Demanufacturing Consent

In the early 1990s, I was an undergraduate student in La Trobe University’s cinema studies program. The Cold War had just ended and Australia faced “the recession we had to have” (then-Treasurer Hon. Paul Keating). I was introduced to Marxist thinkers such as Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci, and to critical feminist theory. Having grown up in rural Bendigo, I didn’t know my base from my superstructure. It was all way over my head.


Ironically, I was actually exploring Gramscian influences via Consolidated’s Nettwerk-released albums such as Play More Music. I read Noam Chomsky and long-form journalism in The Atlantic MonthlyThe New Republic, and The Nation. I saw the Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media in RMIT University’s video library. I briefly became involved in animal rights activism. I discovered that I really liked to write.


In October 1994 I ran for Rabelais student newspaper editor on a broad ticket. The on-campus progressives felt this was a betrayal, and ran a scare campaign (the successful ticket’s editors became notorious a year later). This experience chastened me: when I covered Chomsky’s 1995 lecture tour for Australia’s REVelation Magazine, I was critical of the activists that followed him.


Over the next decade I encountered various people and social movements with activist, utopian potential. I explored the Robert Anton Wilson, the Gurdjieff Work, and the Temple of Set. I wrote for and edited the Disinformation website, linking to sites like CounterPunchMother Jones, and Z Magazine. I spoke at and arranged panels for This Is Not Art: the youth arts festival held in Newcastle, Australia. I was part of the second student cohort in Swinburne University’s Strategic Foresight program which used critical education pedagogy.


However, many of the people involved in these activities did not enjoy a Gramscian ‘march through the institutions’. The dotcom collapse of 2000, the global financial crisis of 2008-09, and the Eurozone crisis of 2011 were turning points that led to the widespread adoption of neoliberal austerity policies. In 2008, I left Disinformation and retreated to a decade of academic publishing, research management work, on-going PhD research, and explored hedge funds and investment management.


This week I’ve been reflecting on how to reconcile critical, left-wing politics and wealth management. Some possible models:


  1. The activist or philanthropic hedge fund manager: George Soros or the more conservative Bill Ackman’s Herbalife ‘short’ and his interaction with social justice movements (see the Netflix documentary Betting On Zero).
  2. Continue to read the critical theory work of people like David Harvey, David Graeber, the late Mark Fisher, McKenzie Wark, Nick Srnicek, Alex Williams, Richard Seymour, and Charles Stross.
  3. Take Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman’s influential work and update it for an era of addictive social media platforms, agitprop memes, and information warfare doctrines.


We’ll see what personal synthesis continues to develop.


I’ve started a model portfolio that I will watch as 2018 unfolds:


  • AUMF – IShares Edge MSCI Australia Multifactor ETF (factsheet).
  • BAF – Blue Sky Alternatives Access Fund (shareholder site).
  • BLA – Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited (shareholder site).
  • IHVV – IShares S&P 500 AUD Hedged ETF (factsheet).
  • IHWL – IShares Core MSCI World All Cap (AUD Hedged) ETF (factsheet).


The initial impetus for this emerged from reading S.M. Amadae, David Graeber, David Harvey, Michael Hudson, David Michael Kotz, Philip Mirowski, and James Rickards about neoliberal capitalism. These authors converged on the FIRE sector (finance, insurance, and real estate) as a socio-economic elite that would continue to charge debt and economic rents, as rentiers.


Current and former colleagues have looked to innovations like the sharing economy as a way to deal with growing economic inequality. I came to different conclusions: I spent six years learning how hedge funds and proprietary trading works. The topics ranged from macro plays (Kondratieff winter) and fund flows (Richard D. Wyckoff’s influence on technical analysis) to using global markets to hedge against home bias, and the success of momentum-value combined strategies.


I’ve dubbed the model portfolio RentierCap as it benefits from the FIRE sector. The model portfolio aims to accumulate wealth over a longer period of time than a catalyst-based intraday strategy. It uses Smart Beta and Exchange Traded Funds. I’ve selected BlackRock ETFs (in a nod to the Adam Curtis documentary HyperNormalisation), although State Street SPDRs and Vanguard ETFs could be used, and may have lower expense ratios and management fees.