Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus: How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity

Rate this book
Capital in the Twenty-First Century meets The Second Machine Age in this stunning and optimistic tour de force on the promise and peril of the digital economy, from one of the most brilliant social critics of our time.

Digital technology was supposed to usher in a new age of endless prosperity, but so far it has been used to put industrial capitalism on steroids, making it harder for people and businesses to keep up. Social networks surrender their original missions to more immediately profitable data mining, while brokerage houses abandon value investing for algorithms that drain markets and our 401ks alike--all tactics driven by the need to stoke growth by any means necessary. Instead of taking this opportunity to reprogram our economy for sustainability, we have doubled down on growth as its core command. We have reached the limits of this approach. We must escape the growth trap, once and for all. 

Media scholar and technology author Douglas Rushkoff--one of today's most original and influential thinkers--argues for a new economic program that utilizes the unique distributive power of the internet while breaking free of the winner-take-all system the growth trap leaves in its wake. Drawing on sources both contemporary and historical, Rushkoff pioneers a new understanding of the old economic paradigm, from central currency to debt to corporations and labor.

Most importantly, he offers a series of practical steps for businesses, consumers, investors, and policymakers to remake the economic operating system from the inside out--and prosper along the way. Instead of boycotting Wal-Mart or overtaxing the wealthy, we simply implement strategies that foster the creation of value by stakeholders other than just ourselves. From our currency to our labor to the corporation, every aspect of the economy can be reprogrammed with minimal disruption to create a more equitably distributed prosperity for all.

Inspiring and challenging, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus provides a pragmatic, optimistic, and human-centered model for economic progress in the digital age.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published March 1, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Douglas Rushkoff

99 books826 followers
Douglas Rushkoff is a New York-based writer, columnist and lecturer on technology, media and popular culture.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
414 (29%)
4 stars
542 (37%)
3 stars
346 (24%)
2 stars
91 (6%)
1 star
34 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 188 reviews
Profile Image for Molly Ison.
137 reviews14 followers
April 14, 2016
Rushkoff is a smart person with a lot of interesting ideas - you know a review isn't going to be good when it starts that way. I have a problem with his presentation - he makes unsourced claims that, even if true, seem designed to elicit an emotional reaction to draw the reader into accepting that things should be different without having to build a tight argument. The first instance I noticed, Rushkoff claims that Thomas Jefferson utilized the dumbwaiter less to save time and energy and more to distance himself from the realities of slavery. Is this true? Damned if I know. It seems like it would be difficult to be certain of Jefferson's motives. Where can I learn more about this? Well, there isn't a source. Yes, I can do the research myself, but that's no way for an author to make a case for his conclusions.

The big claim comes shortly after - "industrialism's primary intent was to subvert a rising middle class and their peer-to-peer market system." This is a foundational premise and it seems over-simplified and vague, but I'm willing to hear Rushkoff out and find out more details... which never surface. (On further thought, I'm not sure it's accurate to ascribe intent to "industrialism". People have intent. But who these people were and how they set up this system is barely explained beyond "late Middle Ages" and "the aristocracy".) I don't expect Rushkoff to give a complete history... but again, that's what sources are for. The few he cites are for very minor details (for example, a citation about the height of women in the late Middle Ages follows a blanket claim that people were well-fed and healthy.)

Another example - "[Walmart] costs its consumers more in lost earnings, unemployment, a decreased local tax base, and externalized costs such as roads and pollution than it saves them in low prices". As a middle-class liberal whose budget isn't reliant on saving a few dollars at Walmart, I'm predisposed to believe this. I WANT to believe this. But once I started noticing these kind of claims, I realized I wasn't sure if it was actually... you know... true. (I suspect it's truth-y, where the model for externalized costs ends up supporting the economist's preexisting biases).

I might not have been so aware of these problems if I hadn't discovered this book via David Graeber's The Utopia of Rules. Graeber loves research. Even if you think every conclusion he makes is dead wrong, you can't say the man didn't put a lot of effort into researching it - and sharing that research with his readers. (It's also because of Graeber that Rushkoff's explanation of the barter economy preceding paper receipts raised some red flags).

Pulling at the reader's enjoyment of detached outrage puts a Utopian sheen over the systems that Rushkoff holds up as positive examples. The account of the stockbrokers who talked down their shareholders from making rash trades was fairly dripping with nostalgia. (I picture the shareholders as a bunch of Jason Compsons, which probably isn't fair). Problems with these systems are attributed to corporate involvement (such as microfinancing). He does acknowledge that there are complexities and downsides, but he spends so little time exploring the ramifications of any given system that the major impression is - artisans good, corporations bad.

Despite these criticisms, there's material worth thinking about if you're willing to do the research yourself. (I'm more likely to pat myself on the back for being able to articulate that unconstrained corporate growth is a bad thing while not looking very far into any of the proposed solutions). It helps to understand this book not as economics, social theory, or sociology, but as self-help (since corporations are people now, they can participate in the self-help market too). Ultimately, it probably would have been best if Rushkoff had cut out half the book and started with "growth as a primary corporate goal without adding value is bad; if you believe this, here are some thoughts I"ve had".
Profile Image for Jared Janes.
10 reviews7 followers
March 16, 2016
While Rushkoff often drives me a little crazy with his pessimistic, borderline conspiracy-theory driven world view, this book is filled with great ideas and observations. It's well worth the read for anyone interested in looking critically at our global economy, business ideas and the ways in which we collaborate with each other.
Profile Image for Joshua Gans.
30 reviews47 followers
April 11, 2016
I read a NYT excerpt and thought this would be a good and interesting book. However, the sheer scale of economic illiteracy stunned me. Nothing made sense. So much so that I think he does the cause of thinking about inequality, employment and the like a disservice but resorting to what is mostly hyperbole and sweeping generalisations. Rushkoff shows no awareness of the benefits digital technologies have brought people outside the US and stripped down most of his policies are indistinguishable from the rhetoric of the Republican front-runner.

This book won't add anything for you.
Profile Image for Craig.
60 reviews18 followers
May 5, 2016
Douglass Rushkoff is urging us to reprogram our economic operating system. His basic argument goes something like the following. A long time ago, because currencies that served as stable stores of value were too scarce for common use, people availed themselves of whatever they had that came closest to substituting in their place. Since nothing people had would maintain value over any meaningful period of time, depreciating commodities like grain filled the void. People were incentivized to circulate such “currency” rather swiftly being that stockpiles were susceptible to rot or relinquished to vermin. This dynamic allowed people to become wealthy (although what constitutes wealth in a world of such hot-potato, anti-store-of-value currencies Rushkoff never explains). Monarchs got jealous of this wealth, outlawed local currencies, and minted their own currencies—which could be amassed without rot. (Could this have had the effects of cutting down on counterfeiting, expanding the purview of potential trade partners, and granting those with no immediate need for deteriorating commodities the ability to preserve their wealth into the future for when need did arise? No, those ideas doen’t fit into the narrative of monarchs as prescient evil schemers.) In the thirteenth century monarchs concocted the first corporate charter. Then they invented clock towers to be erected in the middle of towns, because they didn’t like people who had skills. Time is an artificial way of valuing people that makes them appear more interchangeable. Now you can hire the unskilled people and can the skilled people who have too much bargaining power. Industrial automation therefore doesn’t mark increases in productivity and standard of living for a populace that can take advantage of new goods, new jobs, and falling prices, it’s another way of booting out troublesome skilled workers. The automation we see today is simply a continuation of the same old process. Skilled workers need not apply! The corporation is simply a “value extracting” program that rides on a financial operating system of centralized, hoarding-promoting currencies. “We need to make a choice. We can continue to run this growth-driven, extractive, self-defeating program until one corporation is left standing and the impoverished revolt. Or we can seize the opportunity to reprogram our economy—and our businesses—from the inside out.”

