Dec 15, 2021 • 10M

Welcome to Subscription Serfdom

Capitalism is evolving and it's very, very bad

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A podcast, newsletter, and publication that asks the question: How will you navigate life in the age of democratic destruction, ecological collapse, and economic irrelevance?

For nearly all of human economic history, commerce roughly functioned in the same way:

  1. Workers created value in the form of goods and services.

  2. Their products were sold to purchasers.

  3. The profits went to wealthy people who had systemic advantages over impoverished workers.

But until exactly fifty years ago, things steadily improved for folks without much wealth.

We went from slavery to serfdom to grueling industrial employment to believing the American Dream was actually attainable for all.

Then, strange things started happening in 1971…

Worker compensation flatlined:

Affordability peaked:

Inflation skyrocketed:

National debt soared:

And the number of billionaires metastasized from a literal handful — the Rockefellers, Mellons, Gettys, Hugheses, and DuPonts — to more than 2,755 billionaires worldwide today.

(In case you’re wondering the heck what happened in 1971, America went off the gold standard, but that’s not the point of this article.)

Taking control of the money supply and systematically robbing the working class via inflation was Phase One on the journey toward stuffing the middle class back into serfdom.

It gets far worse from here.


Phase two

For almost all of human history, people made one-time payments and then took possession of goods and services.

Not anymore.

Have you noticed that everyone is pushing you into a monthly payment?

  • Your land-lorder or mortgage lender

  • Your insurance company

  • Your heating provider

  • Your electricity board

  • Your water company

  • Your municipality for land taxes

  • Your phone provider

  • Your car salesman

  • Your student loan gangster

  • Your credit card company

  • Your grocery delivery service

  • Your razor maker

  • And the fifty million apps you haven’t used in two years but are too lazy to cancel

Some of them make sense — if I use a variable amount of electricity over the course of a year, my energy people deserve to get paid in full in a timely manner.

But now, pretty much every industry is trying to ram you into a monthly plan, whether you need or even want one: socks, tights, kid’s toys, underwear, make-up, toothbrushes, meat-by-mail, veg boxes, snack boxes, pre-packaged meals, candy clubs, hot sauces, seafood, cheeses, olive oils, wine clubs, coffee blends, yoga outfits, candles, flowers, paper, art crates, Bitcoin, even outrageously wasteful things like monthly potted plants.

And it makes sense.

Why sell someone something once when you can keep their credit card on file and sell it to them twelve times a year forever?

There’s actually a name for this type of business structure: A recurring revenue model. Corporations love recurring revenue. It helps them forecast revenues, plan their spending accordingly, and most importantly, it seems to mega-boost stock prices for shareholders. It’s not that we should ban all RRM businesses, it’s just that we need to ensure we don’t allow corporations to forever get rid of the option to own at reasonable prices.

(Full disclosure: I run one RRM business — my Substack newsletter+podcast — though I’ve set it up so you can own a copy of every single article and episode I publish for free. And if you’d like to own a physical copy of any of my books or articles for life, please visit jaredbrock.com.)

Daily consumables like food and media aside, recurring revenue models aren’t actually the best thing for consumers. It would be far better if our money retained its value long-term, and we could just save up and purchase buy-it-for-life-quality goods instead of having to re-rent inferior-quality items repeatedly until the day we die broke.


The poverty-making model

First, the elite shareholder class impoverished the contributive masses via systemic inflation and purposeful wage stagnation.

Second, they got us hooked on monthly payment plans for the things we wanted and needed but couldn’t afford to buy lump-sum anyway. (When was the last time you paid cash for a car or even a piece of furniture?)

Now, corporate elites are working on a new scheme to steal our time, impoverish our lives, and ram us back into serfdom once and for all:

The end of ownership.


Phase three

As kids, most of us used to buy movies.

Physical VHS tapes, usually from Walmart. (Please don’t go to Walmart.)

We all owned the entire Disney collection, remember?

Then Blockbuster came along and we mostly rented, but we always bought DVDs and Blu-rays of the films we knew we were going to watch again and again and again — The Godfather, Fight Club, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings.

