workers and monopoly power to gain access to data, attention and the audience commodity. The entire process, Blakley notes, is aided and abetted by ‘specialist financial institutions’ (102) themselves subject to Huws’ ‘acceleratory effects.’ Consequently, Derek Hrynyshyn explains that activists ought to be clear-eyed about the limitations of regulatory interventions. While there is certainly utility in digital media and tech reform, antitrust legislation and similar policy courses are insufficient for large-scale social transformations that characterize Marxist aspirations. As Hrynyshyn writes, the proper target is a new mode of production, with a new property rights regime, appropriate jurisprudence, general decommodification and a fair sharing of goods. These are the attributes of what Christoph Hermann’s calls a ‘needs-based economy’ (277).

In drawing attention to the trifecta of rentiership, looting and concentration, the collection outlines paths other than simple utopianism or scepticism, showing instead how these stances could be superseded by critical approaches grounded in maximising the potential of digital technologies as but one part of the broader project of revitalizing social life. If there is one element that is somewhat overlooked in the collection it is how US capitalism captured the internet. Where once it was a ‘free software community,’ one with an emerging public property rights regime that could permit everyone to ‘homestead on the electronic frontier,’ the last several decades have seen this space enclosed and subject to control by capital. This is evident in digital rights management and the various struggles over privacy, torrents and other streaming sites. Co-currently, there have been attempts to channel information by making it pass primarily through platforms like Facebook and Google, or have products primarily sold via Amazon. Not only is this an enclosure of this vast human potential, but this is akin to the enclosures that preceded the rise of industrialism.

Finally, there is also some benefit considering some of the conjectures in Panitch and Albo’s opening essay. Their essay does much to try to signal that the pandemic has made the precepts of neoliberal era open to revision and renegotiation. Managing capitalism’s contradictions has recently seen ‘massive social expenditures’ (ix), actions outside the Overton window just a few years before. Currently there is much hype and enthusiasm in the US liberal press over ‘Bidenomics’ (cf. Smith 2021). Citing big public spending in the US, for example, Chris Hughes (2021) has proclaimed that ‘we are witnessing the most profound realignment in American political economy in nearly forty years.’ Furthermore, he adds, ‘we went from living in a country where markets couldn’t be touched to one where Americans believe the state has an important role in managing them to create prosperity.’ This is a development that Hughes welcomes. That said, it is not the case the Anglo-American ruling parties have taken the turn embodied by Sanders and Corbyn (these parties have hardly taken the ‘Warren turn!’); rather, capitalists have realised that the neoliberal governance is ill-suited to present conditions which combine intense and broad dissatisfactions with a looming crisis of effective demand.

Strong declaratives about ‘managed markets’ might be overselling the apparent change in the relationship between state and market, but there is a sense in that there may be a new unity under construction. Given the various reconfigurations to which Huws, Palmer and Blakley point, it is almost certain that digital technology will be a key constitutive form in that unity. If so, there is value in heeding some of Stuart Hall’s wisdom since, following the intense social struggles in the 1960s, he was an early observer of ‘a new political project on the right’ (Hall 1988: 136) which sought to consolidate its close victory from those struggles. As Hall wrote, ‘those transformations [changed] the political terrain of struggle before our very eyes, we think the differences don’t have any real effect on anything. It still feels more ‘left-wing’ to say the old ruling class politics goes on in the same old way’ (Ibid: 163). Hall’s refusal of the ‘easy transfer of generalisations’ from one era to another made him especially sensitive to the mechanics of neoliberalism, better positioning generations of scholars who followed to provide a critical analysis of the subsequent conjunctures and articulations. I mention this because if Panitch and Albo are correct about a slight revision in Western political economy, then the scholars in the collection exemplify the kind of sensitivity required to trace that reformation.

10 May 2021

References

  • Hall, Stuart 1988 The Hard Road to Renewal London: Verso.
  • Hughes, Chris 2021 The Free Market is Dead: What Will Replace It Time April 26, 2021 https://time.com/5956255/free-market-is-dead/
  • Huws, Ursula 2016 Logged labour: a new paradigm of work organisation? Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation 10(1): 7-26.
  • McChesney, Robert W. 2013 Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy New York: New Press.
  • Schiller, Dan 1999 Digital Capitalism: Networking the Global Market System Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Smith, Noah 2021 Bidenomics, explained April 4, 2021 https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/bidenomics-explained

12 comments

  1. Thanks for the concise review, first of all. Grace Blakley’s observation that there is a tendency on the part of tech giants to consolidate their monopoly over data of internet users is well known. it would have been great if there was further elaboration on what exactly is the status of data in a materialist framework: is it an material entity – it is certainly a commodity- and what is the relation of data to surplus value?