Some confusion comes in reading the book from Rushkoff’s idiosyncratic use of otherwise common terms. Most problematically, his unconventional conception of economic value is merely a subset of what we would ordinarily think of as value. He uses the term a bit freely and inconsistently, but I think it’s safe to sum up value within the book’s context by saying that it only accompanies a human-human transaction. Similarly, there are attempts here and there to distinguish between a natural rate of growth and corporate capitalism’s growth imperative, but hard guidelines for making the distinction aren’t provided with the result that the reader risks mistakenly labeling the benign version of growth as the root of all evil instead of the root-or-all-evil kind of growth. Evil growth is the kind of growth that corporations are programmed to chase above all else. But after reaching a certain size there’s just nowhere left to grow. Corporations grow through “value extraction”—the process of replacing humans in the workplace with more productive automated processes. If we can only foil this process and restore the dignity of the worker by getting them back into jobs that any machine can do we could finally return to the prelapsarian days pre-thirteenth century.

But I try not to be too credulous a reader when it comes to such claims. Rather than take Rushkoff at his word I did a little research myself, and astoundingly I did uncover a few instances of widespread social and economic injustice prior to the thirteenth century.

In his last book, Present Shock, Rushkoff identifies an undiagnosed condition of the current era he calls “fractalnoia”. It’s pretty much paranoid conspiracy theory unleashed on a hyperlinked Internet. Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus is unfortunately a prime exhibition. Whenever he lays out some new piece of evidence it’s a good bet the next sentence starts with a spurious “That’s why…” leading down a path of boring corporate machination. I was turned off reading Present Shock by the villainous cast painted onto what otherwise might be seen as emergent processes. And in this new book the tendency is ratcheted up even more.

Ruskkoff’s depiction of value is very much zero-sum. The planet has a growth limit and corporations, he argues, have reached that limit. There is a tug of war going on between humans trying to interact with one another and the processes of automation and corporate disintermediation. Each side can only wrest value back from the other. When value accrues to the side of the humans it is “created”; with corporations it’s “extracted”. And in this model where corporations have reached the point where almost all value has been extracted from people, it simply collects as unused capital in the accounts of shareholders—who have nowhere to deploy it precisely because we’ve reached the very limits of growth. I’m not going to put myself in the position of arguing that corporatism in its current form has reached optimization—especially with this fixation on quarterly numbers—and here and there Rushkoff does offer some half-sane analysis of the damaging aspects of certain practices, but nothing ever accounts for this cap he has placed on the possibilities for growth. It’d be bad enough if this zero-sum value model simply put an artificial limit on the solution set, but when it is impossible that the economy grow beyond a certain point the solution space self-fulfillingly accommodates only zero-sum value exchange. If on the other hand you believe that value is more of a positive-sum proposition a less desperate outlook emerges.

To be clear, Rushkoff would argue that it’s only the corporate growth model that’s zero-sum while his laterally transacting human-human economy is positive-sum, but his hazy notion of value doesn’t spell out how this is so. It remains as vague as the mechanism allowing his thirteenth century peasants to get wealthy off of depreciating currencies. You could claim that this kind of economy would be robust—it’s not the claim I would make—but Rushkoff doesn’t use that term, he says people become wealthy.

Rushkoff’s stipulation for value creation—that it requires humans interacting with other humans, that no human should be removed from the calculation—ensures that value accrues for the worker. The obvious other side of the value equation is that which accrues to the consumer. Rushkoff argues that it’s actually accruing to shareholders while consumer benefit comes at the cost of gutted communities. His examples (Uber, video store clerks) are somewhat shabby. Say what you will about Uber’s corporate practices—you won’t find me coming to their defense here—but from the consumer’s standpoint the benefit compared to a traditional cab service is undeniable. Yet Rushkoff romanticizes the cabbie of the medallion system that’s now losing out. He bemoans Uber’s monopolistic tactics, but isn’t the medallion system a monopoly too, granted by governments? A few years ago a guy flagged me down in the street practically in tears, thrusting his cell phone at me, asking me to make the call to order him a taxi. He needed to get to the airport and every time he made the call himself he either got hung up on or was given the run-around due to his non-native English. How’s that for human to human interaction? Another of Rushkoff’s examples aimed at illustrating the pitfalls of automation is even feebler, saying of Netflix, “The company even figured out how to compete with the skilled clerks of the best stores by developing an algorithmic system of personalized peer-to-peer recommendations.” Skilled clerks? Even the reviled automated phone tree—I side with everyone else who hates them—another of the book’s examples, at least ensures that customers with no need for customer service are not subsidizing it’s cost in product purchase price for those who do.

It’s this requirement of posting a human at the opposite end of every transaction for it to be counted as valuable that puts a cap on growth. Rushkoff’s model is a closed thermodynamic system—the result of drawing an arbitrary historical line in the thirteenth century after which the world went to hell. Molecules of air buzzing around an empty room; it’s a world of stasis under the guise of frantic lateral exchange. He in fact refers to his solutions as “bounded”. What do you build on top of this? Such a system has no emergent properties. I find this much more concerning than growth gone wild. A non-equilibrium thermodynamic system, on the other hand, cycles energy into increasingly complex holding patterns while becoming increasingly efficient at exporting entropy outside the system. Rushkoff claims that we’ve reached the planet’s capacity for growth. In the static model this is certainly the case. But if in fact we’re living in a system of growing complexity and emergent properties we know that the limits we’re reaching now are not those of growth but of growth at a given scale of efficiency. As photosynthesis demonstrates, there’s room to grow at progressively smaller scales. Rushkoff sees only growth’s expansion; it also subdivides. The method of modeling is not simply an aesthetic decision; it shapes your set of solutions. You might instead diagnose the current issue as an efficiency deficiency—that we have not yet grown enough. Our planet at present is a system of overlapping and contiguous systems, and as these complex systems become increasingly proficient at exporting entropy beyond their borders each individual system simply exports its waste to its neighbor. The borders have not expanded enough. Only when we can take in the sun’s energy and export heat waste outside the atmosphere have we reached adequate scale. Rushkoff meanwhile claims that “our biggest challenge may be learning how to say ‘enough.’” But never has there been a society that knows how to say enough—especially when instead of a society we have a multitude of competing societies. Whenever we see large gains in energy efficiency, historically we don’t observe decreases in energy usage, we see energy surges. Greater efficiencies make feasible new applications of energy consumption.

