Unicorns v Zebras

Keith Parkins
Mar 18, 2017 · 6 min read

In Sacred Economics, Charles Eisenstein discusses that it is nigh impossible to make money from the internet. Companies are set up, we provide the content to attract advertising revenue, but we all hate adverts.

Even where successful, it is simply displacement, the overall wealth has shrunk.

We used to have small ads in the back of local papers. Most local papers have gone to the wall, or like Lincolnshire Echo, once a daily, with several editions, now a weekly with long-out-of-date news. Replaced by sites on the net that are a fraction of the market value of what was displaced, eg Craig’s List, eBay, and even possible to sell stuff through Amazon.

At a meeting a little over a year ago at St Paul’s, PostCapitalism: Envisaging a Shared Future, Paul Mason author of PostCapitalism talked of silly money chasing silly projects.

We see this with Uber. In addition Uber is a rogue company, serfs working for an app, at often less than the minimum wage, extraction business model, toxic employment culture.

We have vulture capitalists invest in a company, hoping to rapidly inflate its perceived value, then sell before the bubble bursts. A handful of wealthy individuals benefit, everyone else suffers.

Medium is trying to change the way it works, pay a fee to read articles, which has alienated readers and writers alike. Ironically, Medium is operating as a collaborative commons, charging to access articles, will turn it into a fenced-off ghetto, a classic case of enclosure of the commons.

Unicorns are mythical creatures. A unicorn is a start-up company valued at a mythical $1 billion. Unicorns contribute nothing to society, how can they, they are mythical, like all Ponzi scams, the scam relies upon more money flowing in to keep the bubble inflating.

Zebras Fix What Unicorns Break:

We believe that developing alternative business models to the startup status quo has become a central moral challenge of our time. These alternative models will balance profit and purpose, champion democracy, and put a premium on sharing power and resources. Companies that create a more just and responsible society will hear, help, and heal the customers and communities they serve.

Capitalism is an adaptive system, 50 year long Kondratieff waves led by innovation. Post-2008, we are now post-capitalism, the economy has flat-lined.

This is not recognised in proposing zebras as an alternative to unicorns. It is implicitly assumed capitalism is still functioning.

  • Classic Marx: Cost is the sum of land, labour and capital.
  • Post-capitalism Marx: Cost is the sum of land, labour, capital and information.

Post-capitalism has introduced a fourth factor, information. The price of information goods is tending to zero. I can copy e-books, digital music at zero cost. Information flows. It is only artificial Draconian copyright and intellectual property rights that is stopping this free flow, stopping the price of information goods falling to zero, and at the same time, stopping innovation.

If the price of stuff falls to zero, a market cannot function, as price is the signal in the market.

Unicorns operate in this post-capitalist world of information tending to zero, where if nothing is based upon labour, land and capital, then the value of companies that is in reality zero becomes a mythical figure built entirely on hype.

In Debt, David Graeber discuses that at our most fundamental level, we are social creatures who wish to cooperate. The self-interested individual introduced by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations and beloved by economists is as much a mythical creature as the unicorn.

Economists focus on the transaction, the service or goods traded, they fail to focus on the relationship between the players, the social interaction.

We stand in line for the bus, a social convention, a self-organising, self-regulating system, no one instructs us to do this.

Lost in the street, if we look lost, without even asking, strangers ask if we are lost, offer to help.

Linux and its associated suite of programs runs the internet. Developers freely contribute, the software is free to use.

If we work together, in open coops, in the collaborative commons, the gift economy, we create a common wealth, that exceeds the sum of individual wealth.

Medium has not back-peddled, charging for reading articles is not back-peddling. What Medium should be doing is asking, how do we turn this into an open coop, make it self-organising as a collaborative commons, use open source software.

Uber can be killed by regulation, creation of open coops, open software platforms that other cities can use.

Deliveroo, like Uber, serfs working for an app at often less than the minimum wage, the serfs provide the capital, bear all the risks, Deliveroo creams off the profit. Kill Deliveroo with regulation, that they have to pay their workers the minimum wage, offer Deliver2U an open source open coop alternative.

Cooperation has to be in all spheres of life.

We have to take control of local Town Halls, as they have done in Madrid, Barcelona and A Coruña, invite the participation of local citizens, treat the city as an Urban Commons. Within the city, manage local spaces as commons.

Within the city establish open cooperatives, as they have done in Barcelona, and Catalonia.

unicorns v zebras / https://medium.com/@sexandstartups/zebrasfix-c467e55f9d96

Jennifer Brandel co-founder and CEO of Hearken and Mara Zepeda co-founder and CEO of Switchboard, have proposed zebras as a positive alternative to unicorns.

Yes, a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough. A watered down version of business as usual. Still operating as though we are not in a post-capitalism world.

Sustainability is a buzz word, we are all sustainable now. What are we sustaining, the existing bad models of growth for growth’s sake, no matter what the cost to the environment, the poor working conditions?

Instead of sustainable which has lost any real meaning, replace with steady state and cooperation, self-regulation, self-organising and adaptive, each network, forms a node within the next network.

Nearly half of all jobs are going to be replaced by robots. That it has not yet happened, or has been delayed, is due to the creation of what David Graeber calls bullshit jobs. We need a Universal Dividend, as proposed by Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM25.

We need local currencies to retain and recycle wealth within the local economy. For on-line payments, and point of sale within the local economy, use faircoin and fairpay card.

The problem with zebras, is that in reality it is more of the same, with a different gloss, privately owned companies, the need for investors, who will expect a return. Zebras are not radical enough for post-capitalism.

Light on a Dark Mountain

The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.— The Dark Mountain Manifesto

Keith Parkins

Written by

Writer, thinker, deep ecologist, social commentator, activist, enjoys music, literature and good food.

Light on a Dark Mountain

The machine is stuttering and the engineers are in panic. They are wondering if perhaps they do not understand it as well as they imagined. They are wondering whether they are controlling it at all or whether, perhaps, it is controlling them.— The Dark Mountain Manifesto

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