Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The peasants don't know they're revolting

“Anonymous” raises a good point in his comment: the peasants may grumble, but they hardly ever revolt. (The reference is to a Power Lab management simulation we attended.)

The majority of Americans distrust commerce in general, and big companies in particular. Their jaundiced view is no doubt shaped by the statistical necessity that most people are down in the grubbier reaches of the corporate pecking order. Does this mean that they’re going to overthrow capitalism? Surely not. Even the French have only crippled it… [1]

However, the fact that people don’t revolt doesn’t mean that they don’t act. While they may not act against their own company, they may well act against the interests of company owners. I suspect that many salary slaves in the media business are turning out pro-quality home-made videos in the hope of a YouTube hit – which will undermine the business models that pay their salary. Likewise, at least some Open Source developers are coding for money during the day – and it remains to be seen whether the eventual new equilibrium in the software business will have enough well-paying jobs to fund such moonlighting. (I believe it will, since many companies generate Open Source code for non-revenue commercial reasons.)

The Power Lab models just a single hierarchy. Real life consists of many interlocking networks, only some of them hierarchical. A nonentity in one network (the workplace, say) may be very influential in another (the residents’ association, or an online activist group). Someone who feels they’re making a difference in their “true life” network may not feel the need to overturn their “work life” network. (This accounts for at least some of the attraction of synthetic worlds.) When these networks collide – as when, say, an online movement discredits a corporate special interest – a corporate peon-by-day may not even be aware that they’re in a fight with their own CEO.


[1] The Economist has a very good report on France’s Troubles in the April 1, 2006 issue. It cites an undated GlobeScan survey in which people are asked whether they agree or disagree with the following statement: “The free-enterprise system and free-market economy is the best system on which to base the future of the world.” The Chinese are the biggest fans of capitalism (74/20 agree/disagree), ahead of the US (71/24). France is the most hostile of the 20 countries polled; fully 50% disagree that the free-enterprise system is the best, and only 36% agree. Globescan finds “a striking global consensus that the free market economic system is best, but that governments should also do more to regulate large companies.”

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