Apple epitomizes the future we’re choosing by way of treating knowledge as property: gross inequality and hierarchical control, but amazing, such that it is hard to imagine a different arrangement. (I argue very different arrangements concerning knowledge are possible and some would produce much better outcomes — freedom and equality — and some would produce much worse, but still be considered amazing, as they would be relative to the past — knowledge policy is a point of incredible leverage in either direction.)
I don’t watch Apple closely at all, but occasionally a headline catches my eye, as two have recently.
- Android share of smartphone profits plummets to 11 percent. 89% of smartphone profits go to Apple, despite shipping only 19.7% of smartphones. Of course there are other contributing factors, but these numbers suggest to me something about the surplus obtained by producers and consumers in the case of proprietary (iOS) and open source (Android) operating systems, and the resulting concentration of wealth toward owners of the former.
- Apple Is Now More Than Double the Size of Exxon—And Everyone Else. That’s by market capitalization, around $750 billion. As the article notes, IBM in 1983-1985 had more than double the market cap of any other company. Knowledge as property driven wealth concentration is not at all new, but I suspect it is increasing as knowledge becomes unambiguously the commanding heights and we shift from an industrial to a knowledge economy (transition captured in pithy phrases such as “data is the new oil” and “software is eating the world”) and knowledge is increasingly subject to various freedom infringing (intellectual property) regimes, and I suspect that more people are recognizing this.
In the more people department, I’ve noticed in the last day:
- Five minutes with Mariana Mazzucato: “We have socialised the risk of innovation but privatised the rewards”. (Which actually does mention Apple a few times.)
- Is the “inequality” issue a cover for something else? Quote: “Lots of the growing inequality is due to the winner-take-all nature of the modern economy, where marginal costs are extremely low and markets are protected by intellectual property laws. Huge profits go to the knowledge-based industries, and the financiers who finance them.”
Now these two are largely making stereotypical contemporary political points for or against state activity respectively (the latter by proxy of claiming Democrats don’t really care about inequality) and not demanding a fundamental shift away from property as the regime governing knowledge (the former demands a ‘golden share’ of intellectual property derived profits for the state). But I’d be very happy to see both “sides” embrace such a shift. Demanding that government and government-funded knowledge not be treated as property is a good start.
My ironic edit of 5 reasons you should never buy an Apple Watch, pointing out that control and inequality appear to be marvelous.