Anthony J. Pennings, PhD

WRITINGS ON DIGITAL STRATEGIES, ICT ECONOMICS, AND GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS

How IT Came to Rule the World, 2.4: Global Money and Spreadsheet Capitalism

Posted on | July 18, 2010 | No Comments

The growth of “petrodollars” due to increasing foreign oil consumption during the 1970s combined with the accelerating developments in computing and communications technologies to create a new realm of electronic finance with vast political and economic repercussions throughout the world. What emerged was a new system of digital capitalism that was propelled, in part, by the new utility in spreadsheet calculation and global markets connected via undersea fiber optics and orbital satellites. I have called this the regime of digital monetarism.

The new regime was unwieldy, but within this turmoil, an important set of technologies emerged that would add a major new dimension in the process of electrifying money and capital. With Cold War technologies, a global infrastructure for data communications emerged with satellites and undersea communications cables leading the way. Simultaneously, Apple Computers released the Apple II microcomputer based on a Motorola microprocessor. Of central importance was the electronic spreadsheet. VisiCalc (Visible Calculator) was designed for use on the Apple II in 1979, and it became an immediate hit for a large number of different people needing to make financial calculations. In August of 1981, IBM introduced its own “Personal Computer” and soon after Lotus 1-2-3 became available for the “PC” and all the “IBM-compatible” clones such as AST, Compaq, and Dell.

In an era of incredible economic and financial flux, the electronic spreadsheet became the “killer app” that guaranteed the success of the PC industry and also provided an incredible new utility for individuals who were empowered to create dramatic new numerical calculations and construct new financial “what-if” scenarios in unprecedented short timeframes. Spreadsheet technology was foundational for digital monetarism because it provided a calculative tool that became universally available and provided immediate feedback via the accessibility of the personal computer.

This global political economy combined a new “free enterprise” fundamentalism (Reagan-Thatcherism) with a system of unprecedented capital mobility. Empowered by the calculative and organizing powers of the spreadsheet, global finance targeted debt-ridden governments and began a process of privatizing public assets such as airlines, broadcasting, electricity, transportation, oil fields and telecommunications by valuing assets, creating state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and then finally selling them off as corporate entities to global institutional investors such as pension and sovereign funds.

In the process, national barriers to unregulated capital flows broke down and new forms of communications (Internet) and news (“Bloomberg Box”) emerged to facilitate the information flows needed for investment decisions. Combined with innovations in mathematical algorithms, global money morphed into a variety of financial instruments traded in electronic “dark pools” and on interconnected financial exchanges.

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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  • About Me

    Professor and Associate Chair at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea. Recently taught at Hannam University in Daejeon, South Korea. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, media economics, and strategic communications.

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