The poors and writing for free on the internet

A number of people who write words on the internet talk a lot about people writing things for free. If you are someone who writes things on the internet, it makes sense to talk about such things. It’s like how people subscribe to trade magazines and talk about issues in their industry. Moreover, people always want to get paid more and people writing things for free on the internet threatens that.

I take issue however with the post-hoc way in which discussions about this wrongly turn to the poors The point goes like this: because the poors can’t afford to write for free on the internet, the institution of free writing on the internet crowds out their voices.

This argument is identical in form to the one about the price of college: because prices are high, poor people wont be able to go to college. The problem with this argument is that it assumes that the reason poor people don’t go to college is price. In reality, the overwhelming reason poor people don’t go to college as much as their non-poor peers is because they are not as qualified as their non-poor peers. The reason they are not as qualified as their non-poor peers is because it is hard to gain qualifications when you are poor. Also, we know that the class composition of college is actually more diverse than it was in the more affordable past, an era I sarcastically call the Golden Era of College Accessibility.

I strongly suspect that similar dominating factors are at play in the field of writing things on the internet. After all, to be a successful writer you have to have certain kinds of abilities that tend to be nourished through education and practice and such (things rich folks are more likely to have). For that reason, I find it hard to believe that if people started getting paid more on the internet, you’d see significantly more poor writers online. More than likely, those soaking up the new opportunities would be highly-educated, class privileged people, those being the people who disproportionately have the resources to cultivate “good” writing skills and such.

As with college prices, I don’t doubt that, at the margin, there are some poor people who might get into internet writing owing to changes in pay. But overall, I think the exclusion of poor voices from writing is overdetermined. That is, there are probably multiple causes for it that are each sufficient to bring it about. The low pay cause seems like it’s probably one of the most minor of those multiple sufficient causes.

Again, I’ve noted this with college costs. The real winner of bringing college costs down is almost certainly going to be the disproportionately affluent set of people that attend college. They will still do so, and they will soak up most of the gain. The same probably holds for writing. The disproportionately affluent set (in terms of background) that make up professional writers will probably soak up most of the gain. They will still probably wind up on top for class-driven reasons other than that they could write for very little pay, and the increased pay will do very little to change the class diversity of those so employed.

None of this is to say folks shouldn’t try to get higher prices and such. I bring all this up only because this strikes me as another one of those instances where the poors are strangely trotted out as a prop to argue for something that almost certainly wont be of much use to them. The well-off left has a bad habit of that: pursuing things that are likely to be mostly beneficial to those with higher socioeconomic backgrounds by using questionable post-hoc stories about how it’s really for the poors because of this or that marginal effect it might have on them. Those rhetorical strategies really bother me.