Now, if you want to watch a Netflix-produced movie or TV show, you have to pay a monthly fee. Unlike Band of Brothers or The Sopranos back in the day, there is no other legal way for you to repeatedly enjoy the content that Netflix produces unless you continue to pay for the rest of your life.

We already know that people don’t rent because they’re broke — they’re broke because they rent. Now, the shareholder class wants to extend this injustice to every facet of your life.

Do you see what’s happening here?

Corporatism is evolving from owning the means of production to also owning the products themselves.

You will own nothing and be happy, remember?

This infuriates me.

The perfect example is Microsoft’s Word. I’m a full-time book author, and publishers bafflingly still require me to submit manuscripts in Word. But Microsoft — a $2.5 trillion company — forces me to pay $9.99 per month forever for the crappiest word processor ever created.

(Interestingly, their website still uses the word “buy” on their rent button, so clearly they don’t have anyone on staff with an English degree.)

The same goes for my wife’s Adobe editing suite — she’ll have to spend more than $30,000 on it over the rest of her career. How absurd is this?


First they came for my movies

Within our lifetime, everything will become “a service,” whether we like it or not. We’ll be forced to rent what we need — impoverishing us in the long run — and it will almost certainly be pitched to us as a way to “save the environment,” because the rental companies will posture like they’re circular economy good guys.

Think:

  • Appliances like fridges, toasters, and washing machines (all eventually equipped with Black Mirror-style voice ID and biometric video surveillance)

  • Furniture, including mattresses

  • Laptops, phones, gaming chairs

  • Literally every physical item you own

And do you know what?

We won’t be able to afford to own anything anyway.

Because once any human necessity is commodified as an investment, it’s eventually sold to the highest bidder, which is always an extractive, tax-evading, anti-human, multinational investment corporation.

  • It’s already happening with houses, which are well on their way to $10 million.

  • Cars will be completely out of reach within a decade or two.

  • Furniture-as-a-service startups are already a thing. (Imagine paying $128/month just to sleep in a bed. Made of foam!)

  • The hyper-elitist World Economic Forum thinks you won’t even own your underwear within nine years.

Think about it another way: What does a mattress cost at IKEA, maybe six or eight hundred bucks? But what is a mattress’s market value to an investor if it rents for $99/month on a 36-month lease?

Can you afford a $3500 mattress?

A pair of shoes from Target might be fifty bucks today, but in the hands of a $9 trillion-dollar shark like Blackrock, it could cost you $500 not to be bare-foot.

Now add another twenty years of inflation, wage stagnation, work gigification, and robotic automation.

Friends, I’m looking at the future and I’m seeing a world where it’s mathematically impossible for the masses NOT to be enslaved.

You already don’t have the option to buy Netflix movies. Soon, you won’t have the choice or ability to purchase homes, cars, clothes, or anything else.

Can you believe how insane our economy is?

We do all the productive work.
We do all the purchasing that keeps the economy going.
They get all the profits.
They own all the products.

A societal structure in which the vast majority own nothing and have to toil for rich elites just to survive already has a name: It’s called feudalism.

Welcome to our future.


Calls to action

Money talks. We the market can still make demands of the corporations that are working to rule our lives and press us into subscription serfdom.

Here’s how we can fight back:

  1. Refuse to give your hard-earned money to any business that won’t outright sell you the things you want and need.

  2. Refuse to give your hard-earned money to any business that forces you onto a nearly-impossible-to-cancel monthly plan in order to access their services.

  3. Start companies that sell one-time services and fully-owned products.

  4. To avoid wasting years of your life paying to rent cheaper-quality versions in the future, acquire buy-it-for-life-quality possessions now.

  5. De-commodify your life as much as possible and accept the reality that the “free” market is a black market that always ends in monopoly.

  6. Get into politics and pass a law called the Right to Own Act.

(If you have any other ideas, pop them in the comments and I’ll add the best ones to this article.)

What’s interesting about the end of ownership for the masses is that it’s just the beginning of ownership for the elites. They ultimately want to own the same thing that their feudal ancestors owned:

They want to own us.

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