Update18/04/2016: This piece was also published on the P2P Foundation blog.

EDIT 23/03/2016:  I integrated a few more notes on the small business/ corporation dichotomy from a comment I made on a recent TED Talk.

I just watched an excellent talk from SXSW, titled ‘Distributed: a New OS for the Digital Economy‘, on the “vacuum cleaner” effect corporations have on industries, communities, countries, and ultimately themselves, and what we might be able to do about it. Given by Doug Rushkoff, the talk riffed off themes from his new book ‘Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity‘ (I love that he advises his audience to steal a copy if that’s the only way we can read it), and his older book ‘Life Inc. How Corporations Conquered the World and How We Can Take it Back‘.

Rushkoff is an eloquent and enthusiastic speaker, who can turn a complex, nuanced argument into a funny, inspiring performance reminiscent of Russell Brand at his impassioned best. His political-economic approach integrates aspects of classical liberalism (factors of production and the peer-to-peer market as a challenge to feudalism), marxism (alienation of workers from their products), anarchism (waged work as part-time slavery), digital libertarianism (the shared platform as a radical alternative to the corporation), cooperativismo (wages can be higher and prices lower when workers are also shareholders), monetary reform (the inflationary nature of using centralized, interest-bearing debt as currency) and more. Rushkoff combines all these ingredients into a thoughtful and coherent dish of problem statements and possible solutions, rather than just throwing them all into a blender, along with a grab bag of tin-foil-hat speculation, as the makers of films like ‘Zeitgeist‘ or ‘Thrive‘ do. In fact, I’d love to see someone make an arty, activist documentary illustrating Rushkoff’s ideas with the same budget as ‘Thrive’. Something like ‘The Corporation‘, but with more focus on alternatives and solutions.

One of the core themes of the talk is the question of what drives small businesses to turn into corporations, or get bought by them? First, we need to be clear on our definition of “corporation” (also known as a “public company”), which is a state-incorporated, for-profit, limited liabilty structure, owned at least in part by whoever buys its shares on the sharemarket. Rushkoff points out that in the tech industry, “start-ups” (small businesses) need funding to develop before they can earn enough revenue to be sustainable, and the usual route for this is Venture Capitalists (VC). One the VCs put their capital in, they gradually “pivot” the business towards being acquired by a corporation, or IPO (selling shares and becoming one), so the VC can get their capital back fast, with capital gains, to put into another business.

Another option is to take out a business loan, but there is a legal limit to how much money a company can borrow. A business has to be solvent at all times (assets higher than debt), and while a loan goes on the books as a debt, an investment of equity goes on the books as an asset. Also, who hands out business loans? Banks. What are they? Usually, corporations. Since banks charge interest on loans, this also drives the business to grow, so they can afford to pay the interest as well as paying off the capital they were loaned.

Whatever idealistic social enterprise we might start-up, we are stuck in this trap unless we create sustainable alternative investment models like equity crowdfunding, micro-patronage, and ethical investment funds, who only buy non-transferable shares that can only be sold back to the business itself. These are the kinds of “small and slow solutions” (to quote Holmgren’s permaculture principles) Rushkoff discusses at the end of ‘Life Inc.’, and goes into in more detail in ‘Throwing Rocks…’. I listened to an audio book version of Life Inc. last year, read by Rushkoff himself. I highly recommend it (in either text or audio form) and I’m looking forward to reading the new one. If you only watch one online talk this year, his SXSW talk would be a pretty good choice, right up there with Yochai Benkler’s talk from last year’s CreativeCommons Summit, which was the base of my ‘Crowdsoucing or Outsourcing‘ blog post late last year.