The book’s analysis is shaped by this apparent exceptionality that separates humans from the systems they inhabit. Rushkoff would no doubt bridle at that characterization, but a holistic system that distinguishes humans as the sole creators of value—at that, only with conspecific interaction—is not a holistic system. And is human interaction a non-entropic process? Because the system’s level of complexity peaks at the human-human exchange, because there are no emergent properties, only humans can intervene, making the system’s entry points relatively identifiable and stable. A complex system’s entry points, on the other hand, tend to be constrained to the determination of its initial conditions—before it becomes complex. Rushkoff’s models strangely are indeterminate at the historical level, but determinate when humans decide to intervene. Whereas an emergent system might be more determinate at the historical level but indeterminate where humans “decide” to intervene.

If Rushkoff’s historical framework paints a picture of corporate greed robbing value from the worker, the counter-narrative is one where value is passed on to the consumer, if in no other form than increased optionality. The historical progression that he paints as so lamentable is significant in a way that he doesn’t address; in it we see a trend of lowered barriers to entry. In his prescription of “enough” Rushkoff seeks to reverse these gains. To be fair, there may be instances where the benefit of the intervention outweighs curtailment of optionality, but this cost-benefit appraisal is absent. And so an important historical trend is lost amidst a sea of looming foes. If there were not some value proposition to lure us away, why else would we turn our backs on our beloved cabbies and skilled video store clerks? Even this thirteenth century inflection point (picking up in earnest with industrial automation), where workers begin to be valued for their time more than their skills, permitted low-skilled workers easier entry not only to the job market but to job markets—when demand dips or local economies flag jobs roles that are more interchangeable permit more rapid reintegration. And when new types of jobs come about, if any body can fill the position it means a business can get off the ground all the more quickly.

Commendably Rushkoff argues against a single centralized currency. But in promoting the idea of multiple competing currencies he starts by proscribing an entire new class from consideration. Undoubtedly his reader by now has heard of Bitcoin, and he cites it briefly in order to dismiss it and convince readers that it’s not the solution we’re hunting for. It’s somewhat shoehorned in in that it can’t not be addressed and that he needs it as a stepping stone to introduce the concept of blockchains and of DAOs/DACs (decentralized autonomous organizations/corporations). While he finds promise in these two technologies his discussion is way too brief to indicate where that promise lies. Meanwhile his characterization of Bitcoin has some inaccuracies. He repeatedly says that it’s anonymous—it’s only pseudonymous—and says that all the bitcoins will be distributed within the first ten years of the protocol’s existence. Since it went online in 2009 this sets the year at 2019. Current estimates place the date at 2140.

That Bitcoin has a fixed cap of 21 million coins is a problem, Rushkoff says, since all the bitcoins will be grabbed up, supply will run out, and we’re back to scarcity of currency. But bitcoins are divisible to eight decimal places, far greater than any currency before it. Again, it’s this blindness to growth as subdivision. In focusing on the 21 million supply cap, claiming that it’s “arbitrary”, he misses the more important point that bitcoins are arbitrarily divisible. If people hoard bitcoins then fractions of bitcoins circulate. This deflationary aspect, though, is something Rushkoff also objects to. And deflation does have a generally poor reputation, but historically deflation has been unpredictable, and when it comes there can be havoc in credit markets—it’s bad for borrowers. We haven’t really seen a currency which schedules deflation, which allows markets to adapt. It could be that only spikey, unpredictable deflation is problematic. If I had the opportunity to be paid in a deflating versus inflating currency I know which one I’d pick. Maybe it is ultimately a bad idea, but if we’re going to advocate for multiple competing currencies let’s let multiple currencies compete.

Rushkoff is right to be concerned about the amount of energy that the proof-of-work algorithm requires to secure the Bitcoin blockchain, but there’s no discussion of how much energy is required to secure a fiat currency and the vast banking system it rides on. It could easily be argued that Bitcoin constitutes a new level of efficiency even on grounds of energy expenditure (which isn’t the same as saying that Bitcoin’s mining algorithm is the optimal route). Currencies seem to require a lot of energy to prevent their contamination. Securing them has to “cost” something. What Rushkoff pushes for are local currencies which wouldn’t require much to secure—because they’re not useful enough to bother doing so (again, they provide low optionality). He’s been advocating for various local currency and time bank schemes since at least Present Shock, and the discussion in Throwing Rocks here is largely a reprisal of his previous work. They keep wealth within a community, because no one outside of the community cares to accept them. There’s a liquidity wall. This is part of his push to increase the velocity of money. Basically these schemes disincentivize stockpiling money because there are only so many places you can even use it, and you don’t want to be caught holding the bag if the venture doesn’t turn out so well. So everyone throws this money around—perhaps even in times when it’s in their best interest to be saving (in fact, local currencies can be designed in in a seigniorage scheme—an even more horrify prospect to prospective savers.). For one thing having a thousand dollars to spend at once provides a more diverse option set than spending one dollar a thousand times. And if circumstances require you to relocate to a new community how do you liquidate this stuff? Maybe you just get an extra seven haircuts quick before you board your plane. And if the new community has a different kind of local currency what’s the uptake like for outsiders?

In a separate section, Rushkoff argues that a new class of amateur trader, forced into underperforming 401(k)s now that companies no longer have pensions, has entered the financial fold only to be preyed upon by trading firms, providing the dupe with a screen full of meaningless data and a false sense of control, enticing them to make more (poor) trades, the fees for which being how the trading house makes its money. Some of his analysis here is interesting (and would probably be even more so if the conspiratorial tone were dropped), but generally I wouldn’t think that it’s a problem that more people have access to what used to be secretive and esoteric. The problem is that the inner workings of financial markets are still too inaccessible. The trouble comes when the amateur trader’s interface with the financial markets is through the same institution that controls the data and the inner workings. There are too many conflicting incentives. Rushkoff says that people make better trading decisions paradoxically with less information and would prefer that the would-be amateur trader steer clear of the markets and maintain their wealth through his human-human interventions. But I’d rather have all the financial information open through further digitization (possibly blockchainized) allowing third-party interface platforms (open-sourced or with traders paying for access to the platform rather than fee-per-trade) to compete on user performance metrics which would be the outcome of how well the platform is able to winnow down the whole into something manageable. That is, disaggregate the interface from the market. Meanwhile, Rushkoff acknowledges that amateurs are rushing into these markets because their 401(k)s are struggling to keep up even with the inflation rate. If they had access to a deflationary store of value would so many suckers be losing kneecaps to these financial casinos in the first place?

[Review continued in comments...]
Profile Image for Brian Nwokedi.
136 reviews7 followers
November 8, 2018
There is so much to unpack within Douglas Rushkoff’s book that a single page review won’t even come close to doing it justice. But in order to give a streamlined review, I will focus on the following three big themes in this book that I took away:

1. Technology has been used to extract as much value as possible by removing humans from the corporate equation for the sake of bottom line profit. This approach is very beneficial to shareholders but is detrimental to real workers. As technology continues to drive forward, it will continue to repress the average person’s ability to generate wealth and create their own value.

2. The underlying ethos of digital industrialization is truly about restoring power to those at the top by minimizing the value and price of human laborers. It secretly (and overtly) seeks to subvert the rise of the middle class and a peer-to-peer market system.

3. In spite of our dehumanizing approach (or maybe because of it), we have managed to produce enough stuff to give out a livable share to everyone as a matter of course, and for free. And if we are going to make human beings central to the business equation, we at least have to entertain the possibility that not everyone needs full-time employment in order to receive a share of the bounty. The question is will we?

