Democratizing the Power of Finance

A Discussion about Robin Hood Asset Management Cooperative with Akseli Virtanen

Forthcoming in Geert Lovink (ed.): Money Lab Reader. Amsterdam: INC Publications 2015.

Pekka Piironen: What is Robin Hood?

Akseli Virtanen: Robin Hood is an asset management cooperative we established in June 2012. It is a counter-investment bank of the precariat, which is rethinking means of finance and financial services. We are bending the financialization of economy to our benefit. Robin Hood is the power and imagination to do this.

Pekka: How do you do it?

Akseli: We operate a massive dynamic data-mining algorithm – we call it the ‘Parasite’ – which logs into the brains of the bankers on Wall Street, and they don’t even know it. We know exactly what they do and when. We know who can make money consistently with certain instruments and who cannot. Robin Hood is our means to share this knowledge. In the first year, the value of our portfolio rose 30.74%. With this result we were the third best hedge fund in the world. Now, after the second year, we are up 40.15%.

Pekka: Some time ago the biggest Nordic newspaper headlined ‘Robin Hood robs from the financial elite. Asset management for those without assets.’ Robin Hood received marching orders from Aalto University and annoyed the art audience at Documenta in Kassel. Is the mysterious Robin Hood Co-op an investment club, art, or philosophy? Akseli, how does that sound?

Akseli: I think that asset management for those without assets is quite a good headline. We talk about minor asset management. It is our business.

‘Minor’ is a concept which comes from Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s conceptual toolbox. They took it from Kafka’s diaries, where he was talking about authors within major language who were nevertheless able to make it transform into something else, by making it crumble and stammer, by operating in the tissues and edges, from within, through the same language, but turning it into something else…making it their own. It is an attempt to think about political means, means of change, where there is no outside. Minor is something that always brings together personal and political. It is always about making our existential territories more habitable. And it is always something collectively produced. It changes power relations by changing the conditions of situation. It allows for ‘a people to come’ by opening new routes and processes of becoming.

So, minor asset management is a very special way of managing assets – a way that makes something new possible when it looks like nothing new is possible. A becoming. This is our invention. But it is also management of the assets of minorities, in Kafka’s sense, who will and can never become major, but will always remain like spit in the salad. And it is management of minor assets, small assets, this is our other particularity. A lot of small assets working together. We don’t mind the connotation of being under age – not legally responsible, a minor, in a process of still becoming – neither as an attribute to our way of managing assets or to the assets managed, there is something true there.

‘Marching orders’ from Aalto University is perhaps not quite accurate, because we were not courting in any way, but in the middle of a normal establishment of a start-up or a spin-off company – which was, by the way, what they were hoping from the Future Art Base from the beginning. What was frustrating in these ‘marching orders’ was that the university management didn’t really care to find out what this project was about, they just fired us because Robin Hood was thought to be potentially dangerous to the reputation of the university. That was their exact wording. The decision was a preemptive solution and it was never explained or justified for us in any way. This is how arbitrary power works, it tries to organize and control the possibility of our action and thought.

‘Investment club’ is also an exciting choice of words; I don’t exactly know what it means. We are a normal Finnish company operating under Finnish law. The form of the company is a cooperative. And we are in the middle of establishing the American Robin Hood in Silicon Valley.

A philosophy: that we certainly are – especially in so far as we can think that the task of philosophy is to create new concepts or new little machines which correspond to real problems – but politics might have been more understandable in terms of our context, starting points, and aims. Is Robin Hood business, art, or politics? This is an interesting starting point for any discussion.

Pekka: And why the name Robin Hood?

Akseli: Everybody knows what Robin Hood does. In the age of semiotic inflation and information overload, we don’t want to spend too much time explaining. You need to get it in a different, immediate way.

The roots of Robin Hood are in the British Forest Law, which allowed Norman kings to add more and more common forest areas under their ownership. Villages, houses, fields, and even churches were destroyed to add new land to king’s forests. Inhabitants of those areas were thrown away without food, resources, opportunities, or prospects. They had very limited options for survival, some submitted, some became informers, conmen, traitors, and other forms of opportunists. The local officers were corrupted by providing their services to those who could pay. And the punishments were severe: Robin Hood got the death penalty for poaching king’s deer in Sherwood.

