I find it interesting that so much of what we consume, we consume for free. At least when it comes to the internet. Looking for a recipe? Good chance it’ll come from a blog or site that you don’t have to pay for. Wanna watch something on YouTube? Also free. Wanna cruise through a slideshow of cool pictures? Instagram. Wanna listen to music? Spotify. Have a weird question that you hope someone has an answer for? Quora.
How is it that so much of the value we consume on a daily basis, we consume for free? These companies aren’t exactly operating at a loss either. I wonder if these platforms have anything else in common? Like sourcing most of their content from their audience.. or monetizing via ad revenue.. or monetizing data collected from their users.
Well, are the content producers at least earning a living wage? Some are but the vast majority aren’t. Maybe these platforms just need to charge more for their services so they can pass some of that income along to the content creators. I don’t think the audience has the disposable income for that model. Why? Because the blogs people are writing, the pictures people are taking, the videos people are making, and questions people are answering are being paid for in views and likes instead of dollars. Ironically, those who are the exception to the rule tend to be paid in ad revenue.
Our economy seems to be based on the consumption of goods or services. Yet so much of what we’re producing now is based in knowledge or art. It also seems like the only way we’re interested in compensating the production of knowledge or art is through a cut of consumerism. There’s something very backwards about that.
It’s occurred to me that our economy is evolving. The introduction of the internet ushered in the information age and it’s an era where knowledge is the most important asset we can generate. Yet we have an economy which doesn’t know how to value this asset or appropriately compensate those who have produced it without a direct application to a good or a service. The traditional capitalist might suggest that without a direct application to a good or service, something is worthless. To that individual, I would remind them of our efforts in space exploration. These aren’t goods or services for the sake of consumption. At it’s core, it’s exploration for the sake of exploration, something that’s been a very real part of the human spirit for all of recorded history. And throughout history, our sense of exploration has always led to new found prosperity. Not least because we have to invent a whole bunch of cool new stuff to get us to where we want to go.
Whatever this next economy looks like, it needs to find a way to better allocate resources and value. No longer should a home take 20 years to pay for. No longer should a luxury brand command a high price on a poorly manufactured item. No longer should the internet need to rely on ad revenue to provide their services. No longer should research facilities rely on government funding. No longer should content producers require millions of fans to make a living wage. It’s time to spread the wealth. Not for the sake of spreading it or creating ‘equality’, but because we need to find a way to deliver the wealth back into the hands of those who are creating value we consume. The world we currently live in is one where you could inherit a house from your parents and never have to work again. Meanwhile, rent is so expensive that saving up for a home is unrealistic for most. In that world, financial prosperity is largely determined by how wealthy your family was. That’s taking us back to the feudal times where a divide existed between land owners and peasants. Fuck that. That’s not good for anyone.
Centuries ago, we used to have an economy based in farming, back when 90% of the population had to farm in order for us to get enough food. Now, less than 5% of the world’s population produces all the food that we eat. It led the way for a the industrial revolution where production shifted to factories. And it was through that manufacturing boom that we developed an economy based in goods. Once we started automating more and more of the manufacturing process, the economy shifted again to the consumption of goods and services. Well with automation making another push, what happens to our economy when 10% of the world’s population can produce 100% of the goods and services we require? I would predict another industrial revolution. One where goods are manufactured at home by your 3D printer. One where services are more likely to be provided by an AI than by a person. In this economy, do we continue to insist that knowledge and art have no value on their own? That unless you are the producer of a good or service, you are not valuable to our economy?
If we stay on this path, we would require a basic income to afford our basic needs. Those who own the companies which provide these services would be the only ones generating an income. I’m not sure how they would charge the rest of us for their services so they’d probably be free. But they’d have to pay their own bills, so ad revenue? But who’s buying their stuff when everyone’s broke? And you know how the government will fund everyone’s basic income? By taxing the few companies and individuals who are making money. Meanwhile, everyone else is doing one of two things. Wasting away in depression with a lack of purpose in life…. or producing something of value for the rest of us to consume.. for free.
It would be downright remarkable for someone to introduce a currency, unique to the free-economy. Upvotes, blog views, likes, listens… when someone consumes the value you’ve produced, you receive those points and those points can be spent on the goods and services produced by others in this economy. Imagine if food was available via that currency. Imagine rent.
Now that’s disruptive.