Wall Street's internet darlings require an endless supply of idiots

Sharing Economy? Mug Economy, more like


Made you flinch yet?

Well, it’s really the word "sharing" that rankles, just as the word "community" is an inadequate description of Wikipedia, which even before Big Money arrived was a nest of cliques gaming the system. Saying you’re "supporting" a startup is a similarly inaccurate – it’s investment masked as charity. In each case your goodwill is taken advantage of, and not adequately compensated.

The problem is the rhetoric, then, and the hypocrisy that this rhetoric cloaks. For almost twenty years we’ve been sold a Utopian version of the future, in which each new gatekeeper was going to be "better" and "fairer" than the predecessor it destroyed. But it turns out, they are anything but fairer or better, and they require an enormous number of participants to be fleeced. The latter part is important, and this isn’t really mentioned. Yet the professionals whose job it is to describe the world, and make public policy fit for it, seem to be in the greatest denial.

It isn’t just the ludicrous WiReD magazine that sells us this airbrushed version of reality. Most of the media are in denial too. Note that when The Guardian newspaper writes about Kim Dotcom it glosses over the manner in which he makes his money, and fails to mention his ownership of a signed copy of Mein Kampf. The editor instead lauds Dotcom's "movement".

When the BBC likewise lauded The Pirate Bay last year - an operation explicitly designed to facilitate trade without paying the creators of the material - it neglected to mention its wealthy neo-Nazi backer. It’s difficult to imagine that if Nigel Farage had a signed copy of Mein Kampf by his bedside, or took donations from a neo-Nazi either the BBC or The Guardian would choose to overlook these facts. We must conclude that because they prefer the utopian fantasy, they can’t give reality an unflinching look in the eye.

And how do policy elites respond? Pretty awfully, actually. A phrase I’ve heard from Ministers is that the internet – exemplified by the "sharing economy" – is the “biggest revolution for 150 years”. This is bullying language used by hucksters, directed to achieve specific ends. It precludes using things we know that work, and conditions us to accept the unacceptable as inevitable. You used to be able to rely on the Right for advocating property-based markets, but then they went all starry eyed and barefoot hippy on us. And you could rely on the Left for "fairness" and the fair compensation of labour. Then they decided that not paying people is actually pretty alright.

Far from being one of the most exciting decades in modern times, this has really been one of the shittiest.

Getting an "internet economy" that benefits the people who do the work, take the risk, or provide the resources – and gives us a modicum of self-respect - should be a start. Our media, MPs and policy wonks are still off dreaming of Unicorns, though. Maybe we need a new lot entirely. ®


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