Pekka: In a sense not that different from the situation today?

Akseli: Now, six hundred years later we see new ‘Forest Laws’ being enforced everywhere and the common is again under threat. Again we need the financial services of Robin Hood, our methods are just a little different due to the changed circumstances: now we follow all transactions at the U.S. stock exchanges, make databanks of market actors, deconstruct them from individuals into dividuals to extract their most important knowledge and capabilities, and to put them to work for us. But the consequences are the same: The Sheriffs of Nottingham are again clueless when they can’t withhold the king’s deer, or guard the routes of the wealth expropriated from the people. Robin Hood’s business is minor asset management. It means sharing and democratizing the power of finance. This is now off limits to us.

Pekka: You have talked about Robin Hood as a parasite of financial economy and providing access to money which is not tied to the necessity to work.

Akseli: There are two points here: first, parasite is a concept by Michel Serres. What is important here is what it tells of the relationship we have with the financial market and its players. We let them do all the work and just imitate them. Why? Because, as Serres writes, the one who plays the position will always beat the one who does the content. The latter is simple and naïve, the former complex and intelligent. By playing the position we dominate the relationship. It means that we have a relationship with the relationship itself. It is the meaning of the prefix ‘para’ in the word parasite: to be on the side, not on the thing, but on the relationship. Parasite has relationships; it makes a system out of them.

Secondly, today there is an asymmetrical division between those who are able to create money by transforming it into financial capital (to earn money as separate income without a necessity to work) and those whose only access to money is to work, possibly at any cost and condition – or first take debt, and then work. And furthermore, these two forms of money, the money you get for doing work (money as means of payment, money as means of exchange), and money as capital, have very different powers. Or more precisely, the former has no power at all, it is money castrated of any power, while the latter has a power to organize and command future, to reduce and submit what will be (all potentiality, change) into what is now (existing power relationship). It represents nothing; it has no equivalent, except in future exploitation of labor, nature and society.

Robin Hood is developed as a strategic means to challenge this debt mechanism of control and of limiting our future. We also offer this other group of people a possibility of income which is not tied to the necessity to work. An access to money as capital. It is a very concrete opening of the field of possibility. It is an element of independence. That is why we can talk about democratization of finance. Or of profanation of finance: of taking something sacred, which we are not allowed to touch or which only the priests can touch and understand – just think about the economy, the financial market and its priests today – and returning it to common use and play.

Pekka: Robin Hood has been described as a ‘freak in the world of banking’, established by a group of professors in economics and the arts in the Aalto University.

Akseli: This is true, even if the professors were maybe not the majority in this group. The founding members of the cooperative were: Tero Nauha, Karolina Kucia, Liisa Välikangas, Heidi Fast, Kari Yli-Annala, Jan Ritsema, Sakari Virkki, Teemu Mäki, Ana Fradique, Lauri Kananoja, Valentina Desideri, Pekka Piironen and Akseli Virtanen. There were years of preparation and building of momentum before this. At the moment there are in the board me, Jan, Tere Vaden, Liisa Välikangas and Tiziana Terranova, we have over three hundred members from fifteen different countries and are about to move to the next level of the operation.

Pekka: You have talked about Robin Hood also as a hedge fund of the precariat.

Akseli: Our aim is to bend the financialization of economy to the benefit of those who have this far been paying its costs: workers at the mercy of the precarization, suffering from the insecurization of labor markets and social rights, growing indebtness, of decreasing price of labor, and of downsizing of the welfare state. That states quite clearly the relationship of our starting points. Disinflation is the monetary relationship of the financialization of capital and precarization of work. We see this now very clearly in Europe. How is it possible for these deficits to exist without any inflation? Because the logic has changed, the logic of derivatives has provided a means to manufacture liquidity which does not devalue the base currency. At the moment our collective capacity to assume debt and pay taxes and be the direct bearer of austerity measures – for governments downsize and spend less for one simple reason, to be able to borrow more – creates direct vehicles for financial asset accumulation (which is not investment in expanding production). The increasing supply of government bonds (safe means for capital preservation) is possible only through deficit cuts and excluding all inflationary spending. This is like the financial equivalent of raw material for industrial production, like Robert Meister has said so well. In financial economy the surplus is extracted more directly from this collective capacity to become more indebted and pay taxes than from the stagnating number of people employed to goods and services production. Today the growth in the forms of indebtedness is the condition for capital accumulation, just like expansion of labor force participation, was for expanding commodity production.

