[governance] <nettime> VW

Michael Gurstein gurstein at gmail.com
Sun Sep 27 18:16:32 EDT 2015

Ted and all,

Far be it from me to second guess the insight (or well-placed cynicism) of Nettimer folks but dare I say that not all folks who should be, are quite as perspicacious.

The flavour of the day in global governance circles--think managing the Internet (ICANN etc.), the environment, "sustainable development" and on and on is what is being called "multistakeholderism" i.e. where governments, the private sector, civil society and all get together and "find consensus" solutions on to how to manage the world for the rest of us.  

Significant portions of Civil Society have bought into this approach which is firmly premised on the notion that somehow the private sector should be directly involved in making governance decisions because well, they are so public spirited, or that they have the long term interests of everyone at heart ("they are people too aren't they"), or we can trust them much more than those perfidious folks in government, or they are "accountable" to their shareholders and wouldn't do anything completely untoward to risk shareholder value etc.etc. (you know the drill...

But if VW can and will commit fraud and what is in effect a crime against humanity for short term financial (and/or ego) gains then what might one expect from lesser lights with perhaps less to lose and who aren't so deeply enmeshed in what should have been (and what purportedly was) a deep web (errr network) of accountability, responsibility, enforced integrity etc. (as per your comments...

What VW tells us (and why "motivation" is worth looking at) is that when push comes to shove we really really need some structures of accountability that are responsive to "our", the public's needs and not the shareholders and that multistakeholderism as a system of governance is basically giving away the keys to the kingdom.


-----Original Message-----
From: nettime-l-bounces at mail.kein.org [mailto:nettime-l-bounces at mail.kein.org] On Behalf Of t byfield
Sent: September 27, 2015 12:08 PM
To: nettime-l at kein.org
Subject: Re: <nettime> VW

On 25 Sep 2015, at 20:59, Michael Gurstein wrote:

> Thanks Ted, very useful.
> I guess what I'm curious about is the motivations, individual and/or 
> corporate thought processes/incentives etc. that underlie the initial 
> decision to go down this path and then the multitude of decisions at 
> various levels up and down the organization to continue on this path.

Michael, your line of questions seems to be a high priority for the
media: today's NYT top story is "As Volkswagen Pushed to Be No. 1, Ambitions Fueled a Scandal." Personally, I don't think there's been much innovation in the motivation dept since, say, Sophocles, so the human-interest angle isn't very interesting, IMO. If anything, it's the primary mechanism in diverting attention from the real problem, namely, how to address malfeasance on this scale. Corporations are treated as 'people' when it comes to privatizing profit, but when it comes to liabilities they're become treated as amorphous, networky constructs, and punishing them becomes an exercise in trying to catch smoke with your hands. Imagine for a moment that by some improbable chain of events VW ended up facing a 'corporate death penalty,' there remain all kinds of questions about what restrictions would be imposed on the most culpable officers, how its assets would be disposed of, and what would happen to its intellectual property. (It'd be funny if the the VW logo was banned, eh? I'm not suggesting anything like that could actually happen, of course.) The peculiar details of this scandal could spark a systemic crisis of a different kind, one that makes evading guilt more difficult. The 'too complex for mere mortals' line won't work in this
case: VWs have come a long way since the Deutsche Arbeitsfront or R. 
Crumb-like illustrated manuals about _How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive_, but not so far that people will blindly accept that they can't understand them. Popular understanding of negative externalities in environmentalism is decades ahead of its equivalent in finance. And it doesn't hurt that Germany, which has done so much to bend the EU to its will, looks like it'll be the lender of last resort.

On 26 Sep 2015, at 10:22, Florian Cramer wrote:

>  The implication for "our" field are much more immediate than one 
> would  expect, given that the Centre of Digital Cultures of Leuphana  
> University L√ľneburg has been funded from a grant by Volkswagen  
> Stiftung (Volkswagen Endowment) a few years ago. Look at who's working  
> there - a who's who of European media studies including many Nettimers:
>  http://cdc.leuphana.com/people/

It'll be very interesting indeed to hear what the stars of ~German media theory have to say about this. Maybe about as much as most US academics have to say about their role in imposing indentured servitude on subsequent generations...

On 27 Sep 2015, at 5:02, Jaromil wrote:

> to debate this thing as if it would be just about Volkswagen is so 
> naive! srsly. There is nothing to be learned there.

Jaromil, I think it's a bit premature to counter claims that this is 'just about Volkswagen,' because no one said anything like that. 
Obviously there are many ways in which this is symptomatic of broader structures. But Lehman Brothers and Fukushima were symptomatic as well, and would you really argue that 'there was nothing to be learned there' 
either? *And* hold hold up Android's OEMs cheating on benchmarks as a more illuminating example? I don't think so. Relying on open-source metaphor-mantras ('Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?') to analyze peculiar dynamics of the car industry is like relying on Godwin's Law to understand neo-nazis. :^)

As to whether there's anything to be learned about the car industry, a friend sent me this offlist (forwarded with permission):

> Just wanted to say that many many auto dealerships within much of the 
> USA -- and I certainly don't know if this is the case in Europe or the 
> northern coastal (blue state or /we/ US) -- are strange franchise ops 
> in which a single owner has bought into multiple auto brands -- eg 
> [where I live] the VW dealer is also the Audi, Infiniti, Maserati, 
> Acura, Jaguar, Fiat dealer. While the bylaws of these franchises 
> typically require separate showrooms they do not always require 
> separate facilities for other operations. So, for example, the service 
> department, where one expects hypothetical but impossible repairs to 
> "ramdoubler" VW emissions tech would occur might be shared by multiple 
> auto brands. Some of those might be tiered brands fabricated by the 
> same financial interests (e.g. VW and Audi) but that will not always 
> be true. As such, we will not have the results of the capitalist 
> competition we may expect -- that is if VW and competing brands are 
> collocated and share infrastructure and personnel in terms of auto 
> dealerships, the falling VW dominos will knock over the dominos of 
> other automobile sellers and maintainers and servicers (and thus
> manufacturers?) as opposed to a scenario in which VW "loses" so 'other 
> brand' "wins."

There's much to be learned, but not about 'motivations' or 'corporations,' IMO. And you gotta love the Ramdoubler ref.


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