The real dilemma of the current economy is that there is an ethos of growth at all costs. Rushkoff calls this the “growth trap” and every single corporation that we work for fall prey to this. There is a believe that technology can unlock unbounded and exponential growth into infinitum, and that simply isn’t true. Or put differently, it is possible but at the expense of humans. The technologies we have developed and are developing aren’t enriching the lives of humanity or even business. Instead, they are simply doubling down on the extractive value proposition of traditional industrialization.

There is a ton more information and discussion to be had regarding the points that Douglas Rushkoff makes within his book, but this is a must read for anyone that is interested in understanding how we have gotten to where we are in today’s economy. We are steamrolling towards a “post human” corporate world where there may be nothing left of value for most of us. We need to wake up fast and start to have open and honest conversations about where we are heading.

My big takeaway: The truly successful scalable company in the digital economy may not be the one that can grow indefinitely but the one that can prosper on any scale, large or small.
Profile Image for Atila Iamarino.
411 reviews4,361 followers
June 3, 2016
Virada inesperada com esse livro. Achei o começo meio redundante, porque a parte sobre novas empresas acumulando riqueza e externalizando problemas é mais bem retratada pelo Jaron Lanier em Who Owns the Future?. Mas a segunda porção, sobre modelos de negócio, acúmulo de capital, o que o dinheiro representa e afins mudou minha visão de mundo atual. E piorou muito a forma como vejo o Uber e afins. Apesar de já ter lido sobre. Recomendo fortemente o livro, especialmente para quem nunca leu o Lanier.
Profile Image for Elena.
2 reviews1 follower
September 5, 2017
I regret having spent my money and time on this book. Too many times I found myself infuriated by the poor writing and unsupported manipulative statements the author makes. Gave up after 50 pages as I only have one life :)
110 reviews40 followers
January 20, 2017
This book provided me with a lot of food for thought.

In a nutshell, it outlines ideas for a more prosperous, human-driven economy. In the current American economy, companies are encouraged to grow - and once they go public they often have no choice. Corporate growth, Rushkoff argues, is neither intrinsically good nor necessarily conducive to broader human prosperity. For example, consider the number of human jobs replaced by automation, and consider that more jobs are destroyed by automation than created.
Potential business ventures are evaluated based on whether or not they can dominate the market, not just enter it. Rushkoff argues that this isn't a law of nature, but the way our economy has been programmed. His basic premise is that the economy should encourage people to create value, whereas now it encourages people to extract value. Encourage distribution, and not accumulation.
Some of his ideas:
- implement local currencies instead of just a single, central one. He advocates this as a supplement, not a replacement. People still need to save up for retirement, big expenses, reserve funds, etc, so we still need a managed central currency. Local currencies should be programmed to encourage exchange rather than accumulation - one example of this programming is notes that depreciate in value the longer they are static. Results in more a bazaar-like economy. He points to the example of the Worgl in Austria after WWI. I hadn't heard about this before but I was fascinated.
- invest in local community initiatives rather than the stock market so that your investments provide tangible benefits to those around you. When you invest in a stock you're sort of investing in this abstract notion of a company, whereas community investments are right there in front of you
- create more common areas that foster community and a sense of joint-ownership
- lower hour workweek to allow for more employment and make the wages liveable (I'm still not sure how this works, but I think the idea is for companies that can afford it)
Some of his points (not comprehensive, just the ones that stood out to me):
- the rise of the corporation separated goods from the people responsible for creating them, in many cases disenfranchising those people. "man-hours" is a corporate concept
- the folks at the top make more, relative to the folks at the bottom, than ever in history. More importantly (in my opinion), it's increasingly difficult for folks at the bottom to make ends meet
- the financial services industry is probably the biggest winner from all of this - in everything from encouraging individual investment accounts, to retirement plans (as opposed to pensions), to making loans to grow the economy, the banks win in every space
- digital technologies should make it easier to bring people together, but oftentimes people use them instead to isolate themselves from each other
- digital technologies should make us more efficient and therefore more able to spend time with friends, family, and other aspects of life, but we've been more mastered by than masters of our technology
- digital tech drives a power-law distribution, i.e. winner-takes-all. Consider the barrier to entry for a new gummy-bear retailer on a digital commerce site, when say Haribo (not sugar-free) holds the #1 ranking (example mine)
- outsourcing is not an indefinitely useful solution. When other countries' economies catch up, to whom will you outsource? Companies should not optimize for the short-term so that they'll be blindsided in the future. However, it's difficult and rare for a public company with aggressive shareholders to optimize for the long-term.
- the growth paradigm has generated a lot of digital startups that exist only to grow and get bought rather than provide any real value
- social media can take over our lives, but we can't really blame the companies for playing the same game as everyone else - increased engagement, even if that's unhealthy engagement, is how they grow
- redistribution shouldn't be forced; rather, distribution should be incentivized
- the growth game has achieved its endgoal - the pie is now big enough for everyone to have a slice

My 2 cents (2017 USD)
Disclaimer: I'm not an econ expert so please pardon me if the my thoughts are terribly naive and/or ignorant. I'm interested though so I plan to read up more

Ok, so like I said, this book gave me a lot of food for thought. Before I get into everything, I want to mention one major issue with the book - Rushkoff seems to attribute the rise of the corporate system to cynical calculation more than anything else. As he says, "industrialism’s primary intent was to subvert a rising middle class and their peer-to-peer market system." I wish he'd provided more evidence to substantiate this statement, but because that part was fairly early in the book, and because I was a little bit suspicious - I'd think that was a side-effect more than "primary intent." Again, attributing a "primary intent" to industrialism other than the desire for efficiency is a paradigm shift for me, so I needed more evidence to be convinced. Ok, that said, I thought the statements in the rest of the book were observably cohesive enough with reality that I could focus on thinking openly rather than being suspicious.
Last night I watched Diane Sawyer's special on 20/20 about America's disappearing middle class. To this point, I'd honestly been a little bit skeptical about issues with income inequality - inequality in itself is not such a bad thing, I reason - people all have equal worth, but not equal ability in all respects, or equal bank statements. As long as everyone is able to live well, and not have to worry about the basic things, and as long as there is opportunity to move up if people are willing to do the work, we're doing ok. But like the special pointed out and like this book pointed out, this is not the case. I loved her interviews with people - one thing that came across was that these were good people who believe in the American Dream, but the American Dream hasn't delivered. They weren't envious of people with more wealth; they didn't feel entitled, and they didn't nurture any hatred towards people at the top. They just wanted to be able to work hard for a living and earn their way.
At the same time of this reading I'm also reading Ron Chernov's Alexander Hamilton biography, and it spends some time talking about his very intentional decision on how to implement the stock market - and how to create America's economy. Allowing companies to sell shares on the public market fuels economic growth, and growth in turn ought to allow more people to prosper and live a life well. But the downside that we've arrived at a couple hundred years later (if not well before) is mindless growth for its own sake - a growth that, unchecked, can actively inhibit people (individuals and families) from reaching economic success, while corporations sit on large cash reserves, and a few scions take the lions' share.
On a more personal note, I really appreciated this read. I think I came at it kind of like a fish in water - I've always sort of accepted our system as the way things are and the best way, as evidenced by America's high standard of living and unique place in history. Capitalism isn't perfect, I always knew that, but I've always thought it was the best compromise towards a system in which everyone could live well, provided they put in the work. My grandfather was a business owner who had to run for his life from the tide of communist revolution in post-war China. I've read accounts of the madness that ensued in his home country, and I have what I think is a good understanding of the nonsensicality of communism - people just don't work without incentive - and how it invariably devolves into totalitarianism, and how somehow the leaders in a society where everyone is supposedly equal take on the status of gods, and how countries have to essentially revert to capitalism in order to have any modicum of economic prosperity, and I could go on and on, but just read animal farm instead - but, our system makes a lot more sense, but that doesn't mean it's the best system - and, as Rushkoff takes pains to make clear, this book is by no means a new communist manifesto. Instead, Rushkoff encourages a more conscientious capitalism, wherein corporations obsess not merely over growth, but how much value they add to their environments. He also encourages a system that encourages human interaction over interaction with a system. People need people, and we ought not to let the human element be extracted from daily life. As an engineer, this also challenged my notion that "if it's an interesting problem to solve, we should solve it" - and my dismissal of those who resist technology as Luddites. The solutions we design may be more efficient, but just because we can build it, does that mean we should? We need to think about the things that we build. Value-adding is incentivized over growth, and human relationships are prioritized over mere transactions. Sounds like a good place to be.
Profile Image for Magdelanye.
1,649 reviews202 followers
May 29, 2020
I wrote an extensive review of this began while I was still reading it, some while ago actually. It is one of the reviews lost in the Powell River library system. All I remember at this point was a sense of disappointment that he seemed not quite ready to follow some of the implications of his reveals.
Hopefully I will find the notebook with my copius notes but unless I get the chance to look at this again, I am going to park this.

