A robber baron who gives you a cuddle is still a robber baron

“The old robber barons of the Middle Ages who plundered sword in hand were more honest than this new aristocracy of swindling millionaires.” This was written in 1907 but it could have been yesterday.

As the 19th Century became the 20th, J P Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Frick and others pillaged their way to great fortunes by dint of ruthless exploitation. As they aged and died, the giant businesses they created became the crucibles from which dynasties, and ostensibly charitable foundations, were formed. The power of the millionaire magnates over the rest of humanity was hewn in granite.

Roll forward 70 years or so, and the hard-faced men evolved into a cuddly bloke who wore woolly jumpers, sported a beard and often had a flock of flight attendants in attendance. He has largely been eclipsed by the likes of Gates, Page and Brin, Zuckerburg and Bezos, but look closely at their business models and you’ll note no real difference.

These are the people we call ‘disruptors’. We have been led to believe that the empires they have created replace inefficient analogue businesses with more effective digital ones that are better for us, the consumers.

We have been led to believe this by outstanding PR and marketing communications.

Dr Douglas Rushkoff, lecturer and commentator on matters of moment in communications thinks it’s a load of baloney. He believes that most of what the giants of the internet say, and do, is actually a monster confidence trick. The trick that we have been led to believe is that operations like Uber, Google and Amazon are somehow beneficial when, in fact, because we fund but do not share in the winnings, they are probably not.

These are businesses built for flipping. The only gains are for the institutional investors who fund them, not us the consumers, the prime participants. We lose because the value of our investment via the purchases we make, evaporates in its entirety.

Business Life magazine published Rushkoff’s thoughts in its March edition The article outlines a radical idea that really is a genuine disruptor for today’s economics: distribute the profit and allow consumers to share more than selfies.

Henry Ford knew, and said, that unless you pay proper wages to people they cannot afford to buy your products.

Zero hours contractors don’t care about that sort of sharing. The only product that they care about is turnover because that is what gets their investors’ blood racing.

And, mesmerised by marketing hype, we allow ourselves to be taken for the ride of our lives. Again.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on 29 March