Monetizing everything

One of the features of capitalism is how it monetizes everything.

Classic examples are how the fashion industry and music industries have monetised teenage rebellion. The Yoga and health industries have monetised a trend away from unhealthy eating (promoted by the original food industry). Every attempt to break away is captured, monetised, packaged up and fed back to the people.

Therapy monetises social solidarity. Facebook monetises peoples’ interest in being social online.

The capitalists behind all these industries will say that of course these services/products are monetised. This is the only way that they get developed and delivered. There needs to be some money in it, they will argue. But this line misses out two aspects of the phenomenon. Firstly; it simply isn’t true. For example; open source software shows that it is possible to develop sophisticated and high-end products on a non-commercial basis. Secondly; what the proponents of these industries miss is how their packaged and extensively marketed service drive out the socially produced alternatives. Therapy, for example, doesn’t just offer a paid alternative to social solidarity for those unlucky enough not to find it in their lives; therapy infiltrates society and sends out the message that it, commercial psychotherapy, is the only viable form of social support. Therapy, in reality, constantly denigrates non-commercial social support. (Therapists often quite explicitly tell their clients that advice and support from friends is inadequate). Facebook, it could be argued, drives out non-online interactions. It also exploits a natural monopoly position in online social media; having got everyone signed up it now uses that as a huge base to sell data (anonymised or otherwise) to advertisers as well as persuading its users to buy advertising themselves. The boundaries between ‘friends’ and paid friends become blurred. But because Facebook occupies the monopoly position it is hard for a non-commercial alternative to develop.

It is true that capitalising a service can help it to become bigger and have more market leverage. It is perhaps not true that only a capitalised business monetising everything it touches is the only way to deliver or provide social services. Socially provided, that is non commercial, services may be healthier for people.  People feel they own them; their sense of agency is enhanced and they can participate creatively, democratically even, rather than simply as a manipulated consumer of the service. However; the capitalised services will use their market leverage to try to suppress social initiatives.

An example of this process happened in the development of education in 19th century Britain. Before education was made compulsory in 1871 a wide variety of schools existed. These schools included schools in working class districts where parents would pay small sums for their children to be taught  the basics. Literacy rates were growing. With the advent of mass compulsory schooling, paid for by compulsory taxes, the local initiatives were elbowed out of the market. Government action helped – for example by a campaign against outside toilets which forced many smaller dame schools to close down.

Social collaboration can provide non-monetised services. These services are more human than ones driven by the need to make ever increasing profits. However; it is true that they are not as ‘efficient’ as the commercialised services. By definition they lack the capital for full-on marketing drives. Governments, in the services of corporates, may legislate against them. The odds appear to be stacked against socially provided services and in favour of top-down services ‘delivered’ by government and corporates. This is how they want it.

Short of a socialist revolution – which has its own problems – it may be that a long campaign of changing peoples’ attitudes is needed.