Luckily, there are all the status updates that do contain some interesting propositions.
If I ever have a bit of time I will post some of them here
Profile Image for Ian.
229 reviews20 followers
March 26, 2016
While the author is a paranoid socialist with little understanding of economics, the book is not entirely without merit. Rushkoff does present some interesting problems for the financial system going forward. Many of these have been addressed - better - by other most talented thinkers such as Tyler Cowen, but there's still some interesting ideas. It does appear that the era of global economic growth is coming to an end, as demographics inexorably push us toward deflation.

That said, is the answer to dismantle corporations and return to barter economies? No, probably not so much. I share Rushkoff's concern about the pace and direction of technological development, but his proposed solutions, are, in many ways, worse than the problems.

If nothing else, this book is good opposition research to know what a Bernie Sanders' presidency would look like in practice in the business arena (spoiler alert: It'd be grim).
Profile Image for Daniel.
620 reviews82 followers
May 19, 2017
This is a very important book, explaining very well the problem of the current extractive economy. Farmers and craftsmen in the Middle Ages used to make stuff and trade with each other. Coins were only used by travelers. Then the nobility created money and force everyone to use the royal coins, and lend out money with interest. This gives them control over all capital and made sure everyone worked for the King. Industrialisation just continued this trend; only now the owner of industries, and royal chartered enterprises, own capital and enslave everyone (literally). Capital is substituted for labour and land; those with capital earn more capital as described by Picketty.

Then came financialization. While the initial selling of shares does provide capital to the entrepreneur, once that happens shares are just traded amongst traders for (hopefully) ever increasing price. Workers are counted as costs and to be exploited, or replaced with cheaper ones, in order to raise the share price.

The digital age made this worse; the internet giants are not interested in having earnings; they are interested in monopolizing the platform so that their valuation will go up. The other way to raise it is for companies to keep growing. This is of course unsustainable.

People with skills and who gets in tech companies early become multimillionaires; people who work in normal jobs like waiters and teachers are left behind when the rich workers drive up rent; that's why people throw rocks at the Google Bus.

This has to stop. How? By having more 1) local enterprise so money goes around communities and not hidden in some tax haven. 2) More co-ops so that workers own the companies and can share in its earnings. 3) Crowd-funding so entrepreneurs can get funding for their products bypassing financing companies.
Profile Image for James.
296 reviews3 followers
August 17, 2019
The book did start out slow for me with the topics around digital technology building new machines for old purposes. I thought after the first 2 chapters that this book was going to be boring (consumed this as an audio book).

Then chapter 3 started to get my attention, but maybe not for what many of the other reviewers of this book had focused on. I travel around the country and also came from a town that has fallen on hard times. In addition, seeing the dismantling of the mom and pop local shops in smaller communities really made me perk up. Yes, I get we are not going back to the barter system. However, when there was conversation about the extractive society and the velocity of money, it really resonated. Think about Walmart (yes the store many love to hate and yes I shop there too). With almost every purchase, Walmart is taking money out of the city / town / etc. that they are in and pushing that up to wall street (No I don't own the stock either, darn missed that winner years ago). So I like how Douglas Rushkoff started to hint on how to make a community better. I liked the local bucks and at the time I was going through that chapter, I was seeing store closing signs all throughout the community I was working in. The town was bustling, but everyone wasn't buying in the community stores, the velocity of money being generated in the city was not occurring and corporations in their extraction societies was taking it away.

So yes, I'm torn. Being a believer in big business and how to make larger corporations even bigger, I found how D.R. was talking about purchasing and supporting a community very interesting. So why couldn't a larger corporation put more money into a community other then providing labor dollars, why couldn't they start to source locally, or geographically near. It makes me think of the Google statement to do no evil. While corporations are doing no evil by their everyday activities, could we challenge them or build a sustainable corporation that doesn't source everything from China for example. What if the local corporate grocery stores start to bring more local. I found the arguments in the book fascinating and new to me (also why I rated this a 5). The berkshire local currency concept or local bucks / shares / hours / banks, etc.. One where 41% of the money if these are used stays in a community vs. 14% when purchasing at corporations. This concept of velocity vs extraction really started to hit home and I found myself thinking through as I walked around how a concept like this could really help sustain these smaller communities. As for Greece, ahhhhh, this is what they did when the currency collapse and this is also how local communities can build velocity.

This doesn't mean I'm going to advocate for socialist and communist policies going forward. It just makes me wonder when I go to a new corporate store where is all the money going. Getting into the last couple of chapters I really wanted a longer drive and couldn't wait to finish <-- yes the economist geek in me. Digital industrialism vs. digital extraction and back to google. What are new companies doing, what are the new apps doing. How is an Uber / Lyft extracting money to wall street vs keeping it local (good or bad). I'm rating this book high for showing me some different ways to really examine whats going on around and and being able to now better look at how a digital distributivism could be a way to keep more money locally.
Profile Image for Pamela Conley.
415 reviews7 followers
March 29, 2017
I read this book for a graduate class in media comm theory. On face this book seems like a critique of capitalism. My prof who knows the author says the intent is slightly more nuanced than that. My class mates and I would agree. The book is more about how we "do" capitalism in relationship to oligarchy and how media platforms can/are changing this to allow for more direct interaction while also on the flip side being utilized by the greater power structures as well. There are really great sections in chapter 3 and 4 on money as media. I also appreciated the solutions to oligarchy that are presented at the end. My only criticism of the text is the abundance of examples - especially the specifics regarding tech companies can some times send you off in the weeds but on the whole it is very much worth the read.
Profile Image for Chris.
382 reviews26 followers
January 31, 2021
Fun time, always thought provoking, full and rich with ideas to consider and things to follow up on.
147 reviews
April 16, 2018
I feel like marking something as 'read' infers I finished it, and I didn't. Overall, what I took away was: everything is in the endless pursuit of growth and it's not great. Couldn't agree more.
Profile Image for Darren.
1,193 reviews49 followers
April 30, 2016
A tantalising subtitle of “how growth became the enemy of prosperity” adds a bit of meat to this book’s curious title. Yet what’s this all about? The author seeks to look at why the wild growth and financial prosperity enjoyed by companies such as Facebook and Google are not trickling down to everybody.