In this situation, Robin Hood operates exactly like the hedge funds and not like a ‘retail fund’ of a bank. Robin Hood owns stock in other companies as the only asset, and operates with greater flexibility than banks. The investments of members are open ended and withdrawals are allowed only at certain moments of the fiscal year. The value is calculated as a share of the net asset value (NAV), which means that the increases and decreases in the value of a cooperative’s investment assets and expenses are directly reflected in the amount a member can later withdraw. This is exactly what hedge funds do too, but what Robin Hood hedges, is precarity: we take a position in the financial market to offset and balance risk adopted by assuming a position at a contrary market, the precarious labor market, where so far people have just been paying the bills of financialization by letting it use our capability to assume debt, pay taxes and worsen social rights as the main raw material for accumulation of financial assets.

Robin Hood’s asset management is based on the idea at the origin of the derivative market: it is possible to produce new assets by means of hedging existing ones. Finance is essentially a technology to create spreads – through creation of doubts, uncertainty, volatility, constant threat of illiquidity – that are valued and can be arbitraged. Robin Hood is using in quite an intelligent way the same new capitalist financial alchemy of turning uncertainty into rent.

Pekka: By this you mean the Parasite algorithm, which takes advantage of the spreads and volatilities of the stock markets?

Akseli: Yes, exactly, from the beginning we said that we are utilizing the inefficiency of the financial market and our understanding of how public opinion, or market sentiment, organizes the multitude of actors at the market. We do big data. The Parasite, which Sakari has designed and developed, follows all the transactions at the U.S. stock markets, identifies the spreads, the best actors, follows their swarming – and then imitates the emerging consensus action of the financial oligarchy. Quite simply, the assets of the cooperative are invested at the market by following and imitating the emerging consensus action, or swarming, of the world’s best investors on each particular stock.

Our Italian friends like Christian Marazzi, Carlo Vercellone, Andrea Fumagalli, and Stefano Lucarelli have been writing about how money in its finance form escapes the public control, the control of monetary institutions like central banks, and becomes a prisoner of the conventions of the oligarchy of the financial market. Robin Hood works with the emergence and exploitation of the conventions of the oligarchy at the market: we tax them for exploiting our collective ability to pay taxes, bear austerity measures and become more indebted. Andrea and Stefano are absolutely right to say that the governance of the conventions is the proxy of the expropriation of the common. We tax this expropriation.

The hypothesis of the efficient market is by the way one of the most important truths of the current economic policies. Our operation is based on a completely different understanding of how the market works and what are the mechanisms of creating economic value today, for example the role of flock behavior, origin of imitation, and means of controlling a swarm in this.

Pekka: People say you are just following a computer program.

Akseli: It is funny when the Parasite and Robin Hood are interpreted like this. We are dealing here with a little bit more than ‘a computer program’. For example the whole Polemos book series we did in early 2000 in Finland was created for building this understanding and organization. These are wonderful books, 14 altogether, published in this series, from the best economic and political thinkers at the moment. For example Christian Marazzi’s Language and Capital, Maurizio Lazzarato’s Revolutions of Capitalism, Paolo Virno’s Grammar of Multitude, Franco Berardi’s Info-Labour and Precarious States of Mind, Bracha Ettinger’s Co-Poiesis, Félix Guattari’s Chaosmosis and Three Ecologies, also your rbook Economy of Insecurity, my book Critique of Biopolitical Economy and the famous Dictionary of New Work which was based on a long lecture series we organized at the School of Economics. It is important to understand that the Parasite coded by Sakari is the essential part of the operation, but what is really important is the approach behind it, that is, the understanding of the changed nature of creation of value. That is why we are now capable of coming up with new products too. I don’t know how I could emphasize this more. It sounds so funny, when somebody just says that here are these dudes investing based on a program – I mean after all the research and intellectual investment, years of theoretical and experimental work we have put into this. And there is the massive empirical testing of the Parasite carried out over six years 2003-2009 at the U.S. stock markets, and even more importantly, Sakari’s research work on the algorithmic production and product development with the Parasite has been actually going on for more than 20 years. Robin Hood has not just dropped from the heaven.

