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Sunday 3 June 2018

Capitalism, iPhones and Cooperation

As always, all of this is just opinion, fairly poorly researched and mostly just done as a thought experiment.

Anyone else seen the meme about capitalism building your iphone?

I mean, it's a good zinger, isn't it? It's a good gotcha. There's no possible way someone could see something wrong with a system while in possession of something that that system created, right?



To participate and survive in a capitalist society - one that we are in, like it or not - one must have an income, either some kind of state benefit (usually hard-won and easily-rescinded) or a job (also hard-won and easily-rescinded). In order to get either of those things, one must have a phone - which means that a phone isn't a reward for being in a capitalist society. It's a necessity.

To state the obvious - the actual building of the phone is primarily conducted by automated machinery and underpaid human beings, not an overarching belief in the free market. Those who benefit the most from capitalism don't get very involved in the creation of such objects, even if they take away a lot from their creation. (Here's another link to my blog about cakes and surplus value.)

So carefully sidestepping around the widening hole in the statement, which would now more accurately read "But capitalism forces you to own a phone that you build for next to nothing and have to buy back from the people whose symbol is on it at a huge markup" - it is correct that the prevailing philosophy of many places in which these phones are sold (and sometimes made) is capitalism. what's the alternative?

Alright. So there's many different phone companies that produce many different phones, and every year put out a new set of phones. They're in competition with each other, which many claim is the best way to push innovation and lower prices. Sure, it also pushes down the wage they are willing to pay their workers in order to make sure they can keep prices low and also make high profits, but - sorry, I got distracted again. The fact is that the competition model is often hailed as the holy grail to producing the best product - which I am not really sure is strictly true.

I found it hard to track down the actual amount of money spent by each company - let's say for argument Samsung, Apple, Nokia, Huawei and LG - but let's assume it is quite a lot. Legal fees comprise of a not-insignificant slice of that pie, too. Nine-figure sums of money thrown back and forth between Samsung and Apple over minor design quibbles, because they are both trying so hard to be simultaneously distinct from each other and yet fit within the same market bubble that the public expect. (I talk about that over here, too. You ever noticed how most modern cars look exactly the same?)

What if these different phone companies weren't bound by the need to compete with each other? What if, instead, they were state-acquired and paid the same budget as they usually receive individually to co-operate with each other in order to produce a phone, not to sate the lusts of the free market, but to suit the needs of the citizen?

Of course, monopolies are bad, because companies with monopolies can't be trusted to act responsibly. However. Join me in a thought experiment, where we assume that there's laws that can actually make a corporate entity behave - say laws that lean more to the left hand side of the spectrum, rather than shoring up the holdings and powers of business and capital. Let's also assume in this thought experiment that we can trust our government. I know, I know. Just...bear with me here.

So you have five full-fledged phone divisions in each of these electronics companies. You put their development teams together. Some of them are guaranteed to be working on things that are either the same or very similar, so there's redundancy. So they instead work on something else. Something better, something new.

You have five marketing departments that are all doing the same job in order to fight against each other, which they no longer need to do. So you can afford to cut a significant part of the marketing budget, with little effect on demand for your product. In fact you can afford to reduce your production budget, too. Because you aren't making five ranges of phones, each of which has different technology. You're making one range of phones. Software development goes much the same way.

How would this affect the consumer? Well, a couple ways.

For one thing, no more proprietary competition between the phone brands means no more proprietary or exclusive software or access problems. Ever found out that the killer app you really want is an iPhone or Android exclusive? No more. Ever found that you can't import things easily from one software setup to the other? That's over too. My own personal favourite? There's no reason why your charge cables wouldn't be totally universal either. Just the very best one, suited for the needs of the product.

As previously discussed, phones are seen as an absolute necessity under capitalism. Despite poor people being treated like shit for having one that isn't the most visibly basic model one can buy, they are also told that if they want to achieve anything, they must have one. Most people are assumed to have a phone at least, often a smart phone, and at least have access to basic internet services.

So let's make that happen.

Where this phone program is government funded, the government introduces a minor tax to cover the cost of production, and provides their citizens a phone that they are entitled to - up to a specific standard. If you want a nicer model, and I do mean literally luxury, then you pay the additional cost yourself. Otherwise, you get a model that will do you right for the next three years.

What this would mean is a guaranteed income with savings across the board in its production, so you could actually afford to pay the people making your phones better - which is something that the state could mandate as an condition for receiving the universal phone contract in the first place.

Imagine how good a phone you could have if the best parts of literally every major new phone release of the past five years were coalesced into one universally-supported handset that has access to every app store. Phones that are made to exacting standards and made to last, because that's they aren't relying on repeat business to make their money. They have guaranteed repeat business, state funded.

Assuming the state can hold this conglomerate company to heel, and encourage it to produce the best it can - and assuming the state doesn't immediately turn this whole program into a means to profit from people's taxes - you could produce the best mobile phone on earth.

Something you couldn't do under capitalism.

Of course, all of this is just theoretical, because we know full well that those five companies would never let go of their own personal brands, that the current method of making those big bucks is serving them just fine and will continue to do so, and that our current crop of government would very happily abuse the notion of this system to make personal profits.

Because this vision of what could happen, of the thing that could happen for us in even one industry and one walk of life, is one that comes from beyond the all-encompassing grasp of greedy men in suits - which is one of the universal truths of this world.

So whenever I hear about how my phone was built by capitalism, I imagine how good my phone could be if it was built with a little more socialism.

Just a thought.

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