by Tere Vadén
Financial markets might seem to be at the very core of inequality. Based on a hacking model, Robin Hood Coop uses cutting-edge technology to intercept the routes of Wall Street’s best traders — and then re-distributes the profits.
Robin Hood is an asset management cooperative, based in Finland and in Silicon Valley. It is communally-owned, with membership open to all: 30 euros buys full shareholder rights. In line with the name, our model is to intercept the trading routes of the major players in financial markets, and redistribute those gains in more imaginative and equitable ways.
Our starting position is the acceptance that, for anyone who uses money, there’s no evading some form of participation in financial markets: if you have cash in the bank or in a pension fund — or even if you just go to the store and buy something — that money is immediately used for financial speculation by the bank, the company or whomever has access to the capital. We want to reconfigure that relationship, so that we control what our money is doing. We conduct the speculation ourselves, and use the profits in creative ways: that means helping to create new forms of social organisation like building projects that fit our model of ‘the commons’ — places where space, resources or means of production are shared equally.
Technology is vital for us in that we use a model based on hacking: a patented algorithm we call ‘The Parasite’ essentially ranks the biggest players on Wall Street in terms of competency. Our system looks at their stock positions, sees who is good at making money and when it sees a consensus developing among the best traders, it follows and takes positions accordingly. So the assets we’re managing are not just money but, in a wider sense, knowledge and information.
Through operating in the markets we’ve come to understand that finance and capitalism are no longer just about the logics of commodities or production — if they ever were simply about those things — but also about anxieties, feelings and expectations. So our technological model is vital in the sense that in order to be able to capture profits from markets you can’t just anticipate or predict the swings, which are often irrational anyway: a more effective way is to latch onto the routes of information.
And this mutability, the constant flows we are trying to intercept, are part of a wider flux. It’s ironic that most people think that capitalism is immutable, that it cannot be changed when precisely at this moment in history — in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008 — we have to understand that capital has become uncontrolled: it’s not controlled by nation states, it’s not controlled by international agreements or indeed by anything, it’s completely wild, fluid, in constant crisis, it’s mutating all the time. It is anything but immutable.
We operate creatively within this all-pervading flux. We call ourselves a ‘minor’ asset management firm — in the sense that the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari spoke of a ‘minor literature’. What they meant was the position of writers who use a major language, but from a position of minority: one example would be writers from former colonies, who use the language of their colonisers. Somehow, by doing this, they make that language mutate into something of their own — it opens into something else, their own language.
We operate within the major language of finance but we turn it around, and work with divergent capacities lying latent but definitely built into its very substance. As Deleuze and Guattari wrote: ‘There is nothing major or revolutionary except the minor’.
Tere Vadén is a Finnish philosopher, and the managing director of Robin Hood Coop.