Pekka: In the net discussions Robin Hood has been suspected to be a hoax, and it created also bewilderment by its appearance in the important contemporary art exhibition Documenta (13) in Kassel.

Akseli: But maybe it is a hoax? We think of ourselves essentially as an organization built on this kind of distrust. We have noticed that we cannot fight against these ‘it must be a hoax’ claims with arguments. Somehow it seems that something more is here at stake, more than just communication of facts, something that goes beyond rational communication. I have thought that this kind of impossibility to accept Robin Hood as it is – as a monster and a parasite – tells about the bafflement in front of a paradox and about an attempt to deal with it by forcing Robin Hood into some familiar category (hoax, art project, greedy entrepreneurship etc.) so that one could sleep at night and go on with the self-evidencies of one’s life without inconvenient disturbances.

Documenta was a very important event for us in many senses. I think that the best economic analysis comes at the moment from the sphere of art, not from the departments of economics and business.

Pekka: Robin Hood has been in operation for two years. The co-op opened an office in June in Stuttgart. And the next in Berlin and Dublin.

Akseli: Yes, the office is a working form which suits us. We can set it up in any space, in a café, a museum, a park, a university. We call it an office, a temporary office, where we, well, work like one does in the office…or how we imagine one works in the office… usually on particular themes like aesthetics of algorithmic production, rethinking financial services, crypto currency and equity, processes of the production of the common, some legal issues depending on what is on our immediate agenda. But the office is open and anybody is welcome to listen or join us in the work.

Usually we also meet local networks, people and institutions that are interested in joining and cooperating with Robin Hood. The point is that we don’t want to go to just talk at some event, because that is usually a waste of time for everyone and we simply don’t have time for something like that, you know, there is already absolutely too much irrelevant communication. We want rather to be quiet and then perhaps say something when there is something to say. So if we go somewhere we want to make sure we can concentrate on creating something to say, you know, that it is worth while for us: we try to work together face to face while there is a possibility for this and use these offices to do it.

It is hard to get our people to the same place and time as everybody is so ‘busy’ and production has become spatially boundless and temporally endless. And the offices are no gardens of Zen either, but full of conflicts and uneasy moments. It is very hard to work together. And we require that the organizers put their ass on the line too, open their networks, help us meet key people who could be interested in Robin Hood, also from cultural institutions (funds, museums, galleries), and from networks of real finance money, funds, wealthy individuals and artists, angel investors interested in production of commonfare, disruptive financial services, impact investments, venture philanthropy. We don’t organize to do Robin Hood, we do Robin Hood to organize.

Pekka: And there was an international audience: artists, activists, philosophers, and professors. I saw the images of the Stuttgart office and it was full of diagrams and words like ‘aesthetics of algorithmic production’, ‘subjective growth’, ‘dividual’, ‘exhaustion of possible’, ‘machinic surplus value’, ‘commonfare’, ‘parresia’. Some radical philosophers like Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari were dropped in the stream of the discussion as easily as I used to smoke Marlborough’s.

Akseli: We are researchers of economy and organization. We knew already in the mid 1990’s that this will not become a picnic when we started using thinkers like Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, and then the Italian post-operaist writers to study and understand economy better instead of the mainstream economic and business theory. Yet, without caring too much about the consequences, we continued with the work because we knew that we are right – that this was the right way if we wanted to really understand how economy and its organization works today. So with these thinkers we were able to understand, for example, how signs and meanings are part of real production and not only some kind ideology or superstructure of production; how the use of language can have real effects; and how the dynamic of the production of value is in the organization of a heterogeneity, of heterogeneous forces, and not only in the relationship between capital and labor; and how it is possible to control not only actual but potential action and thought. With them we also understood the blurring of the boundaries between economy and politics and how the paradoxes of immaterial production – for example, that relations have weight and immaterial matters – cause problems to old approaches and distinctions, and that we need new concepts and methods if we want to understand what is going on. And that some of the key issues of the production value in economy today – like how to create a public, get its attention and keep and modulate it – have already been thought quite precisely in classical philosophy, rhetoric, and dramaturgy, in semiotics and linguistic theory, etc.