Rapid technological change has tipped society up on its side, the author notes, and despite the benefits that we all are possibly enjoying, we can suffer at the same time with growing unemployment, deskilling and economic pressures. It is an interesting read, with the author seeking to show how society may be able to combine the best of human nature and the best of modern technology as a means of going forward, instead of the present situation and the us- and them- growing gulf.

It can be hard-going in places, yet it is worthy of ploughing on. It is an informative, comprehensive and thought-provoking read that certainly draws you in. It might have benefitted from a little tighter editing in places as it felt a little verbose and defocussed in places, before snapping back and keeping you effectively glued to the book. The reader is taken on a broad journey, mixing history and economics with politics, futurology and technology with the aim of trying to see how the future may lie and how society can best adapt to its development. Society-at-large may need to hit the reset button before it is too late. The author keeps away from hubris and hyperbole and also eschews waving an overtly partisan political finger. You have to read it and interpret the nuances for yourself. Working less, being more efficient and balancing the employee-employer agreement are advocated by the author, with employment or work being better-defined, more meaningful and relevant. Could this work? Will it be implemented?

The book grows on you, that is for sure. It is a different read in many ways but it was an enjoyable, challenging, considerate read. Your views may vary, yet first you should read it and evaluate it for yourself!
Profile Image for John.
94 reviews43 followers
February 22, 2017
This is less of a review and more of a note to self and future readers. If you want a summary of the plot, read the other reviews or the book description.

I loved this book. I do think it would benefit from a new title. It's tiresome when talking about it with friends to constantly re-explain that it's not really about Google, and it's not an Anti Google screed. But that's a pretty minor point.

This is a very high-entropy book, from an information perspective. Nearly every single sentence contains new / unique thoughts, to the point that any form of speed-reading, which I normally do, is difficult. You have to pretty much absorb each sentence as its own semantic unit. Which is, you know, reading, I guess :)

I felt that this had a lot of parallels to or resonance with Umair Haque's Betterness: Economics for Humans and The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business. I'm curious if Rushkoff read either of them. In my opinion, Rushkoff's book is more readable, more deeply researched, and a bit less preachy than Umair's. OTOH, I think Umair can be pretty inspirational too. Your mileage may vary.
Profile Image for Robert Miller.
140 reviews4 followers
March 31, 2016
The digital revolution has quickened the pace of the twin goals of traditional corporate policy to expand and increase profits. The result has been to extract as much company gain as possible, as quickly as possible without regard for the welfare of the workers or the local communities. The author, Douglas Rushkoff, says “as a result of their extractive, monopolistic practices, the landscape is left with less total activity and potential for growth.” The theory is that digital businesses have shrunk opportunities for others while capturing the largest piece of the pie for themselves. In the process, investors financially stake start-up technology entities with the condition that they serve on the board of directors and then push for maximum and quick profits without regard for the long-term success of the company, their employees or the communities. The author calls for a halt to this extraction of wealth policies in favor of distribution of the wealth to the employees. The technology world is too focused on quick fixes motivated by “likes” and data about consumers that are then mined for potential profit-- not enough bricks and mortar around anymore, he says. That is why companies like “Snap Chat” can be valued in the billions even though they have produced zero income. All of the big companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon and others have centralized the wealth and control into the hands of a few while using digital technology.
Profile Image for Joe Meyer.
9 reviews
May 3, 2017
I highly recommend this book to anyone trying to position themselves both financially and ethically in today's growth-obsessed economic environment.

If you spend time worrying about the following types of issues, this book provides valuable insight:

What should I do with my IRA? My investments? How can I help my community? What can I do to help narrow the ever-expanding wealth gap in our world, but not put myself at financial risk? What the heck is Bitcoin, and who cares? Why are so many young people starting NFP's? And lastly, is there really any hope for our growth-obsessed economy?
Profile Image for Chad Kohalyk.
285 reviews26 followers
September 21, 2016
Excerpt from my review:

Rushkoff fears being accused as “communist” above all else, and that ends up undermining his argument. For Rushkoff, there is only Capitalism and Communism. His understanding of political theory comes off as unsubtle, but maybe it is the the limited of understanding of his audience that is influencing him, aka. the big tech CEOs that ask him for advice running their companies or hire him for highly paid corporate speaking engagements. This economic calculus might be the reason for Rushkoff’s lukewarm critique. He is not willing to go to the radical, or use radical language for fear of alienating his audience (née customers). The result is a fuzzy, friendly, plush toy critical theory.

Full review here: https://chadkohalyk.com/2016/09/21/th...
Profile Image for Jake Forbes.
Author 11 books46 followers
March 10, 2016
For most of the book, Rushkoff makes a tight case for why the growth trap is bad for business, workers and our world. He lays out inspiring counter approaches to the extraction and exploitation based platforms currently dominating the economy. He had me rethinking assumptions and realize how often debates are framed around the wrong questions. The book ends on an an almost spiritual note that might undercut the economic arguments for some readers. Still, an inspiring and important perspective on how to evolve our concepts of money, work and investment rather than keep patching a broken system that is accelerating towards disaster.
Profile Image for Ann Bridges.
Author 8 books20 followers
August 16, 2016
While I didn't agree with the conclusions of the author, I did find the facts supporting his arguments enlightening. Most pertinent were the comments regarding how technology is promised by Silicon Valley elites to "help" us, yet only the large technology companies seem to have benefitted. Engaging with all the gadgets is distracting and time-consuming, and has taken away from the quality of life interacting with the real world and people around us. As the trend towards artificial intelligence and robotics quickens, we can look forward to more of the same.
Profile Image for Fred Cheyunski.
281 reviews8 followers
July 7, 2021
Digital Industrialism and its Consequences - With respect to Rushkoff’s “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus,” his subtitle “How Growth Became the Enemy of Prosperity” really provides the major theme of his book about the movement to Digital Industrialism and its consequences.

Within the book, there is an introduction that sets the stage (What’s wrong with this picture) and 4 major chapters or sections that elaborate on Rushkoff’s premise, (1) Removing humans from the equation, (2) The growth trap, (3) The speed of money, and (4) Investing without exiting, with chapter (5) Distributed, that (along with sections at the end of each chapter) summarizes possible ways of moving to a more equitable and prosperous digital distributism. In addition to an Acknowledgements section, there is a helpful appendix that shows a chart unveiled during the course of the book (see pages 21, 101, and 225) illustrating the main points regarding this progression. There are also extensive chapter notes with sources and a selected bibliography along with the index.

