Capitalism, part 2: Status as Currency

One of the great paradoxes of capitalism is how Wikipedia, which offers little to no financial compensation to its editors, has superior quality than most for-profit websites. But it’s not just Wikipedia: magazines such as The Atlantic and The New Yorker publish 3,000+ word articles about social issues, such as the prison epidemic or the opium epidemic in the Midwest, yet those are topics that don’t readily lend themselves to profit and commercialization, but articles where such financial incentives exist (such as self-help, investing advice, etc.), the articles are almost always dreadful, full of ads, annoying pop-ups, and low-quality information. One would think that for commercialized subjects there would be a financial incentive to have superior content, but it’s reversed: the highest quality content (in terms of syntax, readability, user experience, length, writing ability, etc.) is found where there is the least monetization potential. Instead of yet another 4,000-word article about how white supremacy rules America, how about a 4,000-word article about good investing strategies. Capitalism, in some instances, is less about quality for the sake of quality, but the lowest quality needed to still turn a profit [but perhaps production for the sake of profit is better than no production at all, even if the production can be shoddy sometimes].

But also, as discussed in In Search of Fulfillment and Status, Universities, and the Elites, status is a effectively a currency in that people trade time and effort to obtain it and that status confers similar psychological and physiological changes as recreational drugs and entertainment (which people pay for).

Online at least, having a STEM PHD (especially in computer science, physics, or math), even if one works at McDonald’s, confers more status than having an MBA and working in middle-management. Also, online, being a semi-obscure author such as Chuck Klosterman or Mark Leyner brings much more prestige than being a corporate nobody. The monastic, canonical pursuit of intellectualism over material wealth, is respected. Status is so powerful–humans are obsessed with it and will make great sacrifices to attain it–it’s even more important than money. Consider Bill Gates, who has enough money to retire a million times over, yet still seeks status by being so active in philanthropy, instead of trying to squeeze another couple billion out of his Microsoft stock.

Yes, being a 9-5 worker in middle-management quantifiably pays more than being some obscure fiction author, but online the writer has more status [1]. In that sense, capitalism is opposed to intellectualism, where aesthetic, purity, and authenticity are more important than profit (Wikipedia is sorta like a secular monastery). The third category are those who seek neither monetary gain nor status. Part of the problem is intellectuals have higher standards for content than people who seek actionable advice, so the result is that content created for consumption by other intellectuals is going to be of a higher caliber than content that is for-profit. Intellectual feats of capitalism can bridge this gap.