It has struck me in recent weeks that facebook is an interesting study in how money works. While the platform was created by a small number of people, and its hosting is sorted out, this is not what gives is an economic value. What makes facebook attractive to advertisers, and therefore lucrative, is the sheer number of people using it. No matter how much effort the original makers put in, it is the presence of the multitude that creates the cash flow.
Similar things happen in all industries. Someone puts up the money and the starting ideas, but without the flow of the multitudes – as workers and as product consumers, there is no economic success. The financial benefits flow to those who start the process and there is little recognition – financial or social, of those on whom the business depends. Workers and consumers are pretty much the same people.
It’s also worth pausing to note at this point that profit is the difference between what you pay to get a thing done and what you can sell it for. The more you can cut wages and increase hours, the greater profit you can extract from workers. The higher a price you can put on your goods, the more profit you extract from consumers. So having had your work undervalued you then get overcharged, because we are all workers and consumers (well, we 99%). We get shafted both ways.
We don’t work for Facebook, but our contribution (what we want to share) gets squeezed so we are pressured to pay for hits, The other price we pay is in the adverts forced onto us and shoehorned into our feeds. Of the profits… we see nothing at all. It’s a lot like the rest of life.
Now, you can argue that without the initial idea and the capital, there would be no business so it is only fair that those who put up the money and the initial plan should take the lion’s share of the benefits. Hands up everyone who has never had a good idea. We know full well that great ideas are not in short supply. What is in short supply is the funding to turn great ideas into viable businesses for people to access, and one of the problems here is that often the things that it would be most useful to fund (for about 99% of us) are not things that can readily be exploited to make a profit for some of us (say about 1%). Nonetheless, we’re trying to run health, education and the environment on those very principles of exploitation, and no doubt there are some people who’d love to privatise the police and armies… there is no money to feed and shelter the hungry, protect species, keep the air clean or safeguard the water.
What we have, is a system. Not an unassailable reality, but a set of assumptions glued together with money. We could have something different. Just as facebook is not forever, so business models that screw the majority for the sake of the few do not have to be our eternal destiny. I’m tired of being exploited for the benefit of others.