As the 14th Century in Europe started to close out so did Feudalism. Sharecropping helped stabilize society but at the time there was far too much war, disease, poverty, political upheaval, and disproportionate wealth to allow it to continue successfully. If these symptoms of a misappropriated society sound familiar it may be that you’ve been watching the recent news. As it turns out, history repeats itself and modern capitalism is just thinly veiled feudalism. There may be no better example of how perceived economic freedom is nothing more than continued sharecropping than the way current streaming platforms are run.
Recently, a new study by Oxfam revealed that the world’s two thousand billionaires own more wealth than 4.6 Million people. To put it in spatial terms, “If everyone were to sit on their wealth piled up in $100 bills, most of humanity would be sitting on the floor. A middle-class person in a rich country would be sitting at the height of a chair. The world’s two richest men would be sitting in outer space.” the author of the report said.
This is a direct symptom of capitalism and Karl Marx warned long ago when he pointed this out in the Communist Manifesto. “The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones”, he wrote in 1848. Unfortunately, not much since then has changed. The rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. Most of us fall into the category of those who are allowed to farm a little section of land with the hopes that one day we will own our own piece, however small, and promise ourselves that what we need is just “enough” to survive on. We are but serfs who wish to become vassals.
What we don’t realize is that we can’t become Lords, we probably won’t ever own that piece of land, and that the system is already in place, a sturdy scaffolding that allows the top to earn first, and whatever falls from the top rails is what we end up with. What we are sold, of course, is that every last one of us in this giant world have the opportunity to make it big, see our vision through to the end and reap the monetary benefits. But that’s not really true. In fact, it’s practically nonexistent. The proof is in the numbers.
Let’s take Spotify for example. Spotify is a publicly traded company but a host of humongous corporate giants like Tencent, Baillie Gifford, and Tiger Global own the majority of shares and previous debt was bought up by other corporate monoliths like Goldman Sachs and Coca-cola. According to their reports, Spotify has consistently lost money. So how do they stay in existence if they are losing hundreds of millions per year? Why do these large companies own so much stock in something that’s in a constant nose dive yet somehow magically growing to cover further parts of the world including India and the Middle East?
In 2018 Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is You” had 11 Million listens in a single day. 11 Million! Spotify pays out a max of .0084 cents per stream. For 11 million listens that comes out to about $92,000 for a single day. Not a bad haul. But Carey has co-writing credits for that song with Walter Afanasieff so that take would have to be split, not to mention Columbia records night get a piece of that pie as well. At the time the President of the company was Carey’s husband, Tommy Mottola. Imagine, 11 million streams in a single day and you get a check 30k.
Spotify, Pandora, Google, and Amazon together are worth over 400 billion dollars combined but they all objected for royalty raises for songwriters in 2019. Yes, a few artists who don’t have a major label have used streaming to their advantage and made it big. But the truth is that a group like Vulfpeck is famous because of how rare it is that this happens. It’s such an amazing story that everyone has heard it. (Not to mention they are a great band.) But what about bands just coming up? How are they supposed to make a living doing what they’re best at when it seems as if the way the pyramid is structured doesn’t offer them a ladder to the top?
The rich keep getting richer. YouTube, owned by Google, doesn’t show how much they profit in a single year. It’s “complicated” how the books are kept. They’re taking in around $20 billion per year but, there is no single figure that shows how much of that is turned into profit. A simple Google search will show some articles that claim that YouTube doesn’t make any money. But of course, that search is limited by the owner of YouTube, Google, so who knows how true any of that is. If YouTube isn’t making any money then how come Google acquired the service in 2006 for $1.65 billion? A staggering figure now and an even more whopping number fourteen years ago.
To be a sharecropper, a serf, to work and toil and sweat and bleed and post as much material as you can to get to the top just barely puts food on the table. As we continue to feed the beast, the larger it grows. The larger it grows the more it takes, and the more it takes, the less we have. The less we have the harder we have to work and the harder we work the more we feed the beast.