One of Marx’s more interesting thoughts on capitalism concerns its ability to overcome its internal contradictions by engulfing them. One such contradiction can be simplified as such: the desire to hoard is contradicted by the need to recirculate, for to only hoard would otherwise lead to stagnation. That is why capital is constantly looking for new ways for recirculating itself: by creating new market niches, investing in infrastructure, expanding into new geographical areas, etc. By constantly expanding and increasing its productivity in these ways, capitalist incentives generate more capital which, in turn, searches for more release – thus creating a vicious dynamic of which capitalism is both prisoner and generator.
What does this have to do with anything? Apparently, the Ministry of Telecommunications auctioned “platinum” mobile phone numbers in order to fund itself. 13 of the 110 richest people in Lebanon paid a total of $2.5 million for 32 numbers. 70707070 sold for $450 thousand. Next were 70777777 and 70700000 which sold for $400 thousand each. Ridiculous sums by ridiculous people. Or are they?
Doubtless, to some of the buyers, like Wadih Kassab, a few hundred thousand dollars is peanuts. Money is made elsewhere. It is spent elsewhere. Lebanon is just for “recreation”, including throwing money around for show. But it seems to others, this is actually an investment. To sell to the Gulfites, according to Bilal Bundaqji, owner of Petit Café.
A handful of people in Lebanon are making (too much) money that needs to be recirculated and Lebanon is as good a place to do it as any. Given the instability, however, investments generating work for people and producing more capital that can then be reinvested in the country — a sound basis for some economies — are a risk. The real estate market, a classical area where capital recirculates itself, has reached stagnation point — too much to sell and not enough buying power. The Lebanese themselves can barely cough up enough cash to lead a decent life, let alone spend it on Zein al-Atat ($42 thousand for two numbers) products and Ramadan nights at Petit Café. There are Gulfites, on the other hand, with even more capital in need of recirculation and we have already offered them all the vacation apartments we can build, all the women we can sell, and all the intoxicants we can ferment. So, what to do? Why of course, buy ridiculously expensive mobile phone numbers and sell them for even more!
Thus a new market is created. Ingenious. And when you feel like venting, you know the numbers to call.