Filed March 19th, 2016 under Uncategorized

No Comments

RSS

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

To comment on this blog you will need to log in or create an account first.
  • Annual Events

  • Digital Freedom Foundation
  • LibrePlanet
  • Aotearoa

  • Aotearoa Indymedia
  • BallaNZ
  • Creative Commons Aotearoa/ NZ
  • Creative Freedom Foundation
  • DigitalNZ
  • Enspiral
  • Fair Deal Coalition
  • GreenStage
  • InternetNZ
  • Island Bay World Service
  • Living Economies
  • Localise
  • Loomio
  • Matrix FM
  • Nicky Hagar
  • No Right Turn
  • NZ Council for Civil Liberties
  • NZ Makers
  • NZ Makers Map
  • NZ Māori Internet Society
  • NZ Open Source Awards
  • NZCommons
  • OASIS
  • Open Government Ninjas of NZ
  • Open Source Society of NZ
  • Open Standards NZ
  • Open Ur Eyes
  • Pacific Media Centre
  • Permaculture in NZ
  • PledgeMe
  • Radio Chomsky
  • Regulation
  • Scoop
  • Tech Liberty
  • Timebank Aotearoa
  • Transition Towns Aotearoa/ NZ
  • Uncensored Magazine
  • Waatea News
  • Waikato Linux Users Group
  • What If
  • Wiki NZ
  • Zenbu
  • archives

  • ArchiveTeam
  • Critical Commons
  • Ibiblio
  • Internet Archive Community Software Collection
  • Open Archives Initiative
  • Blogroll

  • Abject
  • Access Now
  • Ars Technica
  • BadScience
  • Banjo - RoboBlog
  • Boing Boing
  • Born out of Binary
  • Centre for Media and Democracy
  • Choke Point Project
  • Copyrighteous
  • Create Digital Music
  • Creative Commons International
  • Cryptogon
  • Digital Standards Organisations
  • Disinfo
  • E-Democracy
  • Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Ever Vigilant
  • Freedom Box Foundation
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation
  • Gaming On Linux
  • Global Indymedia
  • Gondwanaland (Mike Linksvayer)
  • Institute for the Future of the Book
  • Institute of Network Cultures
  • Internet Governance Project
  • InternetNZ
  • Island Bay World Service
  • Iterating Towards Openness
  • Knowledge Ecology International
  • LinkedListCorruption
  • Linuxed - Exploring Linux Distros
  • Localise
  • Moved by Freedom - Powered By Standards
  • Nanowares
  • New Zealand Māori Internet Society
  • Nicky Hagar
  • No Right Turn
  • NZ Council for Civil Liberties
  • NZCommons
  • O'Reilly Radar
  • OASIS
  • OERu Technology Blog
  • Open Educational Resources Foundation
  • Open Knowledge Foundation
  • Open Rights Group
  • Open Social Web
  • Open Source Conscious Intelligence Network
  • Open Source Food
  • Open Stand
  • Open Ur Eyes
  • OpenCollective
  • OpenDotDotDot
  • OpenSource.com
  • Permaculture in NZ
  • Plumi
  • Public Interest Journalism Foundation
  • Punk Rock Permaculture
  • Question Copyright
  • Replicant (OS)
  • Rob Meyers
  • Schneier on Security
  • Scoop
  • Shareable
  • Slashdot
  • Software Freedom Law Centre
  • Software in the Public Interest
  • SourceMap
  • Sustento Institute
  • Tech Liberty
  • TechRights
  • The Tin Hat
  • Tinkering Down Under
  • TorrentFreak
  • TransitionMovement
  • Translation Project
  • Trisquel GNU/ Linux
  • United Diversity
  • Waatea News
  • We Speak for Freedom
  • Why Your Boss is Programmed To Be a Dictator
  • code bank

  • Allura
  • BitBucket
  • FusionForge
  • GITHub
  • GITLab
  • Gogs
  • Internet Archive Community Software Collection
  • LaunchPad
  • NotABug
  • Savannah
  • Software Freedom Conservancy
  • Software Heritage
  • Sourceforge
  • community economics

  • Commons Transition
  • Fruit Tree Planting Foundation
  • In Our Back Yards
  • Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Libre-Living
  • Living Economies
  • Sensorica
  • Sustainable Economy Law Centre
  • Timebank Aotearoa
  • TransitionMovement
  • cooperative

