Capitalist financial trickery has hit new lows with the development of NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens”.
It’s about trading something that doesn’t really exist just on the basis that it can produce a profit.
An NFT is a unit of data or token, stored on blockchains—digital codes. Unlike cryptocurrency such as bitcoin, or even traditional money, one NFT can’t be traded or exchanged for another—that is, they are not fungible.
NFTs can be used to represent assets, with data on where they were produced and who the author is. So they have been particularly applied to art objects.
An NFT work by digital artist Beeple, Everydays: The First 5000 Days, fetched £50 million at auction house Christie’s earlier this year.
But it doesn’t mean the buyer collected the artwork. What was sold was just one blockchained representation of it.
The Marxist economist Michael Roberts asked, “So what’s the point? None really—it’s just a fad and the buyer of the NFT hopes that it can be sold on for a profit.”
It exposes the art market to be based solely on the lure of excess cash sloshing around in very rich people’s bank accounts.
Because the NFT has value only as something that can be passed on at a higher price, there is no pretence of the innate artistic value.
But some artists have seen it as liberating, opening up new possibilities of online sales and distribution.
Critiquing the concept, someone known only as White Male Artist (WMA) has marketed a project called $HT Coin. This involved selling cans of 30g of their own excrement every day in July.
These were “produced” by eating the diet of the most financially successful white male artists of the 20th century.
The reserve price is set to the equivalent price of 30g of gold.
Each of these cans has been auctioned off in NFT and physical form—and certainly here you might prefer the NFT version.
Capitalism is now awash with financial instruments of a dizzying complexity and size
In an interview with Forbes magazine, WMA said, “NFTs hyper-perform a culture of consumption. When does the ravenous appetite for greed go too far?
“We have mined the gold from our soil. We have poisoned our oceans.
Rather than re-evaluate our relation to the planet or choosing to proceed with moderation, or respect, or care, instead we invent digital scarcity. Our sociopathic lust to absorb continues to run rampant.”
NFTs are a version of what Karl Marx called “fictitious capital”—like stock and shares. If the stock market crashes, numerous parasites may scream. But the actual plants and machinery of the companies whose shares have been bought does not disappear.
Capitalism is now awash with financial instruments of a dizzying complexity and size.
The latest data from the Bank for International Settlements on over-the-counter derivatives—speculation in which is another form of fictitious capital—estimates them at £425 trillion.
That’s seven times the value of all the goods and services produced by the whole Earth in a non-pandemic year.
Such instruments, and the profits that go with them, are particularly attractive to capitalists when investments in real things aren’t producing enough returns.
As Marx put it, “If the rate of profit falls we have swindling and general promotion of swindling, through desperate attempts in the way of new methods of production, new capital investments and new adventures, to secure some kind of extra profit.”
He added that in the world of finance, “its movement and transfer become purely a result of gambling on the stock exchange, where the little fish are swallowed by the sharks and the lambs by the stock exchange wolves”.
As WMA might say, shit hot, Karl.