Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Serfing USA: The Rental Economy

From FT Alphaville:

In the future, we will all be rental serfs
Alternative title: When “smart” is a euphemism for vassal.
It’s probably a sweeping statement but we’re going to go with it. The technology which made the 20th century great did so because it empowered and liberated people, giving them greater autonomy over themselves, not less.

The washing machine. The vacuum cleaner. The dishwasher. The car. The record player. All these technologies increased personal autonomy rather than decreased it, whilst also endowing people with leisure time. We became masters of our domains and kings of our very own castles.
There was, nevertheless, one downside.

The profit opportunities associated with these technologies were subject to diminishing returns. A continuous pipeline of newer, better, brasher and more gimmicky products was thus needed to ensure profits could be sustained into the long-term. In no time, this gave way to the planned obsolescence phenomenon — making products purposefully disposable — in a bid to keep customers captured and dependent.

But with the normalisation of disposable culture, the environmental costs of purposeful inefficiency became self evident. This was not long-term sustainable.

So how did the techno-capitalist community respond? Was it by going back to high-quality manufacturing processes focused on creating long-term durable goods for the masses? Not really. Such policy would have slowed production cycles and increased upfront costs, and led to a major descaling of the global economy. Where it did occur it could only ever cater to a privileged and increasingly shrinking luxury-consuming elite.

Or did they, as Carlota Perez — the tech industry’s most beloved economist — has long argued, focus on creating business models which service, maintain or insure long-term durable goods, as as to extend their durability further? Perhaps a little bit. But not much, because servicing stuff is a low productivity activity which involves high-touch skilled labour which in and of itself is difficult to scale, and (if done well) ends up being a self-defeating activity....MORE
Thanks for the hat tip Ms. K.
I could go on and on about recurring revenue business models but it all comes down to three words:
 "You own nothing!" 
(I fear I may be channeling Willie Wonka's: "You get... NOTHING!!! You lose! GOOD DAY, SIR!")