Among the sections of the book, there are parts that seem to capture the experience of many in the contemporary workplace. For instance, Rushkoff states, “What is new here is that by applying our technological innovations to growth above all else, we have set in motion a powerfully destabilizing form of digitally accelerated capitalism. We are worsening the disparity between rich and poor, punishing those who actually work for a living, losing control over capital markets, and letting short-sighted investors stifle long-term innovation. For many, digital technology is just an invitation to game the markets in new ways creating increasingly abstract and ultrafast instruments for beating the system instead of creating value” (p. 9-10).

Particular parts where I could relate include Rushkoff’s characterization of finance similar to Rana Faroohar’s “Makers and Takers.” His analysis of corporations using the tetrad, as described in Terrence Gordon’s “McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed,” is thought provoking and ironic; see the description of Amazon especially given the sale of his book and listing of this review on that platform (p. 87-90). The critique of suggested remedial ‘two-way links’ and pay for data use (p. 44-45) in Jaron Lanier’s “Who Owns the Future” also seems to raise valid points while not considering further implications. His question of whether there is a ‘Renaissance Now?’(p. 232-39) is similar to the emergence of longer-term possibilities as Parag Khanna discusses in his “Connectography,” e.g. on p. 280 (see my reviews of these books).

A number of other reviewers are critical of Rushkoff’s examples in cases he mentions. No doubt people like me who have specialized in areas he treats to differing degrees, such as corporate change, digital technology, or venture markets, can find aspects where his comments can be incomplete or do not deal with full breadth of these topics. For example, there are pros and cons in most instances as with Google where its technical advancements and founders’ constructive handling of the Initial Public Offering (IPO) (p. 194-95) go along with the gentrification in San Francisco and Oakland causing rock throwers to vent their dissatisfaction at the company bus (p. 1-4).

However, his argument does help contribute to understanding our current situation, questions many assumptions, and assists in starting to outline aspects of a more sustainable future. Books like this one and his “Life, Inc.” should be read in B-Schools and other venues readying those who can promote the dialogue required to address the ills of our present system and move beyond it.
1 review
October 9, 2017
Douglas Rushkoff’s “Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus” is a very interesting and well thought out view into today’s digital economy and the impact it has on global and local levels. His approach in identifying the traits and historical perspectives on these new companies that are driving this economy are easy to understand and relatable to those of us that are not high-level students of economics. The primary thesis of this book is that this new economic model, or as he puts it; economic operating system, is running on top of our old industrial age economic operating system and hasn’t surpassed or replaced that old way but it could. The Internet held the promise of a new and prosperous tool for everyone capable of raising all boats that inevitably became an extension of the status quo given rise to a select few.

One of the biggest reason I found this book engaging was that it wasn’t written by an economist or a business savant but by a professor of Media Theory. He utilized that perspective to go after this subject through, what I think is, an objective lens. Utilizing a proto-journalistic baseline he answers his basic questions of whom, when and why this economic platform came about. He makes good use of the metaphor of computer programming relating to entire digital economic landscape. While I’m not big on programming as such it was still an effective analogy.

His arguments on how the humans have been taken out of the equation and how the system is being perpetuated by this lack of human intervention are amazing and startling. He lays out a very compelling case that the current climate of growth is in fact doing far more harm than good for us and it is a bleak outlook economically if we are to stay on that path. He expands on his ideas that there cannot be infinite growth and that there needs to be a return to value added practices instead of the current value extraction that these companies are doing now.

He conceptualizes what the ideal digital economy should look like and does lay out some examples of how to achieve that idealization. I think he presents many common sense ideas to this end and lays out some very convincing arguments as to how it could work. He cites the few companies performing that peer-to-peer distributive model such as Ebay and Etsy as a way of what is possible and should be possible economically within this new digital landscape.

I found this book to be an enlightening conversation on the effects of the digital economy that we’re all living in today. Several years have past since the “Dot Com” bubble has burst and yet new applications have become the biggest driving force in our economic development today. Rushkoff delivers a wonderful synopsis of these new Digital Companies goals and mindsets and explains their impact, both positive and negative, mostly negative, on the economy and the communities in which they’re entrenched. There needs to be a change to our economic operating system that is more concerned with a healthy circulatory economy instead of the current process where it’s just sitting and working for the few.
Profile Image for Andrew Figueiredo.
290 reviews8 followers
March 11, 2020
In Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Douglas Rushkoff deconstructs the economic system as we know it. He seeks to replace it with a new "digital distributism", based on distributing creativity, dispersing the means of production, and promoting peer-to-peer economics. Rushkoff's ideas seem to parallel Andrew Yang's in some interesting ways. But more than anything, they extend GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc's notions of distributism. Indeed, networks provide a new way to widely distribute the means of production. It's easier than ever to transact, but business continues to grow and grow and grow. Algorithms run our markets, which have become detached from humanity on all levels. Rushkoff tries (and succeeds) in providing an explanation of why growing businesses exist along angry populaces and growing inequality.

Rushkoff runs through various ideas and then explains why they aren't good enough. He makes a compelling case that Bitcoin alone is not the savior tech-bros make it out to be. And that new corporate models like L3C (which he introduced me to) fall short of challenging the fundamental problem that "more profit equates to more prosperity" (124). Instead of looking for quick fixes, Rushkoff tries to challenge the root of our economic struggles.

My main qualm with "Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus" is that Rushkoff plays a little fast and loose with history. He blames a lot of problems on central currency and notes that the market as we see it developed from aristocrats trying to preserve their location in society. While I am not one to see marketization as organic, I think he ascribes too much agency to actors in making purported choices that back up his central thesis. But alas, it's a relatively small complaint about the book's historical arc. The real value of this read is in the way forward he proposes.

What are some examples of digital distributism, his actual solution, in action? According to Rushkoff, promoting "flexible manufacturing networks" through worker coops, allowing freelancers and independent workers to organize into guild-style structures, using Blockchain to replace profit-driven platforms with protocols. He proposes a return to seeing land and resources as public commons and paying wages based on value-exchanged. For that matter, economies would be "strategically bounded' rather than borderless and global. If anything, the current COVID-19 crisis, as well as the slower-moving global warming catastrophe, open my eyes to these ideas. Is there the political capital for a full-scale economic shift right now? Likely not, but Rushkoff provides actionable steps, including both policies and things people can carry out individually. While I don't foresee a massive cultural shift, people like Andrew Yang and Douglas Rushkoff give me hope that these ideas can start to grow. For that matter, as somebody drawn to distributism, I love this modern-day application of its ideas. Great book guaranteed to make you think.

Profile Image for Mark.
389 reviews9 followers
February 19, 2019
I didn't like this book much. Some of it is stylistic; I'll start with the bit I agree with: The modern economy and financial markets demand growth, which puts businesses that can be profitable at a "natural" size--a municipal newspaper or a niche manufacturer, say--under pressure to expand beyond that. This is one reason we can't have nice things. It's a sort of Peter Principle for corporations, where each gets to the level of impersonal incompetence.

In tone the language strikes me as a throwback to Wired in the early internet days. Corporations are "code", money is an "operating system," or maybe it's the other way around. In any event we'll reprogram it. Digital trends are all exciting and intriguing. Research is communicated to support his arguments and not illuminate the reader. Any digital innovation he likes is a proof of concept that his preferred approaches would work, regardless of whether it ultimately fails, is negligible in scale, or ends up co-opted by the capital and growth dynamic. Especially in the first half of the book his anti-capitalist stance is nevertheless very pro-manager. There's a lot on the mechanics of currency that I found totally unconvincing.

