13 July 2014

Crowded Potato Salad Bowl


If crowdfunding was truly a socialist concept, people wouldn't get to choose which projects get funded. It would all be one, gigantic co-op with funds being evenly distributed to everyone involved regardless of a project's merits. 

Recently, a comedian I follow on YouTube named Adam Buckley made a video criticizing the recent "Potato Salad" Kickstarter campaign and its tens of thousands of dollars. For those of you who don't know, a man started a crowdfunding page asking for ten dollars to fund his first attempt at making potato salad. A cynic would say this was a joke, a sort of litmus test to see how low standards can get on the site. An optimist would say it's a social experiment in empathy. Either way, I don't think anyone would dispute that at least 90% of that money could be put to better use elsewhere, like helping a little girl get plastic surgery for her facials scars resulting from a pitbull attack. Of course, that brings us to the seedy underbelly of crowdfunding: scams. 
Like any other great tool, it can be misused. As a hammer can bash in a skull as easily it can drive a nail into wood, so can a crowdfunding campaign provide a smokescreen for a cut-and-run operation as easily as it can help an indie film get distributed to theaters. In between these lay the gray area of e-begging, projects that aren't scams by any real definition of the word, but aren't exactly a commercial venture or a pre-order system. For example, the potato salad guy isn't making this salad to hold some huge block party to feed the homeless (Kickstarter wouldn't allow that, anyway) or teach some at-risk youths to cook so they can become productive members of society. Sure, a party is listed as one of his stretch goals, but there's still nowhere for this project to go. Indeed, it makes me sad people would rather give their money to this than something else, but I completely disagree with Buckley that it's an example of socialism. 
Frankly, his writing off of crowdfunding as a socialist concept because the system can be abused is not merely throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It's drowning the baby in the bathwater and then suing the water company for damages, claiming they made a hazardous product... and it's not even his baby. 
In the interest of full disclosure, I identify as an Objectivist. If you don't know what that means, it is, in broadest terms, a liberal capitalist. We believe in certain conservative values such as the free market and smaller/limited government, but we also believe in more liberal causes such as civil liberties and secularism. It has nothing to do with socialism; practically a polar opposite. To wax philosophical on the distinction, I'm all for equality, but find it works better as a starting point than an end goal (Equal opportunity is not equal achievement). Furthermore, I have supported the Kickstarter campaign for Wayforward's upcoming Shantae game, and the brush/stylus I use for my digital paintings is the result of a Kickstarter campaign. 
Yes, a business should be left to succeed or fail based on its own merits, but in terms of covering startup costs, donations from supporters (with or without incentives) is no more or less valid a means of fundraising than an investment bank, a loan, or self-financing. People having as many options as possible to decide for themselves where their money goes, how much they can give, all the while having a full and informed understanding of what, if anything, they will receive in return for their contribution (in my case, a copy of the aforementioned game upon its release), is not an example of socialism. 
I have played Wayforward titles before and have been very impressed by their work. If they want to bypass normal funding means and appeal directly to their fans rather than unreliable marketing that's been proven to be ill-suited to the games market, then why is it wrong for me to support their effort in return for a copy of the game? How is it e-begging to offer a product or service for a fee simply because there's a little more trust required and less red tape to cut through? It's not putting the cart before the horse to let your paying, consuming audience decide via dollar votes whether or not a product or service is viable. It's practically the very definition of laissez-faire capitalism. Calling it socialism because it doesn't always work out or gets abused by greed isn't simply a conflation, it's shortsighted, reactionary, alarmist bullshit, and shaming people for supporting it in spite of its flaws isn't simply petty, it's hypocritical. I've lost a lot of respect for Buckley on this one. Normally, even when I disagree, I still respect his opinion because it's rational and informed. This time, though, he's done himself and his fans a great disservice, which is ironic because he recently shamed a contemporary for more or less doing the same, only with an accolade instead of the offer of willing financial support. 
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