Through this work we have now perhaps invented something significant: a new understanding of the creation of value at the financial market and a mechanism of distributing this knowledge, which we call Robin Hood and minor asset management.

Pekka: And Robin Hood is connected to the ideas on basic income, is Robin Hood trying to overturn capitalism through the stock exchange?

Akseli: Yes, the arguments for basic income are in fact quite similar. Our methods are just thought a little bit further. But ‘overturning’ belongs to the political means of the last century and not those of Robin Hood. What is important for understanding Robin Hood, is to understand why the old political means of building independent life do not work anymore and why we need to invent something new.

The algorithmic and machinic functioning of economy today operates with component parts of subjectivity, with its sensations, cognition, memory, physical force, intelligence, affects, not-yet-individuated potentialities. Their synthesis does not lie in the person but in the machinic assemblage. What the person ‘wants’ or ‘wills’ is absolutely irrelevant. And we see this so clearly: no matter what we say, vote, demonstrate, argue, occupy, strike… nothing changes. The new mechanisms of value production do not work with individual subjects, but with their deterritorialization into dividuals. And that level does not involve representation or consciousness, it does not operate through repression or ideology, it takes us from the behind, from the inside, and from the outside.

Our conclusion has been that also we need to start operating beyond persuasion, beyond communication, taking the game outside of identities and ‘self’ and towards dividuals, incremental desire, and imitation, information deficit and fundamental distrust. The game of becoming a member of Robin Hood is played here and not at the rational-cognitive level. We need to take advantage of the ongoing deterritorialization and move towards politics of dividualism and not try to return to a  ‘subject of interest’ or rely on programmatic politics of ‘cognitive persuasion’ or fall back on mythical-conscious narratives of the ”worker”, ‘employment’, ‘welfare’, etc. It means engaging financial capital where it draws its power: in its paradoxes, in its arbitrariness, in its dividualism and not on rational decision-making and market-based organization – they are not the problem here.

This is what we worked on in the Stuttgart office for example. Maurizio [Lazzarato] put it so well, when he said that a man without machines, without diagrams, without equations, without a-signifying semiotics, is today ‘aphasic’, without politics and incapable of speaking, of grasping, and intervening in processes of deterritorialization.

By the way, one very good analysis about this is your book Economy of Insecurity.

Pekka: Thanks man! I think that my book is like a twin to your book about the arbitrary power working more on the microeconomics and micro-politics, and mine on the macroeconomics and macro-politics of semiocapitalism. But about this more another time, I want to understand better what Robin Hood’s relationship with art is.

Akseli: We think that the relationship between art and economy, or art and politics, cannot be about content: art expressing views of social resistance or art making things more sellable is simply not relevant. We think that the common ground of art and politics and art and economy is today in the collapse of old forms of society and subjectivity – and by the way that is why our first imaginary, really wonderful work by Karolina Kucia, was the ‘ruins’ – and in the creation of new forms, this is where they meet, and this is where Robin Hood operates. What can these new forms be today? How can they be created? Robin Hood is a method to bring and hold together many essential but heterogeneous elements like art&economy&politics or opportunism&ethics&weapons industries… It creates a new form, a new combination, a paradox or a monster that doesn’t fit the boundaries of your normal life, the easy flow of things and action. This was also our question at Documenta, where Bifo presented Robin Hood as an experiment in the creation of new social forms.

We use art of course also to camouflage, but more importantly to produce aesthetic surplus value, by trying to attach directly to art’s power to create unforeseen and unthinkable (economic, political, social, emotional, organizational…) processes. It is also interesting to ask, like Florin Flueras and Alina Popa have said many times, what does Robin Hood do to art? It is non-representative, non-visual, non-performative, non-conceptual and it does not operative within the safe environment and castrated power space of ‘Art’. Rather it uses art as an essential part of social organization, economy, politics and life – like art was used before it become something separate with its own axiological reference system, you know, in ‘primitive’ societies for example dance, sound, plastic forms, signs in the body, ground and objects were essential part of the political organization, rituals, religious processes. From our perspective this is just pragmatics: we don’t give a shit if Robin Hood is art or politics or business, we are interested what we can do with it, what are its effects, does it make our existential territory more habitable or not?

