Are Google, Uber, and Digital Companies Trapped by Colonial Economics?

August 12, 2016 by R A Z G O

Douglas Rushkoff joins the rank of French economist Thomas Piketty in expressing skepticism about free market capitalism in the digital age. Groundbreaking companies like Google, Amazon, and Uber operate using a “scorched Earth” method of value creation, says Rushkoff, which resembles 13th century colonialism. To make money, they extract value from communities rather than create it, much like conquistadors would extract precious metals from South American nations. If that sounds like a hyperbolic statement to you, you are probably not alone.

But Rushkoff points out that for all our fascination with digital companies, they have yet to make up more than four percent of the real economy, based on gross domestic product. They are not, strictly speaking, very good at creating value. Because they offer services to millions — even billions — of people, it appears they have value, but, Rushkoff asks, what value are those services adding to local communities? Often times, very little. They are, like Walmart, creating a vacuum in which local businesses struggle survive.

It is not that companies like Amazon or Walmart are misanthropic, but that our financial system rewards their method of creating value. Banks grant loans based on a business’s ability to extract wealth from a community, not on whether it make positive a positive contribution to a neighborhood. There is another way, says Rushkoff — a way that’s good for banks, businesses, and local communities…



Douglas Rushkoff is an American media theorist, writer, columnist, lecturer, graphic novelist and documentarian. He is best known for his association with the early cyberpunk culture, and his advocacy of open source solutions to social problems.

He is the bestselling author of Present Shock, as well as a dozen other books on media, technology, and culture, including Program or Be Programmed, Life Inc., and most recently Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity. Named one of the world’s ten most influential thinkers by MIT, Rushkoff has made documentaries for PBS Frontline, including Generation Like andThe Merchants of Cool, and he is a professor of media theory and digital economics at Queens College, CUNY. He lives in New York and lectures about media, society, and economics around the world.