  2. @arunima: The production and trade in commodities has some preconditions. The way I explained that once in a wiki was in terms of ten basic conditions:

    *The existence of a reliable supply of a product or service, or at least a surplus or surplus product that is available for trade.
    *The existence of a social need for it (an effective market demand) that must be met through trade, or at any event cannot be met otherwise.
    *The legally sanctioned assertion and protection of private ownership rights to the commodity.
    *The enforcement of these rights, so that ownership is secure.
    *The transferability of these private rights from one owner to another.
    *The right to buy and sell the commodity, and/or obtain (privately) and keep the income from such trade.
    *The (physical) transferability of the commodity itself, i.e. the ability to store, package, preserve and transport it from one owner to another.
    *The imposition of exclusivity of access to the commodity.
    *The possibility of the owner to use, access or consume the commodity as a private citizen or business.
    *Guarantees about the quality and safety of the commodity, and possibly a guarantee of replacement or service, should it fail to function as intended.

    If those conditions are not adequately met, then it is likely that the production and trade of commodities – whatever they are – will break down.

    Data and information score well on some of these criteria, but often not so well with others. If for example you can get a piece of information for free, you are less likely to buy it. Lots of free information is constantly being produced around us, and it may be obtainable through unusual or previously unthinkable routes, even bypassing legal rules and commercial markets. You can spy on what people do, but you may not be able to control everything they do.

    Data and information services can be sold on all sorts of terms, so often it not so clear what exactly the thing is, that is being sold. Some services clearly involve the trade of a commodity, others don’t. The value of data and information is often rather “unstable”, insofar as information commodities can be very rapidly displaced by other alternatives, so that market demand can fall just as fast as it rose. Similarly, the production, transmission and supply processes of information can vary greatly, and can also change rapidly, through new arrangements, ways of working and new technologies.

    The surplus-value or profit obtained from the trade in information and data relates to its costs of production, distribution, transmission and supply, which is influenced by competition. The idea is, to get more revenue from supplying information, than what it costs to produce it.

    Commercial competition typically requires, that the information or data is sold at a price sufficient to make at least a normal income from it in the marketplace, and at a price that users are prepared to pay. Here again, the sale can take all sorts of forms, with all kinds of access rights. Information can be bought, hired, rented, leased etc.

    Many online services for example have as a precondition, that the user grants use or ownership rights to the information provided by consumers online.

    So anyway, the specific property rights involved in information trades play a very important role in shaping the form of the services provided. There are also plenty companies who “scrape” information provided freely online, as raw material for all kinds of information products, similar to trawlers fishing in the open sea with dragnets.

    The business model for selling information and data often involves a mixture of free and paid information, so that the supply method is “layered”. At the directly accessible surface layer, consumers or users can gain some insight into what is being offered, for free. This is also handy for advertising purposes. But if consumers want more detail or more valuable/costly information, there is a pay-wall, and the price of that more detailed information fluctuates according to the current market value of the information.

    There are plenty Marxists who assume that the trade and supply of information and data must occur according to “one uniform economic principle”, such as the labour theory of value. But this is a big mistake, and the existence of such a principle has never been credibly demonstrated by economists.

    There is an enormous variety of types of information, stored in many different ways, with a variety of property and use rights. There is in reality no reason why the terms of trade in information or data always have to be the same for all the commodities and services involved. All kinds of different income transfers can occur.

    How the information is traded, often depends a lot on what kind of information it is, and how it is produced. There are in reality all kinds of different services, which have their own terms of trade. Some services supply a tangible product, other do not (some of them consist only of an experience you can buy).

    There are also leftist economists who believe that information and data do not have “value” of any sort, never mind a “labour-value”. That is not true either. There is rarely a “totally free information lunch”; even if the production costs are near-zero, there are still transmission costs or other costs. It is merely that it is not always obvious who ends up paying for the costs, and how they pay for it.

    It is true that once a computer programme has been written, copies of it could in principle be supplied at near-zero costs to users. But there may still be property rights to be reckoned with, which may entitle the supplier to payment, in exchange for use of the information. Much depends on the legal and technical requirements that are essential to enforce property rights.

    Although the specialized information business continues to grow, its overall contribution to the national income formally speaking still remains rather modest, a matter of a few percent of GDP. Most of the big earnings are by a relatively small number of companies.

