The Economist’s Nicholas Barrett interviewed Douglas Rushkoff about the way digital tech companies practice what he calls extractive capitalism: though digital tools are inherently flat and collaborative, tech companies driven by VC or equity valuation suck up all the data on which these networks are based, turning users into a resource to be exploited.
He’s right (give the too-brief podcast clip a listen here), though I think there’s a communications element to it.
Capitalism requires markets in which to function, whether specifically defined like trading floors for stocks, or generally speaking, like the public square in which people interact in any commercial manner. The fundamental premise is that individual participants in a market have equal access to information, so that they can collectively assess, vet, and apply themselves to making the best decisions that benefit not just themselves, but the greater good.
Adam Smith’s idea was that you acquire capital by surviving this gauntlet of truth and accountability.
As such, markets are always imperfect. There wasn’t enough info available about tulips, South China Sea stocks, or CDOs, and probably too much hype for companies like Enron, AOL Time Warner, and Snap. It took 200 years for science and society to figure out that the pollution the Industrial Revolution dumped on the Earth had consequences worth measuring.
That’s why there are rules and regulations to ensure that they operate as efficiently as possible, and mechanisms for noting and resolving instances when they don’t. Unlike socialism or any other command-and-control approach to commerce, the point of rules in a free marketplace isn’t to dictate what, who, when, or even whythings are bought and sold, but simply ensure that the how applies equally to all.
Tech companies don’t skew these conditions, they obliterate them outright…
Read the entire essay at Recapitalism.