  • Loomio
  • Snowdrift Coop
  • crowdfunding

  • ArtistShare
  • BountySource
  • Causes
  • CauseVox
  • Crowdfunder
  • Crowdjustice
  • Crowdrise
  • Crowdsupply
  • Flattr
  • Fundit.buzz
  • GiveaLittle
  • Goteo
  • In Our Back Yards
  • KickStarter
  • KissKissBankBank
  • Liberapay
  • Mighty Cause
  • OpenGift
  • Patreon
  • PledgeMe
  • PledgeMusic
  • Pozible
  • Snowdrift Coop
  • StartSomeGood
  • Taproot Foundation
  • The Working World
  • Tidelift
  • Events

  • IndieWebCamp
  • free code

  • April
  • Black Duck Open Hub
  • DistroWatch
  • Ever Vigilant
  • F-Droid
  • Free Software Directory (GNU FDL 1.3 or later)
  • Free Software Support Network
  • Free Software Support Network
  • Free Your Android
  • FreshCode
  • Gogs
  • Gun.io
  • Internet Archive Community Software Collection
  • LILA
  • LinuxTracker
  • NotABug
  • OERu Technology Blog
  • Peers Community
  • Plumi
  • PublicLab
  • Replicant (OS)
  • Software Heritage
  • Urchn Studios
  • Free Media

  • Communes Collective
  • Copyrighteous
  • Create Digital Music
  • Definition of Free Cultural Works
  • Dyne Foundation
  • FLOSSManuals
  • Free Culture Foundation
  • Ibiblio
  • Librivox
  • LILA
  • Open Video Conference
  • Show Me Do
  • Translation Project
  • Urchn Studios
  • WikiLeaks
  • freelancing

  • BountySource
  • Gun.io
  • independent media

  • Aotearoa Indymedia
  • BallaNZ
  • EngageMedia
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation
  • LILA
  • Matrix FM
  • Pacific Media Centre
  • Public Interest Journalism Foundation
  • Radio Chomsky
  • Radio Heritage Foundation
  • Uncensored Magazine
  • Waatea News
  • libre gaming

  • Gaming On Linux
  • Makers

  • GreenStage
  • Libre-Living
  • Mediamatic
  • NZ Makers
  • NZ Makers Map
  • Open ROV
  • Renewable PCs
  • Rob Meyers
  • Sensorica
  • maps

  • GeoForAll
  • GeoNames
  • Green Map System
  • Map Tools
  • Open Geospatial Foundation
  • Open Street Map
  • open governance

  • Crowdfunding
  • D-Cent
  • Deep Democracy Institute International
  • E-Democracy
  • Fight for the Future
  • Holacracy
  • Internet Governance Project
  • Kettering Foundation
  • Knowledge Sharing Toolkit (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
  • Open Government Ninjas of NZ
  • Open Policy Network
  • Open Space World (CC-BY-SA 2.5)
  • Open Stand
  • Open Standards NZ
  • Participedia
  • Sunlight Foundation
  • Transition Towns Aotearoa/ NZ
  • What If
  • WikiLeaks
  • open hardware

  • H-Node
  • Makey Makey
  • Meeblip Open Source Bass Synth
  • Open Hardware Summit
  • Open ROV
  • Open Source Hardware Association
  • Orgs

