Although I will mostly use this blog to explore the issues in Free Ride, I also wanted to point readers to this interview I did with the Scottish novelist Ewan Morrison. I met Ewan about a month ago, at the Edinburgh Literary Festival, where he sat on a panel about the end of books and asked important questions about what that might mean for authors. To vastly oversimplify, he thinks it could be very bad – and I obviously agree.
More than most writers on this topic, Ewan is also asking some interesting political questions: How “free” helps the technology business, how free culture became identified with the left, and why progressives feel so comfortable helping companies at the expense of artists. I don’t have all the answers, but I think these are important questions to ask. Why are many progressives so uncomfortable with Wal-Mart and so enthusiastic about Amazon when both companies use their scale to give consumers more value for their money at the expense of small businesses and working conditions alike. Making iPods in China may not be a great job, but workers in at least one Amazon warehouse face sweatshop conditions in the U.S.
This intellectual inconsistency bothers me. While the Internet has generated impressive economic growth, the vast majority of it seems to go to a relatively small group of people – an idea that progressives have traditionally found distasteful. And yet Arianna Huffington can’t say enough good things about Silicon Valley start-up culture. At this point, anyone concerned about corporate power ought to worry much more about Google than Universal Music.