Nearly two years ago, in October 2019, I wrote about the succession of labor models, from a knowledge economy to gig economy to a passion economy. Each new model brings simultaneously a greater and more invisible exploitation and inequality.
In the passion economy, the keyword is individual creativity: make money off your distinct skills, talents, and knowledge. Top earning writers on Substack are earning half a million dollars a month, so can you!
But the dream of creative and intellectual autonomy is as false as it’s attractive. Just as Uber drivers have to work an ever-increasing number of hours to make a living, while Uber takes home an ever-increasing cut, turning one’s passion into a livelihood is self-exploitation. Workers who sell their passion — the so-called cognitariat in place of the unskilled proletariat — and capitalists who own means of production — VC-based companies like Substack — are deemed to have an antagonistic relationship as the new sources of creation of wealth.
In the past, workers sold their labor; now passion workers sell their imagination and creativity. And while top writers on Substack can indeed amass a considerable profit, Substack itself, and venture capitalists who invested in it, amass infinitely more. The passion labor model is a further economic reorientation towards privileged sectors of society, based on credentials, not salary. In the same way that Sweetgreen or Evelane creates class discrimination by not taking cash in their stores and/or designing their clothes specifically for the creative class, passion economy excludes a massive number of people from its narrative.
Excluded are people without social, intellectual, cultural, or creative capital. Those who want to have it, have to accept no difference between what’s work and what’s not, further feeding the VC machine set on capitalizing on our passions as the next frontier of exploitation.