Matt Vidal: The next stage of capitalism? Digital technologies and platform business models in historical and institutional perspective
Matt Vidal considers claims that digitalization has ushered in a new stage of capitalism, or is the beginning of a transition to postcapitalism, via a historical-institutional analysis of the evolution of western capitalism.
Without denying the importance of digitalization and its impacts, he submitts that western capitalism remains in the postfordist stage, which began in the late 1970s, characterized by internationalized production with global supply chains dominated by mega-retailers; a service-oriented economy with a polarized labor market producing high-skill and low-skill jobs, including substantial precarity; the dominance of finance capital; and a neoliberal state. The analysis suggests that technology alone – in particular, physical technology – is not the exclusive factor determining capitalist growth stages. Technology is central, but growth stages are fundamentally structural (which fraction of capital is dominant; scope and structure of markets) and institutional (rooted in a complex configuration of cultural-cognitive, normative, regulative and organizational constructions).
Digital technologies have facilitated the spread and deepening of postfordist institutions but are not eroding or fundamentally transforming them. Rather, digital technologies – and platform business models – are intensifying processes and trends that were not technologically determined but driven by investors and managers in search of profit under structural conditions of postindustrial.