    Admittedly though, a very large number of companies sell information services along with products, as an ancillary activity, and this is not made very explicit by statistical information. One can get data on the revenues of internet providers, for example, but it is very difficult to estimate the value of information services supplied as a byproduct of other business. Probably the trade in information – in all sorts of forms – is therefore in reality much larger, than the statistics can reliably capture.

    Nevertheless it remains true that the growth of the information business has not created the kind of cumulative economic boom that people expected of it in the 1990s.

    Why exactly that is the case, remains rather unclear. Most likely there is not one reason, but a combination of factors that are involved – social, political, cultural and technical. And most likely, at least one of the factors is the challenge of durably commoditizing types of information, and do away with, or preventing freely available or very low-cost information. The pay-wall (or enclosure) might be difficult to install or maintain, or it might crumble after a while, because people find a way around it anyway.

    At present, we are still at an early phase in the development of information as a commodity, in which there is a lot of experimenting with and discovering how you can make money from information, particularly digitally transmitted information, and how you have to “package” it.

    The bottom line is, that people have to be willing and able to pay for information, and therefore the markets are mainly focused on specialized information, the use of which is essential to individual people, governments and businesses.

    Gradually, new terms of trade become the norm, so that pay-wall information is then effectively separated and locked away from free information.

    If you then want to have the information you require, you can only obtain it in a specific form, a form in which you have to pay for it. That is the emergence of new “commodity forms” for information.

    This changes the entire way in which information, data and knowledge are categorized and conceptualized, because they are then specifically recategorized, designed and conceptualized to fit the criteria for a marketable product supplied under specific property rights.

    This process can occur surreptitiously and rather smoothly, but it can also be riddled with contradictions and absurdities, insofar as the information is of a type that simply does not fit easily in the commodity form, for legal, technical, human or social reasons. That is, social relations and technologies have to change, before the information can be subsumed under the commodity form.

    People may of course also resist the commodification of information (“consumer resistance”), and that resistance can become a real factor shaping the further evolution of information as a commodity. At the very least, if people resist the sale of information, then you have to find a way to sell it so that people don’t resist it or cannot resist it.

    1. @Jurriaan Bendien: Thanks for explaining how and why does information may be described as a rather ambiguous commodity, unlike any other. One point that your response clarified is the distinction between data as content or information created and sold as a service, and data which is collated and traded by ‘data brokers’, a.k.a tech giants such as Google, FB with or without the consent of the users, who often do not realise that their very virtual existence has been commodified or ‘datafied’.
      You point that it is a mistaken opinion of some that data and information creation has no labour value. that it is a mistaken opinion is obvious from the fact that on social networking sites, people voluntarily part with personal information and create mines of information, which is then harvested by tech cos. The strange part is that while the users do not view this as expenditure of their labour, the hosting sites – who accrue a cost of maintaining and storing – earn the profits.
      thanks so much. the difference between datafication of diurnal virtual existence and data traded in information business as a commodity is crucial, though they are obviously related in the supply chain. can the former be called a fictitious commodity, in the Polanyian sense?

  3. When I was talking about the basic preconditions for commodity trades, I was not thereby defining the conceptual boundaries of the world of commodities. Marx did not do that either, because he knew very well that the frontiers of commodity trade and commodity production were constantly shifting and expanding into new areas.

    Karl Polanyi said that land, labour and money are all “fictitious commodities”. This was supposed to be the case, because these things aren’t intentionally produced for the market. But Polanyi did not have much applied knowledge of commerce or the business world, and a many of his big claims were simply wrong, as modern historians now acknowledge. He had some good and valid insights but he is overrated.

    Latter-day leftwing neo-Weberian sociologists find Polanyi’s “fictional commodities” an interesting idea, which they would like to mix into their radical academic sauces. But it has nothing to do with Marx really. When Marx was talking about fictitious capital he was mainly talking about the trading and investment in financial claims to future profits. In primitive Marxism, the circuit of capital is M-C-P…-C’-M’, but in real capitalism, there are far more circuits than this.

    Marx does say, that since just about anything can be priced and traded, tradeable things can be offered for sale which are in fact not (reproducible) commodities, and not products of labour. So you can have priced things which strictly speaking or intrinsically have no “real” value (economic value) in the bourgeois economy, although they have prices, although they can claim money, and although they are sold for money.

