I’ve been thinking about the last article I wrote here, The Evolution of Comment Spam. That article was more or less about computers and about how the internet works. But I’m really more interested in spam on a much deeper level — the political level — the level of our economic system. Because it really is politics and economics that causes us to have spam. If there were no economic incentive to create spam, no one would.
After all, spam isn’t an art form. I’m sure the people in Palestine who get paid pennies an hour posting spam would rather be doing something else. I admitted in the article before that I didn’t understand the economics of spam. How is the spammer making money and who are they getting that money from. But I do know the economics this far: the spammer is making money doing nothing but damage.
Let’s Think About Our Economic System
And I think as a society we really need to think about this. This is a function of our living in a capitalism. I’m willing to admit that the incentive structure of capitalism does some good things. It makes people build beautiful guitars, for instance. But it also does this; it creates the incentive for people to make the world worse.
It’s funny to think about it. I don’t even know why I have to deal with spam. I don’t know why it increases the work that I have to do in order to bring my readers the work they want. But I do know that there is an incentive. What’s more, it’s a perfectly legal incentive. It’s every bit as ethical as my putting an Amazon Associate’s link when I talk about my favorite translation of Don Quixote. The fact that no one else seems to find this strange is what is so bizarre about it.
Pornography: One of Our Society’s Great Values
Here’s a little factoid you’ll find interesting. We think a lot about Hollywood. I have a whole website about it (from a strange angle, admittedly), Psychotronic Review. And every Monday, the news tells us how much money the newest Hollywood blockbusters made. Yet depending on who you ask, video porn makes anywhere from somewhat less than Hollywod to the same as it to more than it.
Don’t get me wrong: I have nothing against pornography. But I don’t find it edifying. And I think most Americans would be bothered that “adult” entertainment is roughly as profitable as the industry that brought us Schindler’s List. Yet that is the deal that we as a society have made. Listen to just about any libertarian around and they will tell you that the value of anything is determined solely by how much money people will pay for it. Thus, Hungry Bitches (“2 Girls 1 Cup”) is more valuable than almost every English language translation of Don Quixote.
Inefficient Economic System
The time has come for us to think about our society. We have an economic system that is incredibly inefficient because people are encouraged to make money by harming other people. Spam has been around for a long time. But it was only when people could really make money that spam took off. And as it is, at least as much money is spent promoting work than creating it. In the film business, the rule of thumb is that about as much money is spent on marketing as on creating the movie. That’s pretty amazing when you remember that movies often cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
But I know: everyone looks back at the Soviet Union and the conversation stops. That’s typically American. The truth is that under the Tsar, the Russian Empire was a combination of a very primitive agricultural economy and an industrial capitalism. Russia did far better under communism than it did under the Tsar. So bringing up the Soviet Union doesn’t prove anything.
We’re Stuck Thinking About How Things Have Been
What bothers me more, however, is the total lack of vision among people who are with me. There is capitalism and there is communism and then there is nothing. Call me naive, but I think humans are smart enough to come up with an economic system that is better than both communism and capitalism. I don’t have all the answers, but I have some of them. One is to decouple economics from politics. We’ve seen what’s happened in the United States where the rich gain political power, which they use to make themselves richer.
So I think we should have a top marginal tax rate of 100 percent. And I don’t just say that because I think that income inequality is bad. I think the rich have to be saved from themselves. If what a business owner really loves is running their business, it shouldn’t matter that they aren’t making any money. But I think it would encourage them to do things that would be edifying like read books, have relationships, think about new things. The system we have now is like a game where the winner is the person who dies with the most money. I take pity on everyone and so I think even the rich deserve something more than a life of Sudoku meaning.
Simple Ideas and Better Lives
Would stopping people from making more than one or ten million dollars a year really destroy our economy? Would making sure that everyone was well feed and had a place they could call home destroy our economy? I think not. I think we have simply lived in the limited minds of the super rich for so long that we are unable to think creatively. And being stuck in this mindset that ruin lies before us if we insist upon a fair distribution of resources means that we live in a world where I have to worry about people soiling my blog just so they can make a buck and and live the big Sudoku meaning dream.