ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - April 2002


Issue Highlight — Business as Usual
- Peter Block has been thinking about all the talk about getting back to business as usual and wonders whether business as unusual might not be better for the nation.

An Open Invitation to a New Conversation
With September 11, Globalization, and the Internet: What Are the New Rules?

Our book, Netocracy—The New Power Elite and Life After Capitalism, was born out of the deepest frustration. We could no longer bear the ignorance and childishness of the public debate about the digital future. What was being said and written was to such a depressingly large extent tainted by wishful thinking and/or without any foundation in an historical analysis of how a breakthrough of information technology could transform a society.

It is about time, we thought, that someone got a firm grip on the important issues that arise when a new form of information technology is breaking through on all fronts:

  • What will happen to politics and democracy?
  • What will happen to education and the labor market?
  • What will happen to the creation of identity and patterns of consumption?
  • How will the media, art, and philosophy be affected?
  • Which groups will be favored and which harmed by the new circumstances?
  • How will the new electronic networks function?
  • How will power and status be distributed within the new hierarchies that are emerging?
  • What are the interests and strategies of the new elite?
  • Which sciences will set the tone?
  • Which social problems will be most acute, and what solutions are available?

Experts in different spheres may find much to argue within the details, but what interests us is the broader pattern, which only emerges if you dare to make breathtaking generalizations.

The original Swedish version of Netocracy—The New Power Elite and Life After Capitalism was published in September 2000, and reactions to it were extreme—everything from effusive to dismayed. (The English version is now out and available from Pearson Education Ltd. We will be sending it out for a Pageturners book review.)
What do we mean by saying that capitalism and democracy are inexorably in their death-throes? Wasn’t the reverse really the case, as everyone else was saying, that the Internet meant that capitalism could go into turbo-drive and that democracy was heading for a renaissance? Slightly more than a year has passed since then, but a lot has happened. The death of the dot-coms has hit stock markets all over the world, hundreds of millions of dollars have vanished in one of the most dramatic upheavals in modern economic history, and we believe that developments have proved us completely right.

The Net is Changing Everything

And what the dot-com crash shows, as clearly as possible, is that the old capitalists basically do not understand the new economic and social logic that is developing on the Net. As a result, it is almost self-evident that the old capitalists will not manage to cling to power once the new circumstances have broken through completely. A new, global dominant class has entered the arena: the Netocracy. And because the old, capitalist production apparatus has become redundant as a result, there will also be a new underclass; instead of the old proletariat, a new consumtariat is developing.

The breakthrough of digital interactivity as the dominant medium of communication is a paradigm shift, which entails, in turn, a shift in power of the same extent and significance as when the bourgeoisie took over from the feudal aristocracy with the breakthrough of industrialism.

However, the most shattering events since the Swedish publication of this book are, of course, the terror attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and their effects on politics, culture, trade, stock markets, and virtually everything else. The escalation of this sort of blind violence, without any kind of concrete political purpose, should come as no surprise to readers of Netocracy. This is, sadly, the shape of things to come, as we, with hindsight’s prophetic precision, argue.

Already in the near future, September 11 may very well be considered the historical date when informationalism formally overtook capitalism as the dominant paradigm of the world. Or at least when it proved it eventually will.

The World Now Circles Around Identity

Groups who feel, rightly or wrongly, that the effects of globalization work against them and render their traditions and their whole lives meaningless, will increasingly use the means most effective in the age of electronic, interactive media to make their voices heard, and more effective than anything else is the spectacular act of terror.

Don’t look for any ideology, don’t look for a coherent logic; remember that the WTC high-jackers were very well educated and very much at home on the Net. These guys even booked their plane tickets online. They possessed the necessary financial means, but more important, the necessary networking skills, to make their plans work. So this is certainly not a matter of who is and who is not hooked up on the Net, and it is certainly not a matter of rich and poor. It is a matter of gaining or losing power under changing circumstances, brought on by a major transformation in our socio-ecological system, a transformation driven by evolving technology more than anything else.

The Crisis of Democracy

We have been accused of being cynical, of lacking a democratic disposition when we argue that the crisis is fatal and that the Net is going to deal the deathblow to democracy. All graphs illustrating voter participation in elections and engagement in party politics show a relentless downward trend.

According to press reports, for example, more British people phoned to vote in the final episode of the TV docu-soap “Survivor” than bothered to vote in the latest European election.

This is nothing that can be remedied with fancy phrases, the circumstances under which democracy was the answer to the question of how best to construct a political decision-making process will not be resurrected simply because we want them to.

Of course social developments can be influenced, but only within a material framework; anything else is muddled wishful thinking. And the possibilities of influencing the development of society will be dramatically improved if you have a relatively objective and well thought-out understanding of the nature and history of this framework.

We have tried to write and think from within the revolutionary changes that are blowing like a whirlwind around us. We are neither right nor left, we have no political agenda. We are not for or against any particular changes, we merely seek to understand and explain. How and why? Because clarity of vision is preferable to self-deception.

These Questions Are Global

With this current translation, the English-speaking world can finally interact with our analysis. The conversation continues and the number of participants is growing. We are no longer quite as frustrated as we were.

Netocracy authors Alexander Bard and Jan Soderqvist in Stockholm, November 2001. For more information see their Web site at .








NFC wants to know:

• Is this “conversation” intriguing to you?

• Should we invite the authors and others for further discussion in a future issue?

• Should we consider an “open to all” Net conversation on AQP’s Web site?

Please let us know how you feel abut this article and the questions above. Send your answers to

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April 2002 News for a Change Homepage

 In This Issue...
We Said Teams Are Awesome— in Las Vegas, They Proved It!
Heroes Wear Scrubs Too
Upcoming AQP Courses at a Glance...
Bringing Corporate Philosophy Alive
An Open Invitation to a New Conversation
What Do You Mean by Participation?
Tools for Teams: The TetraMap®
Something Shifted

What’s Up?

Peter Block Column

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