Pekka: Robin Hood was originally a project in the Future Art Base coordinated by you for the university. It was presented as a university level top priority strategic initiative by the School of Arts in October, 2012. But after information on Robin Hood reached the highest management of the university, you were told that the financing for the whole Future Art Base would be terminated immediately. They said ‘Robin Hood is potentially dangerous to the reputation of the university’.

Akseli: It was a surprise that they did what they did – quite simply we were just fired – without even trying to find out what this project was about. Or I don’t know, was it surprising at all? More probably we were just so naïve to think that something like this could be done there that it makes me still blush. It is an extremely conservative environment where no risks are taken. For them it was a hygienic pre-emptive action. I want to say this because we had prepared Robin Hood very carefully together with lawyers; we knew that there was nothing ‘illegal’ about it.

Pekka: You say that Robin Hood is a paradox, a monster, an experiment in creating a new social form and that it irritates people?

Akseli: Yes, I would say that we are an experiment in creating a new social form. ‘Paradox’, ‘concept’, and ‘monster’ are attempts to articulate this new form. Robin Hood is about creation of these new forms of which I talked about before. Paradox reveals the limits of our current understanding. Monster instead is something unpleasant, disgusting and a-natural, where there are together elements which do not ‘normally’ belong together like art, economy and politics.

So Robin Hood looks like a financial operation, but in a strange way. It creates a foreign language inside the automatism of financial control, it is a parasite or catapult which exceeds the established meanings of finance, makes them stutter and mutate. It releases minor finance from major finance; it turns minor assets into major assets. It is minor asset management. And it is also an attempt of reactivating the body of general intellect. Not in the old political way, but in a paradoxical way. In a monstrous way. In an insolvent way. In a disgusting way. Robin Hood sounds like a ponzi scheme, a fake, or it could be a private group of aggressive entrepreneurs ready to take advantage of the naïve cultural people. It could be a hoax, a scam, or just an ‘art project’. It definitely parasites also the old ideal of community and cooperation. It is unallowable, impossible and disgusting… a monster… but it corresponds to our subjectivity.

Pekka: What is this subjectivity?

Akseli: There is no heroism in the exhaustion and disillusionment we are experiencing. We have elsewhere described ourselves as a group of losers, sad figures, dark souls, cynical opportunists, and depressed princesses. We are not tough or macho, we are soft and wet, impotent and feeble. We don’t march or demonstrate. We have difficulties in getting up from the bed. We need each other just for trying to stand up. We are ‘molle’ people, the future of cooperation.[1] This skepticism is not cognitive but ethical. The impasse is ethical and political at once, it affects our position, our exploration of the world. It is this dead end of politics as we used to know it, which is the breeding ground of Robin Hood. Robin Hood is belief in this world, and not in some other.

Pekka: And the art audience at Documenta did not easily stomach the performance by such merry men and women of Robin Hood.

Akseli: It was a fairly elaborate installation or performance, whose form was a paradox. A lot has been written about it, but I can say it again: Robin Hood is an attempt to think about the possibility of cooperation in a condition where it seems that distrust, suspicion, and exploitation of others has become the most important means of our survival. We have talked about these as the precarious states of mind. What does a cooperation of opportunists look like? How does a community of depressed function? Or cooperation in a situation where we are exhausted by the fact that we need to put all our thoughts, feelings, tastes and relationships to work all the time in every short-term project we get. These states of mind are organic parts of the way in which the economy works. Economy has become a production of subjectivity. Here is also the reason why the old political means – like solidarity, creation of a collective conscious subjectivity, creation of your own values – are not operational anymore and we need to create new forms, paradoxes, monsters which don’t fit to the normal flow of thought and action and may seem disgusting, especially from the perspective of the old morality of the left.

