Recently, Kevin Roose described how the disappearing venture capital subsidies for various companies has forced them to raise their prices (boldface mine):
Profits are good for investors, of course. And while it’s painful to pay subsidy-free prices for our extravagances, there’s also a certain justice to it. Hiring a private driver to shuttle you across Los Angeles during rush hour should cost more than $16, if everyone in that transaction is being fairly compensated. Getting someone to clean your house, do your laundry or deliver your dinner should be a luxury, if there’s no exploitation involved. The fact that some high-end services are no longer easily affordable by the merely semi-affluent may seem like a worrying development, but maybe it’s a sign of progress.
While much of the debate focuses on ‘urban amenities’, there is a far more fundamental issue at play throughout the economy as Jamila Michener notes (boldface mine):
What’s harder, I think often challenging for me, is to think about the ways that poverty is exploitative on a societal level.
In other words, many of us who are not living in poverty benefit from the ways in the labor market and in other spaces that people living in poverty are exploited for their labor. Right, so I want to go to Walmart or Target or fill in the blank and I want to get things for really cheap. And I don’t want to wait in the long line. I want lots of registers open. I want someone there in the store if I have a question.
There are all sorts of services like this, that I want them, I want them fast, I want them cheap. I want the service with a smile. And those ones have implications for people who are living in or near poverty. And that means that there’s a kind of upwardly redistributive nature to the societal level exploitative characteristic of poverty — so that the exploitation comes on a societal level because the harm, or lack of constrained choices of people who are living in poverty, creates more choices, a wider marketplace of more positive and beneficial options for people who are not living in poverty.
There are a lot of people, especially the upper-middle class and gentry class*, whose quality of life is better because others’ quality of life is demonstrably worse. There are many who are used to having de facto servants–and on the cheap too. When I was younger (and I’m old enough to say that now…), income inequality wasn’t so stark as it is now, and the expectations around ‘servants’ (as opposed to the actual quality of service) were lower: luxury goods–and service is a luxury good–was more expensive and less prevalent.
While it’s funny to view what Roose writes about as a case of ‘avocado toast prices will increase’, there is a broader phenomenon at work here, I think: we will see a readjustment of what one pays for versus what one does oneself (or skips entirely). I’m unsure how that plays out politically.
*The wealthy and rich do well in this largely through exploitation–the direct siphoning of salary into profits.