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AMA - ask Robin Hood anything

In Reddit style; ask us anything and we will reply

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I’m a member of an investment coop that’s only 5 months old in NYC (http://nycreic.com) and when I told the NYCREIC facilitation group about RH, one member stated / asked about the relationship of investment profit to values; the space between reproducing structures of violence* and accepting that there is “no outside.” I’m wondering if @danielhassan and @Akseli could speak to this, so what you say is helpful to our group and also to members of RH who wonder this as well. If the question has been answered elsewhere, please direct me there.

*Here’s what Todd from NYCREIC wrote: “So, what they do is raise funds, invest them in something that will make a profit, split that profit between distributions to members and investment in projects chosen by members. This is a way to ensure liquidity of member investments into the cooperative, but raises so many questions about values; how does their “parasite algorithm” choose where to invest in the public stock market, and why is beating general stock indexes considered consistent with values? Presumably such algorithmic investment is determined based purely on technical analysis of relative prices in the markets at a given time; if so, isn’t it likely that the coops funds could be, at any given moment, invested in dirty energy or defense contractors, or shorting the exchange rate of a currency whose country is being targeted by vulture funds?”

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I am extremely interested in learning about economic and financial topics that I have a somewhat fuzzy grasp upon due to very glaring blind spots deposited by my education in cultural theory and computer programming. The blacks holes in knowledge are mostly material. I don’t, for instance, at all understand the exact technological, financial, legal, social and institutional mechanisms that a Finnish coop negotiates through to executes trades on the NYSE–though I can grasp the idea “the parasite”, “trading”, and “stocks” conceptually. Other questions: how can the algorithm consistently identify traders when NYSE, by law, anonymizes all transactions? I would also be extremely interested to learn about the mundane elements of the whole process. As I understand it, “the parasite” is more or less a recommendation engine, presenting preferences to an actual human who makes selections. Well, who is that human? What time and through what channels do those decisions get made? I believe a material, mundane, granular and infrastructural understanding of finance and economic would demystify the topic and ground itself in the pluripotency of objects that could open space for multiple types of intervention beyond, say, the blockchain. Perhaps we could even pool resources for comprehensive economics and financial literacy as it relates to very material, day-to-day finances of Robin Hood and the markets at large?

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The question of ethics is important & full of interesting details. It is maybe not the easiest to discuss in terms of short forum posts. As Akseli says in the interview I’m going to quote below, there is quite a bit of thinking on these matters behind the Robin Hood intiative, including several books. :slight_smile: Anyhow, I myself would put the matter in a series of layers.

For me, personally, a crucial insight was when someone from RH pointed out that there are no “financial virgins” (the there is no outside argument). If a person uses any type of fiat money (euro, dollar, etc.) they are engaged in financial markets. If a person has a bank account, a credit card, if there is pension money in a fund; all of these implicate that the person’s money is already being gamed in the financial markets. The banks don’t keept the money in an account, thet play with it with the best of their ability. The same if a person has a mortgage. Even more: when a person goes to a store (at least a chain store) and buys something, again, the money does not go into the vault of the nice shopkeeper; it goes to the financial markets. Actually, it has always already gone there, in terms of the future expectations of the success of the store that are bought and sold on the financial markets. The financial markets are already implicated in the pricing of goods, so just deciding what to buy on the basis of price information is engaging in finacial markets. Even watchin a google ad on a webpage is an act that is already financialised.

This layer can be crystallised in the slogan: “There are no banks, just other people’s hedge funds.” (Like there is no cloud, just other people’s computers).

Of course it would be possible to live without fiat money. I have some friends who do that, and have utmost respect for them. But if one uses fiat money, then it is very very hard not to be implicated in financial markets. It’s like they say about politics: you might not take an interest in financial markets, but they certainly take an interest in you.

The second, “deeper” layer is that RH is an investigation in ethics, an ethics that does not, at the outset, accept the received notion of the “good”. Akseli has put it quite well:

Pekka: What is the ethics of this?
Akseli: We place our tax to all instruments in which we see
financial oligarchy move. It is a shameless ethic, a scandalous ethic,
which binds itself directly into politics. It is an ethical order that
perhaps goes beyond the Greek and Christian traditions of ethics, a
post-ethical ethics and post-political politics that corresponds to our
subjectivity and situation.
Robin Hood is not a moralistic organization. It is not an
organization of the ‘good’. We make no promises of the ‘good’ around
which we would organize. And we are trying to not be an ethical
organization either. Production of ethics – of the conditions and
environments of our action and thought, of the habits and rules that we
follow as if our ‘second nature’ as Aristotle put it – has become an
important method to exhaust the potentiality of our action. We are
trying to break out of this form of control. Our ethics is about
reopening the field of possible.
So Robin Hood ethics is about being able to take action upon oneself
and others. Ethical subject is a subject that is capable of taking
risks, posing a challenge, introducing conflict and division into
community, and of governing oneself and others in a situation of
conflict. Our ethics has to do much more with combat and politics, than
with being nice and responsible, doing what is accepted, staying in a
place assigned to you. The ethics of Robin Hood do not include such
aspects. It is an ethics closer to a poetic, as our philosopher friend
Juha Varto has beautifully said.
Poetic originates in the idea of being in work, doing something,
staying operational, and at the same time aiming at an outcome that is
anticipated but not yet known. Poetic is close to poiesis that is in
Aristotelean Metaphysics a part of praxis, appearing just after the
praxis is divided into theorein and practical interest; in practical
interest there is a need to get some tangible outcome, in theorein even a
thought or a change of mind is enough.

Which brings me to a third layer. At least for me, the commons – one of the main goals of RHC – is not a value. I don’t think values “cut it” in terms of the ethical work that needs to be done. The commons is/are an existential space for some of the subjectivities that I want to cultivate.

Back to the real world. :slight_smile: Yes, the parasite may very well recommend stocks in arms companies or dirty energy companies or the like, and the RH portfolio may, accordingly, hold that kind of stock at any given moment. This is not ethical investing, I hope our info makes that clear. Why not? Because that is not a problem that needs solving; there are a lot of ethical funds with different criteria already. RHC is a tool geared towards a different problem and a different problematisation: what could an investment bank of the precariat look like?

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@Tere Great answer!

Just a quick meta-level comment from me:

This has also be answered in this unique thread:

You can see this to the right of @Caroline’s post (within this AMA thread). If you go to the top right of the post, where is has the date it says “Reply as linked Topic” (it appears when you hover there)

The effect of this is that each thread is like a contained compartmentalized table with a theme. Instead of like a table with lots of different disjointed conversations going on.

As such then… with the AMA thread… people can pop here to ask anything . Someone will then answer as a ‘Linked Topic’. The result of this will mean that: AMA - ask Robin Hood anything

Is like the Index of all questions asked :smile:

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Allright! Good. I thought I had seen that answer somewhere. :slight_smile: Still learning.

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Ah, thank you @Tere and @danielhassan… I am aligned with this description, and I will try to explain to the @NYCREIC crew that all dollars are already covered in oil and “there are no financial virgins” as you say. As I begin to imagine making educational media with/for/of RH, this seems like a central issue to cover.

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And I just want to add, that while I strongly align myself with an
ethics beyond good and evil, as in the Akseli quote, this doesn’t mean
that we can just invest money in whatever and just claim that our
post-ethics liberates us from ethical problems. It is a
problem that we invest in all sorts of things, but the answer to the
problem is elusive. I see Robin Hood as an approach to figure out an
answer to the problem. Robin Hood is not the answer itself, it is a
means not an end.

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