Robin Hood breaks this natural flow of independent action and ready environments, with its specters of mistrusts, weaknesses, confusions, fears, impossibilities, non-commitments and insolvencies – around which we appeared in Documenta too. On the one hand it was a straightforward cold-blooded pitch event to raise more assets under management and exploit the Documenta structure like the meanest motherfuckers of precariat would absolutely do. On the other hand, it was carried out in a way that was insolvent, which included presence of a risk of excess and deception, a semiotic insolvency, a paradoxical or poetic, non-sensical ambiguity of the project, which has not yet become communication but resonates with your subjectivity… which makes you ‘feel it’, and want to ‘touch it’, and forces the demonstrative gesture: ‘here’.

Pekka: The artistic director of Documenta accused you of concentrating only on money?

Akseli: Carolyn [Christov-Bagargiev], who I really admire and like, got in the end perhaps a little irritated and raised her voice to ask why do we only think about money, even if the whole Documenta13, for example, was made with love! Well, with love and €29 million we might add…But she said that money does not exist, only love. She meant that it was not money, which made Documenta, in essence happen, but love from which artworks emerged. And the entire big art audience nodded and hummed as a sign of consensus. We answered that we know the situation very well, because we work and produce everything all the time only with love too – and it is exactly this which exhausts us. Robin Hood offers affective rest in this situation. This affective rest – that the members do not need to put all their abilities and skills and relationships to work, to bond, to create a community etc. – with still a possibility of income, is in the core of Robin Hood. Just give your money, we will make it work and give you more back, and you can do what ever you want. You can save your love. We are a love bank. Documenta13 crystallized it almost perfectly.

Pekka: The profit made by Robin Hood is distributed to the members, who have the possibility of either keeping the whole amount or giving a part of it to the common pool of the co-op.

Akseli: That is right.

Pekka: The investments by Robin Hood have been doing really well.

Akseli: Ha, in this business nothing but the results matter. We have been able to create a start-up that financed itself already during its first year by income funding. That is pretty rare. And during the second year, we multiplied our assets under management tenfold. This is just a beginning, you haven’t yet seen anything what we can really do. We are preparing for some serious kick ass operations to start taking place.

Pekka: Many newspaper reporters have asked about the proof of the existence of the portfolio.

Akseli: This is a very interesting question. How to be certain that the Robin Hood portfolio exists? How can you be certain of a value of something? Because this is what they are really asking: does Robin Hood really exist, does its portfolio exist, and how can they be certain of that? And then we have provided formal documents, company registry papers, an auditing report of the accounting by Ernst & Young, our portfolio report by Interactive Brokers which is one of the most respected brokerage houses in the world. I don’t know what else we could do. I don’t know if they are as thorough when they go to a normal bank, what kind of evidence they ask to believe that this or that fund offered by the bank really exists? I wonder what would their banks answer if asked ‘do you really exist, does this fund really exist?’.

But it is good question. How to be certain that a portfolio of any investment bank, really exists? That it has value? Of what is this value made? You must trust. Think about the Bernie Madoff affair for example, the largest financial fraud in U.S. history, how long he was able to carry on his investment scam, just because he was the ex-chairman of Nasdaq. The big banks spend billions to appear trustworthy and seduce people to trust them. On average banks have 20 to 30 sales people per one analyst. That is their real business. And do you think we should trust them? I mean, after all we know, that they cheat, con, exploit clients for their own profit, manipulate European level interests rates, the incredible bonus systems… How is trust created, this is the question at core of Robin Hood. Unlike the normal banks and investment houses, we are fully transparent and not afraid of this question. How is value actually made? And this is also why the clergy tries to refuse our entrance to the temple, so that the emperors without clothes would not be revealed.

Pekka: The value of the Robin Hood portfolio rose 30.75 % in the first year. And after the second year now, it is up 40.15%. It means that Robin Hood beats almost all of the funds operating on the U.S. stock market in the world. Is Robin Hood business, art, or a bold philosophical experiment? It fits all of those contexts.

Akseli: That is quite beautifully put. I would add that Robin Hood is also an economic experiment. I would like to emphasize this, the economic side of Robin Hood, because it is from here that the so-called ‘economic experts’ are trying to dismiss us. This is what the priests repeat: you philosophers and artists and temporary workers, you have no access here, to the temple, you don’t understand, you cannot come here, you cannot touch this, you must let us deal with this. The funniest thing of course is, that Robin Hood has been able to create something that this clergy will not understand. This is also our best protection.

