It is sunny out, so I’m making hay for my strawmen.
And math is not my strongsuit.
Not usually one to avoid politics, it had surprised her how long it had taken for this conversation to come up with her friend. He had a business idea, it was a good one, and as they arrived at lunch one day wide-eyed and excited. Lily sat down with him, spoke with him at great length and when he asked about her day she initially tried to avoid it.
She had very recently given up corporate law to become somewhat of an activist, and while he liked to hear about it he also had some very strict ideas on what constituted morality. She steered it back to him, it was less likely to cause an argument than what she was doing at work.
But no matter how it happened, it inevitably always came back to the same discussion.
“I’ve got some shopping to do after this.”
He feigned a smile, it was a dull and safe choice of topic, “Groceries?”
“No, Issy needs a new bath-robe so I thought I’d look around.”
“Just use amazon.”
“I don’t like amazon-”
“Oh, right, because it’s owned by a rich guy.”
“No, it’s owned by a monster who profits off of slavery and who abuses the so-called free market to make himself obscenely rich at the cost of others.”
He scoffed, “He had a good idea, he earned his money.”
Yet for some reason, unlike usual, she did not change the subject. She wasn’t sure why.
“Okay, so your argument is that if you have a good idea you are entitled to your money, right?”
He nodded, “Of course you are, you earned it.”
“Just, follow the logic for me. You are starting a business and it’s a good idea.”
“I think so-”
“Okay so, how much do you think you’ll get as a loan to start your business? Let’s say ten thousand so the math is easy, right.”
“Now, let’s say that some nameless rich guy has the same idea and he has ten million dollars in his pocket that he’s going to use to start it up.”
“Okay,” he raised an eyebrow.
“So you let’s say you spend half of your money getting your business up and ready to make your product. The rich guy does the same. And we’ll be generous to you and say you have the vastly superior product.”
“What’s your point?”
“I’m getting there. So you now both have a product, how do you start selling it?”
“Sure, but I mean how do people find out about it?”
“I tell them,” he snarks just a little.
“So advertising. You’ve got what, five thousand dollars left in your bank account and he has five million. We’ll be super generous and say you manage to get the best advertising company money can buy and for every one dollar you spend on it, you get one person viewing your product – that’s five thousand potential buyers. If he spent all his money advertising, he would need to spend a thousand dollars for every one view to do the same as you.”
“Then I’d beat him in the long run.”
“Do you really thing he’ll get such a shitty advertising agency? No, let’s be realistic for the rich guy and say he gets a decent agency and for every ten dollars he spends he gets a view. You got five thousand views and if he spent all his money on advertising he’d get five hundred thousand.”
“Wait, why is he getting a view for every ten dollars?”
“You want him to spend a hundred for every view, he’d still get ten times as many views as you got. If you sold to every person that viewed your product, which is ridiculous, he’d only need to sell to one in ten to match you. If we’re realistic and say you sell to one in ten, you’d sell five hundred of your product and he’d sell fifty thousand.”
“But my product is vastly superior, even you said so!”
“Alright, so you sell to one in five, that’s a thousand of your product sold. He still outsells you fifty to one.”
“But, mine is better so… word of mouth.”
“Sure, but there is a finite number of people in the world that want to buy your product. Let’s say a million people want it. And lets not factor in stuff like declines in sales and trends and stuff that’d be negative to you – let’s just say you a thousand a month and every month you gain a ridiculous amount of extra sales and you double the amount you sell right.”
“So by around week seven you’ll have taken over them in sales – if they don’t grow at all – and by about week ten there will be no more people to sell to. You’ll have sold around five-twenty thousand and they will have sold around four-eighty thousand.”
“So I won.”
“That’s only if you grow like crazy and they don’t at all. To beat you they’d only need to grow by ten percent to beat you, and we’re talking something like six-thirty thousand to your three-seventy thousand.”
“I did pretty well though.”
“Sure, but your product was vastly superior right, shouldn’t you be on top? And that’s only if we’re super generous to your sale skills. If you don’t double your sales every month, you’d get virtually nothing.”
“So what are you saying?”
“The rich guy, who did average, can beat you when you are beyond exceptional purely because he has money. It isn’t a competition, so much as it is a knife-fight. Even if you wise up and bring a gun, he’s going to show up with an army.”
“So you’re saying I shouldn’t do my business idea.”
“No, you should, but be realistic. No-one really ever makes it rich, the best they do is make something someone else wants to steal, so they either do or they buy it off you for a millionth of what the idea is actually worth. The entire system is rigged against you to keep you from success and the sooner you realise that the better.”
“So what’s your solution then, we all become communists?”
“Yes, pretty much exactly. If we all had the same money to start with, we’d all have the same chance of success and good ideas would rise to the top. People have this dumb idea that communism is anti-competition when it is pro-competition.”
“Communism is all about robbing from the rich to give to the poor.”
“I just explained why that is a good idea, do I need to repeat myself?”
“So, because people are too rich, no-one should be rich?”
“Yes, exactly. If you distribute wealth evenly you know what happens? People spend money and buy things, and the entire economy grows. When the rich have all the money you know what they do? Only spend it to make more money, and the stuff they don’t spend gets locked away in a safe somewhere.”
She gestured to the coffee shop, “If the workers owned the coffee shop, the local management would be accountable. You wouldn’t have some rich guy in some office a world away telling them to pay their workers a few dollars plus tips because management has to work with the people under them. They’d want to invest in their shop and make it better, the workers who work there every day would do the same. Your business would grow exponentially purely because no-one wants to work somewhere they hate.”
“But if the business doesn’t make enough money-”
“They go out of business, or they join a worker union that allows them to pool their resources so that one business has some insulation from bad sales or issues with worker compensation.”
“If this is so wonderful-”
“Stop, I know what you’re about to say and you’re wrong. The Soviet Union was barely communist, it’s economy was feudal and its state was fascist masquerading as communist. It was as communist as the United States has ever been.”
She pushed her empty coffee cup across the table, “If you have a system where you effective enslave workers so that they are forced to work the land over punishment of death, and where the only form of mobility out of their rigid class is to be so exceptional that you break from your mold and redefine the society itself – that is wrong.”
She stood, “And I’m not just talking about the Soviets.”
He gave her a puzzled look, but she placed her money on the table and smiled, “It was nice talking to you again, we’ll need to do it again soon.”
“Uh, sure-” he stood, and she left to go shopping.