    However Marx also acknowledges that in the world of banking, the ordinary understandings of money we have are not really applicable (since we are dealing there with trades in financial claims and counterclaims, and the trades in their derivatives). However this does not mean at all that bank assets in general are “fictitious”. That is a false Marxist claim.

    In the practice of capitalists, there is very little fiction, because if you do not keep it real, you go out of business pretty quick, and the talk generally follows the money, you have to put your money where your mouth is and so on. Of course, what they “say” about business might contain fictions, but in that sense, anyone else can also entertain some fictions in what they say.

    Marx thought mainly that, in the bourgeois economy, what really has “value” is everything that is created by human labour (i.e. labour products). Thus, bourgeois society has a value hierarchy and a value scale, which runs from low-value work and its results to very highly-valued work and its results (in money terms, but also in status terms). It is a sort of ideology of “human worth” which derives from perceptions and judgements of what people accomplish in the world. Some people are worth more, some are worth less.

    Marx thought of commodities (Kaufware, i.e. wares for sale) as “the products of human labour”, and he thought of the bourgeoisie as a mainly industrious class which aimed to employ (and exploit) human labour to produce profitable commodities and generate wealth. In so doing, the conditions and possibilities were created for a socialist society.

    Marx delved into the problem of which kind of labour can be said to create new value and which kind of labour does not create new value, but he never definitely resolved that problem. He acknowledged though, that the frontiers of value-creating labour shift and expand in the course of capitalist development. That is, the structure of the social and technical division of labour changes across time. For example, in late capitalist society a lot of labour is employed purely to maintain and conserve already existing assets.

    Marx recognized that one set of prices is directly shaped by labour requirements, but that another set of prices is not, at least not directly. But he never worked out the interaction between the two, except anecdotally. So Marx does not have all the answers, and he never had all the answers.

    In modern socialist thought, there is no room anymore for eponymous doctrines, because the collective thought of many thinkers is required to tackle the problems. You can sometimes have “leading intellectuals” of real scientific weight but they usually cannot lead, without teams who add a lot to the research work.

    Datafication and supply chains refer to systems and processes, they are not themselves commodities. They can produce, distribute and transmit commodities, yes. Data need not be a commodity, but it can become a tradeable commodity, depending on what sort of supply arrangement there is for the data.

    What I was referring to previously, is that there are some basic requirements there, that usually have to be met, practically. If those requirements are not met, then it becomes difficult to sell data as a commodity. Any manual on setting up a business will tell you, that you have to work out what your product is that you want to put on the market. If you cannot specify that very clearly and realistically, the business is going to fail pretty quickly.

    The study of the “marketization of information”, both positively (e.g. Hal Varian, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger) and critically (e.g. Evgeny Morozov, Christian Fuchs), is very much a developing field, in which nobody really has “all the answers” or “all the knowledge”. So there is plenty scope for bullshit talk in that area.

    In some respects, datafication is progressive, and in some respects it is oppressive. But if you want to evaluate that correctly, then you need good practical experience in that area. It is not simply an academic question of toying around with a few concepts and intellectual lolly scrambles.

    Karl Marx remarked about how people engage in trade practically, long before they begin to understand theoretically and scientifically what the overall effects of that are. It is the same thing with the digital economy.

    People build all these global cyber systems and networks, long before they know exactly what the overall or long term effects are going to be, or what it all means. They do things first, and only afterward begin to reflect much more broadly and deeply about what they have done, they are wise after the event (so too, literally, with people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg).

  4. Before we jump into the intricacies of marxist interpretation, it is instructive to consider the current state of theory regarding the mechanics of information. I would suggest gaining some theoretical instruction from information scientists working on this before pinning any particular interpretation on ‘informtion’, in what is an emerging understanding which is not 100% settled. A layperson’s intro is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=or8Rktj_HA4&t=342s but for the cutting edges, here’s just one edge: https://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/21/12/1150/htm

  5. If you can convert all sorts of information into binary bits, and transmit those electronically to another place where they can be decoded, it is naturally tempting to think that ultimately all information has the same defining characteristics, or is reducible to those characteristics.

    This engineering idea is analogous to the Marxist theory that all value is reducible to labour (an ideology that became very popular during the frenzy of the first five-year plans in Russia, intended to build a modern infrastructure in the soviet republics).

    However, there exists no proof or evidence that all information has exactly the same characteristics, or that it is all reducible to the same homogeneous characteristics. That is more an engineering fantasy, used in modelling analogies and hypotheses.

