OPINION: Facebook’s Purchase of Oculus is the New Best Example of 21st Century Inequality and the Need for Unconditional Basic Income
The purchase of Oculus by Facebook for $2 billion is the new best example of the growing inequality inherent in 21st century capitalism – what Paul Mason describes as the The Fourth Wave. A few people just got really rich, while the thousands of people who helped build the company from nothing, through $2.5 million of crowdsourced capital and a thriving open-source developer community didn’t. Every single funder and every single developer should be given their share of cash and Facebook stock. But of course that won’t happen, and even if it could happen, how would this share be calculated, especially as far as the developers are concerned?
Jaron Lanier also describes this phenomenon in his book “Who Owns The Future” where the increasing inequality we see in the information economy is being driven by what he refers to as “siren servers”, where those with the most computing capacity in control of the networks earn all the money, while those responsible for creating the actual networks don’t. He suggests this could be rectified by somehow adding a price value to information exchanges and processing, making it more expensive for central server farms to operate in a way that transfers money to those comprising the actual networks. He doesn’t know exactly how this could be achieved, but feels a solution to this problem is very important to our future.
I submit that one solution to this problem is to instead of the attempt to create a price value for information exchanges, we recognize the overall value of these exchanges, and thus the need to transfer part of the surplus unjustly gained by those running the largest fastest servers to those comprising the actual networks.
A monthly netizen’s dividend in the form of an unconditional basic income would represent an acknowledgement of the share naturally belonging to those who actually comprise all of the networks, of these surpluses not presently being shared with them. In a world of ever-rising productivity and perpetually stagnant wages, this recognition would help resolve our growing problem of the few with the machines getting extremely rich on the backs of the many, while the many get nothing but broken promises.
Palmer Luckey helped build something great, but he did not do it alone. Without the Oculus community he would be just another VR dreamer with a phone tied to his face. He and his executive and creative teams did not create billions of dollars in value on their own. The billions transferred to the Oculus team from Facebook, who themselves only exist because of those who comprise the Facebook network, is entirely disconnected from the thousands of funders who made it possible, and the thousands of people in the open-source community who worked together to help improve the product and reveal what was possible with it. That none of these people will receive anything for being completely integral to creating the value seen by Facebook as worth the billions to purchase it, plainly shows the need for remuneration, and therefore the justification for basic income as representing our society as a whole sharing in the value created in our own networking.