Startups Are Not Going To Save You From Peak Capitalism

Either you’re slinging crack rock, or you’ve got a wicked startup

I wonder about hip-hop sometimes. It comes from the hood, but in practice has become the soundtrack of peak capitalism. Rappers talk about purchasing cars and clothes, how money makes them better people and entitled to fuck your girlfriend — basically the love song of the 1%. But I guess it’s a way out. I just wish there was a way out that didn’t involve leaving everyone else behind.

Biggie said:

If I wasn’t in the rap game
I’d probably have a key knee-deep in the crack game
Because the streets is a short stop
Either you’re slinging crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot

The modern version for millenials is startups. Either you’re slinging CBDs or you’ve got a startup. There is this idea that if you have a startup you can somehow rise above the shit and have a decent lifestyle, where you can wander through a grocery store and not worry about how much stuff costs.

But it’s not true. It’s a pipe dream that keeps us stuck in a structural ghetto. It’s like the idea that you can be a basketball player or a rapper. For most of us it just isn’t going to happen. And it shouldn’t have to be true to have a decent life. This dream keeps us sleeping through the oppression and bullshit around us.

You’re not going to create a billion dollar startup. I’m sorry. It doesn’t matter how early you wake up or how much coffee you shoot up your bum, some people get lucky and some people don’t. Some people are born rich, go to the right schools, meet the right people and are in the right place at the right time. It’s basically feudal and if you were born into it you’d know.

There are stories of people coming from nowhere and working their way up but this is just selection bias. You only hear those stories and not the thousand others that come from nowhere and die there. If you take a hard statistical look at startups they are not going to help you.

The fact is that a generation ago, in the West, you could have a boring job like dentist or accountant and buy a nice house in the suburbs and send your kids to a decent school and have a midlife crisis and buy a Miata or remodel your kitchen. And today those things seem out of reach to people living paycheck to paycheck until their thirties or forties. So we dream of a startup.

We want to think that this one great idea or meeting this one great investor save us, and that all that’s stopping us is procrastination, or not knowing this one trick, or this other trick. But this is the fundamental attribution error. You attribute everything to yourself and not enough to the environment. And the environment is shit. The whole system is rigged. You’re not in a market at all. You’re in a casino.

People keep trying to get better at playing roulette when they should be tearing the whole casino down.

This dream keeps people from seeing that the poor are trapped by war and borders and police states and kept from living up to their potential and increasing GDP across the world by just moving. We just watch influencers on Instagram and miss that this freedom of movement is denied to the poor and most of the world.

We dream through the fact that rich people and bankers are robbing billions while the cops are stopping and frisking people for dime bags of marijuana.

We dream while a few hundred companies destroy the environment at scale wrecking the future for our children. We’re focused on self-driving cars which are worse than regular buses. We get excited fighting plastic straws.

The startup dream also glorifies companies whose main innovation is stripping down labor laws and making servants and drivers and peons out of people that should be entitled to workers rights. It glorifies billionaries who try to solve a few ‘charitable’ problems for their own amusement, rather than paying taxes that would benefit everyone.

The startup dream is how peak capitalism keeps millenials in line, how it keeps them participating in capitalism because maybe, just maybe some rich person will believe in them, will fund them and maybe they’ll get to win. They just have to practice their elevator pitch, read about agile, drop microdoses of acid and mix butter in their coffee, those little things. Anything, anything that will keep them from looking at structural inequalities around you. The political changes we need. The injustice, the oppression, the lies.

It’s a lie. Startups are not going to save you from peak capitalism. They’re not going to clear the air, they’re not going to raise living standards, they are not a way out. They’re just a carrot on a stick, always out of reach, always one step away, yet always enticing.

Startups are what rappers are to the hood. They are the siren song of capitalism. The idea that if you’re good enough you can do it, you can get the house, the cars, the power, the prestige. And you can leave everyone behind. All the suckers that aren’t as smart as you, that don’t deserve it. But that’s the lie. It’s the selfish lie that keeps us from sticking together.

The fact is that we all deserve a better life. Whether we’re practicing Agile development or not. We have enough resources in the world and we just need to share them more equitably, not generate 100x returns for ourselves. Startups keep us away from solidarity, so be wary of them.

They’re just companies. If you want to start a company go ahead, people have been doing this for hundreds of years without making a fuss. But you’re not a rapper, you’re not a baller, and you’re not a startup billionaire. If you care about a better life, maybe focus on making the world a little bit better for everyone around you, rather than orgasmically great for yourself.

The need of the hour is not your great startup idea. The need is solidarity, with the poor, with the immigrant, with the lonely, with the low. With the working mother, the working father, the people trying to get by. The point is for workers of the world to unite, not a for a few workers to become capitalists and fuck off to Mars.

So by all means, change your life, optimize your funnel, reduce procrastination. But maybe direct some of your energy at fighting and changing the cages that keep us all boxed in, rather than trying to leave everyone behind to join the 1%. Forget about saving yourself from peak capitalism. It’s not going to happen, and who cares if it just happens to you. Think about saving us.