We have the power and imagination to invent the new financial instruments and services that we need.

Pekka: Robin Hood also invests in oil, weapons industry, and other companies that traditionally might be considered to be evil.

Akseli: Yes we do.

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.

Poetic stance takes place in active doing, being in operation, not stopping to reflect. It is a warrior’s stance that has no individual or personal or collective message to fight for but a profession of a simple existential pragmatic that gives the meaning to all there is to do. Poetic stance is an ethic-free, moral-free territory where experimentation is the only guiding principle. Anything may be expected from us. There is no criterion for good or bad since there is no solid context whereto such an evaluation could refer.

Today poetic stance belongs to people who are active without a cause and without a need to legitimize their every step in order to be able to take the next one. It includes the idea that steps cannot be separated if one is in the middle of what is happening, just like the motion in Zeno’s paradox, where the arrow is motionless at every separate point of its trajectory and seems to annul the reality of motion and change for any who in believing in communication and the power of meaningful language ends up ridiculed by the sophist. Poetic means being in the middle, it leads towards a change, a region, which is not controlled by, determined space and time. This is where ethics begins. Ethics is a question about the possibility of future.

Pekka: Does it mean that Robin Hood is trying to beat the enemy by joining with it?

Akseli: We don’t in fact join the financial capital; we use it and appropriate it, like a parasite – unless you can think that a parasite joins its host. We are trying to find a way forward from the financialization of economy. There is no way for some kind of return; our money is already there. Every time you use your credit card you take part in creation of finance. As soon as your money hits your account, the banks start to use it for expanding credit. Your retirement money is working days and nights at the market. And money does of obey boundaries like ‘good’ and ‘bad’, you cannot tell it to stay in one place, like in the stock of a ‘nice company’ and not to go in somewhere else. Money does not function like that. There are no financial virgins.

And even more importantly, our individual and collective capability to assume debt and pay taxes is the main raw material for the accumulation of financial assets at the moment, it is the base for the continuous supply of safe collateral for capital which allows riskier credit, like derivatives, to be priced. The size of the derivative market has in the past 30 years grown to become over 20 times bigger than entire world Gross National Product. And at the same time the number of banks has decreased by 40%. Only nine big investment banks actually control almost the entire derivative market. This has nothing to do with free competition or ‘maybe best win’. During the first three months of 2014 alone the net earnings of Goldman Sachs was over 2.02 billion dollars, HSBC 5.1 billion dollars, JP Morgan 5.3 billion dollars….in three months! It is quite a lucrative business. And our money, for example the retirement money, is already there too. We just never see the profits. We just carry the risks. Our individual and collective capability to assume debt, pay taxes and bear the austerity measures is used directly as raw material for making these profits.

Bending the financialization of capital into the advantage of precarious workers. Transforming the private profits into shared resources. Creating a relation with money, which works as a means of freedom, escape, and increase of independence. Profanating finance, returning its space to common use and play. Appropriating the power of money as capital. This is our business.

And our strategy is ingenious. Like Serres’ parasites we hook to the brains of the financial elite on Wall Street, and they don’t even know it. We appropriate the most important knowledge and capabilities of financial capital and its representatives and put them to work for us – just like capital normally puts to work our abilities and knowledge for the increase of its own value. This is minor asset management. Another way to occupy Wall Street

Pekka: You have now moved to California? What is happening?

Akseli: Yes, we are currently setting up the American Robin Hood in Silicon Valley. We are ready to take on a new, more monstrous form. We are about to begin the next phase of Robin Hood including development of an army of parasites, cooperation with other new financial initiatives like the Faircoop, Commoncoin, Strike Debt, and an initial crowd offering via a blockchain. Robin Hood is the wild side of finance.

 

 



[1] The soft belly – il ventre molle – of Infosphere is a concept by Franco Berardi. He developed it to think about the place of insurrection and mutation when controls have become arbitrary and started to operate through linguistic and technological automatisms which predispose our aptitudes, tendencies and positions at a dividual level. It is no use to rebel or demonstrate against them, it means nothing to their functionality. Yet their weak spot is in the softness or unpredictability of social sensibility and unconsciousness. It is their “soft belly”.

 

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