    The recent attempt to apply the 1930s Marxist-Leninist theory of value to Venezuela, to create a “socialism of the 21st century”, was a disaster. So much so, that around five million people left the country. The socialist engineering theories of Paul Cockshott and Heinz Dieterich don’t work.

    Suppose that Bill Gates farted in Medina, and you wanted to transmit that information to the White House, would it be possible to do that? Perhaps. But would the information be the same thing as when Bill Gates would fart when he is actually at the White House?

    When we try to estimate the energy consumption of fuzzy systems versus binary systems, then starters we ought to bear in mind that (1) there is a difference between a “fuzzy logic processor chip” (hardware) and a “fuzzy logic program” (software), (2) fuzzy logic and binary logic actually require each other to function (they are complementary), (3) the amount of energy consumption will depend on the relative efficiency and size of the hardware and software, vis-a-vis the quantity and quality of the information that has to be processed.

  6. Information isn’t reducible to the same homogenous characteristics, but value, a form of property, something that can uniquely be owned by humans, is. Humans can own machines, machines cannot own humans. Not complicated.

  7. @Jefferies: your theorem about the universal homogeneity of value “as a form of property” is like the commutative principle that all prices belong to the same object class, because all prices express quantities of money. Both theorems have been proved false, except that in neoclassical economics and Legoland Marxism these theorems are often still believed to be true.

    According to UNESCO, the term artificial intelligence was coined in 1955, by John McCarthy, Marvin L. Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester and Claude E. Shannon.

    The ‘study of artificial intelligence’ was planned “to
    proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature
    of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to
    simulate it” (McCarthy et al., 2006 [1955], p.12 http://jmc.stanford.edu/articles/dartmouth/dartmouth.pdf ).

    So right from the start, artificial intelligence already proceeded on the “conjecture” of (1) the convertibility of all information into a machine-readable language, and (2) that machines can simulate learning and intelligence, and produce new knowledge.

    However, UNESCO admits also that when the AI field developed and diversified in subsequent decades, different meanings of ‘AI’ proliferated, and “there is no universally agreed upon definition today. Various definitions of AI are related to different disciplinary approaches such as computer science, electrical engineering, robotics, psychology or
    philosophy.” (UNESCO, Preliminary study on the ethics of artificial intelligence. Paris: The World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology, 26 February 2019, paragraph 11).

  8. Prices are not a form of property? I told them that in Tesco. They called the security.

  9. Well like I said, some information (including price information) is freely available, and some is a privately owned commodity behind a paywall (or accessible only under supervision, or with official approval). Plus there can be gradations of access.

    If you are not convinced about the different modalities of the values of assets, products and services, have a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Real_prices_and_ideal_prices

    Almost all supermarkets and many shops have surveillance camera’s now. The larger stores all have security guards. Usually the inner city has street camera’s.

    In 2003, when I looked at the US occupational division of labour, I found that there were about one million security guards. It’s still about the same now. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes339032.htm

    That works out to roughly one security guard for every 260 adults. There are also 655,000 US police officers, and around 1.1 million military in the armed forces. There are 405,000 prison officers and 106,000 detectives and crime investigators. In total, I think it works out to about 2.2 million law enforcers, not including judiciary, public transport monitors and some categories of specialized surveillance officers. “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” But often people feel now that “the vigilance gets too much in the way of freedom”. https://www.tempestmag.org/2021/05/big-brother-is-watching-okc-ups-delivery-drivers/

    The American BLS still provides a lot of useful free information to citizens, but over time it is becoming much more difficult to have free access to government data. As the fiscal crises deepen, the paywalls typically go up. In another 20 years, you will not be able to get a lot of information, unless you go through a rigmarole to access it (and/or are prepared to pay).

    Where I live, there used to be multiple copies of book titles across different libraries. However then libraries decided to rationalize things, and they looked at the circulation figures for each title. If the circulation was low, and if there was another library or a central library which had a copy, then they often deleted their own copy from the collection (unless it is a specialist library etc.). The rationale was a cost saving. This means, that if you want to get that title, then you still can but you have to pay for a registered inter-loan. In countries where there are few effective democratic or civil rights, they simply delete titles altogether from the library collections, if they regard the titles as ideologically unsound.

    In fact, libraries are buying much fewer books now (paper or digital) because they don’t have the money, or because the circulation figures are too low. Many library services are reduced, or close down. The pandemic lockdowns hit libraries pretty hard too. If you cannot get titles online or digitally, then you have to buy them. Then if you don’t have the money, you can’t get the information. So the costs of research tend go up, just like study costs, notwithstanding online facilities.

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