  • Access Now
  • Apache Foundation
  • April
  • Autistici/Inventati
  • Collaborative Knowledge Foundation
  • Commons Transition
  • Communes Collective
  • Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
  • Creative Commons Aotearoa/ NZ
  • Creative Freedom Foundation
  • Critical Commons
  • D-Cent
  • Deep Democracy Institute International
  • Digital Due Process coalition
  • Digital Freedom Foundation
  • Digital Standards Organisations
  • DigitalNZ
  • Dyne Foundation
  • E-Democracy
  • Electronic Frontiers Foundation
  • Electronic Privacy Information Center
  • Fair Tracing Project
  • Fight for the Future
  • Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives
  • Free Culture Foundation
  • Free Network Foundation
  • Free Software Foundation
  • Free Software Support Network
  • Free Software Support Network
  • Freedom of the Press Foundation
  • Guifi
  • Ibiblio
  • Identity Commons
  • Institute for Local Self-Reliance
  • Internet Engineering Taskforce
  • Internet Governance Project
  • ISA Commons
  • Kettering Foundation
  • LEAP Encryption Access Project
  • LILA
  • Living Economies
  • Loomio
  • May First/ People Link
  • Mediamatic
  • NZ Māori Internet Society
  • NZ Open Source Awards
  • Open Architecture Network
  • Open Archives Initiative
  • Open Geospatial Foundation
  • Open Policy Network
  • Open Source Hardware Association
  • Open Source Society of NZ
  • Open Web Foundation
  • OpenADR Alliance
  • OpenCorporates
  • Outreachy
  • Participatory Culture Foundation
  • Peers Community
  • Permaculture in NZ
  • Privacy International
  • Public Citizen
  • Public Interest Journalism Foundation
  • Public Knowledge
  • Public Patent Foundation
  • Question Copyright
  • Radio Heritage Foundation
  • ReDecentralize
  • Reform Government Surveillance
  • Regulation
  • Rhizome
  • RiseUp
  • Science Commons
  • Software Carpentry Foundation
  • Software Freedom Conservancy
  • Sunlight Foundation
  • Sustainable Economy Law Centre
  • Taproot Foundation
  • Transition Towns Aotearoa/ NZ
  • Waikato Linux Users Group
  • Wiki NZ
  • World Wide Web Consortium (WC3)
  • Xiph.org
  • XMPP Standards Foundation
  • Peer2Peer

  • BitCoin
  • FreeCoin
  • Permaculture

  • Appropedia (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
  • Fruit Tree Planting Foundation
  • Future Scenarios
  • OrganicDesign
  • Permaculture in NZ
  • TransitionMovement
  • We Speak for Freedom
  • Privacy

  • Access Now
  • Digital Due Process coalition
  • Ever Vigilant
  • Fight for the Future
  • International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance
  • LEAP Encryption Access Project
  • OASIS
  • Privacy International
  • Reform Government Surveillance
  • What If
  • protocols and licensing

  • Definition of Free Cultural Works
  • Digital Standards Organisations
  • Greenlots
  • ISA Commons
  • Open Archives Initiative
  • Open Stand
  • Open Standards NZ
  • Open Web Foundation
  • OpenADR Alliance
  • Regular Events

  • Libre Graphics Meeting
  • Open Hardware Summit
  • science and datasets

  • AllTrials
  • Collaborative Knowledge Foundation
  • DigitalNZ
  • Fair Tracing Project
  • ISA Commons
  • Open Geospatial Foundation
  • Open Hand Project
  • SourceMap
  • Wiki NZ
  • Zooniverse
  • Tools

  • Autistici/Inventati
  • BitCoin
  • Black Duck Open Hub
  • CoActivate
  • Crowdfunding
  • DistroWatch
  • Dyne Foundation
  • F-Droid
  • FLOSSManuals
  • Fork the Cookbook
  • FreeCoin
  • GITHub
  • GNU Operating System
  • GreenStage
  • H-Node
  • How To Escape the GoogleMax Panopticon
  • Knowledge Sharing Toolkit (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
  • LEAP Encryption Access Project
  • LinuxTracker
  • Loomio
  • Map Tools
  • May First/ People Link
  • Meeblip Open Source Bass Synth
  • Monolith
  • Open Hand Project
  • Open Source Ecology
  • Open Space World (CC-BY-SA 2.5)
  • Open Street Map
  • OpenCorporates
  • OpenMailBox
  • Participatory Culture Foundation
  • Plumi
  • Renewable PCs
  • Replicant (OS)
  • RiseUp
  • Savannah
  • Show Me Do
  • Sourceforge
  • SourceMap
  • TransforMap
  • Translation Project
  • Web Platform
  • Zenbu
  • Transition

  • Green Map System
  • Health After Oil
  • Localise
  • OrganicDesign
  • Wiki

  • Appropedia (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
  • Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives
  • Instructables
  • LibrePlanet
  • Open (Government) NZ
  • Participedia
  • SourceWatch
  • WikiEducator
  • wireless mesh

  • Guifi
  • workplace democracy

  • Enspiral
  • The Working World