Ultimately Rushkoff explicitly references medievalism in terms of scale and outlook, arguing in favor of buying and investing in things you have a relationship with. He quickly dismisses politics as a solution to any of the problems he's identified, preferring to drive this by people being better consumers, managers and investors.

I find it uncontroversial to say we've jettisoned some balancing forces when we move factories away from the towns where the people they serve live (see Erik Loomis' Out of Sight for more on this) but as a policy proposal I find this unpersuasive. There is no path to manage the transition and no path to sustain the new society, other than people nigh-unanimously agreeing*. And if you are going to imagine everyone changing their nature in this way, you can probably come up with a much cooler model for society than medieval bazaars via peer-to-peer apps.

* The unanimity is a tricky problem. One problem with "growth" is that if some corporations grow and others are happy not growing, the non-growing ones end up with negligible shares of resources and influence.
Profile Image for Sean Goh.
1,473 reviews83 followers
August 22, 2016
Rushkoff lays out a compelling argument that we have to question the underpinning assumption of our modern (and not so modern) economy in order to see what's wrong with it, and how we might move forward. The first half was interesting, the later bits less so.
4.5 stars for concept, 2.5 stars for writing.

There's no easy place to draw the battle lines or enemy at whom to hurl the rocks. That's because the conflict here is not really between San Francisco residents and Google employees or the 99 percent and the 1 percent. It's not even stressed-out employees against the companies they work for or the unemployed against Wall Street so much as everyone - humanity itself - against a program that promotes growth above all else.
We are caught in a growth trap. It is the logic driving the jobless receovery, the low-wage gig economy, the ruthlessness of Uber, and the privacy invasions of Facebook. It is the mechanism that undermines both businesses and investors, forcing them to compete against players with digitally inflated poker chips. It's the pressure rendering CEOs powerless to prioritise the sustainability of their enterprises over the interests of impatient shareholders. It is the black box extracting value from the stock market before human traders know what has happened, and the mindless momentum expanding the tech bubble to proportions dangerously too big to burst.

We tend to accept the growth-based economy as a preexisting condition of nature, even though it is not.

The disproportionate relationship between capital and value - or invested money versus actual revenue - is the hallmark of the dominant digital economy. Companies keep growing, but don't create or produce any value.

Industrialisation was never about efficiency, it was about restoring the power of those at the top by minimising the value and price of human laborers. Of course, it was sold as the triumph of technology, not the disempowerment of workers.

Power-law dynamics leads not to a fatter, longer tail, more of a hit heavy, skinny tail.

For the rest of us, the math of 'free' doesn't add up, unless we happen to own the platform. The Huffington Post was poor in cash but rich in likes and follows. That's what Arianna sold, and that's what many of us are learning to sell too. For it's not the people or their work that matter but the data their activities generate.

Using big data to develop new products is like looking in the rearview mirror to drive forward. All data is necessarily history. Big data doesn't tell us what a person could do. It tells us what a person will likely do, based on the past actions of other people.

The stats show that the vast majority (87% of hosts) leave their homes in order to rent them.

The growth of an economy does not mean more jobs or prosperity for the people living in it.
When technology increases productivity, a company has a new excuse to eliminate jobs and use the savings to reward its shareholders with dividends and stock buybacks. What would have been lost to wages is instead turned back to capital. So the middle class hollows out, and the only ones left making money are those depending on the passive returns from their investments.

The core code of the corporate charter is to repress exchange, competition and innovation (the bazaar). It was intended to extinguish the free market (think East India Company or other colonial monopoly)
The corporation became recognised as a person only so its primary benefactor (the investor) doesn't have to have any actual human skin in the game. If things go wrong, the company takes the hit.

The fact that digital companies can build platform monopolies brings creative destruction to a whole new level.

As more value is sucked out of the economy and frozen in corporate storage (share value), companies' return on assets erodes even further. An app swallows an industry and has nothing to show for it but shares of stock with no earnings.

In some sense these apps are configured to their respective versions of the world. Uber's is a corporate-driven world where speed and convenience trump socialising and planning. It exploits a platform monopoly to extract value from its users, while Sidecar attempts to help its users create and exchange value in a new way. Uber's reviews and other capabilities are worth more to us in an anonymous landscape, where we are depending on this information to judge one another. Sidecar depends more on its users' finding favourite drivers, engaging in repeat business, and setting up regular schedules.

Unlike retail shareholders, employees have a stake in the company's long term prosperity. By becoming wholly or even partially employee owned, corporations can help ensure that business decisions reflect the best interests of the company, its employees and their community - not distant investors or the abstract momentum of capital itself.

A not-for-profit (NFP) must direct all surplus revenue back into the company. It can make its employees wealthy and its customers happy, but no matter how successful it becomes, it can't extract cash out of the system, and it can't be sold.

After money was introduced into the bazaar, everything in the market cost more, as money itself was extracting value from people in the form of interest.
Central currency is the transactional tool that has overwhelmed business itself; money is the tail wagging the economy's dog. Financial services, slowly but inevitably, become the biggest players in the economy. This is why the rate of return on capital exceeds the growth rate of the economy. Money makes money faster than people or companies can create value. The richest people and companies should therefore position themselves as far away from working or creating value, and as close to the money spigot, as possible.

Simple, dollar-pegged local currencies like Berkshares are depending on the local multiplier effect. Money of any kind spent at local businesses tend to stay within the local economy. However they don't work as well for selling goods that are at the end of long supply chains or depend on commodities sourced from far away.

The process of capitalisation has been accelerated into something other than itself. Instead of integrating the marketplace, digital technologies generates derivative systems that extract value for their operators through sheer churn. It's synthetic growth.

The false assumption underlying the 'tragedy of the commons' is that people are incapable of recognising the value of their shared resources and then organising to protect them - and in doing so, create great value for everyone involved.
To make a commons successful, it must have an evolving set of rules about access and usage and that it must have a way of punishing transgressions. It must also respect the particular character of the resource being managed and the people who have worked with that resource the longest. Finally, size and place matter. It is easier for a town to manage its water supply than for the planet to establish water-sharing rules.
It is simply a recognition of boundaries and limits.

Profile Image for Toby Buchan.
7 reviews
April 10, 2021
Key takeaways:

An open market gives each individual both the opportunity to sell any product or purchase any product. The digital marketplace should do the same, yet instead, it has just made big companies even bigger.
In fact, online commerce ensures that only a few companies can effectively reach the largest pools of customers
An open market gives each individual both the opportunity to sell any product or purchase any product. The digital marketplace should do the same, yet instead, it has just made big companies even bigger.
In fact, online commerce ensures that only a few companies can effectively reach the largest pools of customers
Why did this change in the digital era? It changed because the factor of human selection was removed.
Online platforms now use bots to drive purchases. When a track is placed on a recommendation list, it causes an uptick in sales. That bump is fed back into an automated system, generating recommendations for similar tracks. So once a song has been recommended, it enters a loop that keeps it in front of other users, stimulating even more sales.
And which songs get to enter this lucrative recommendation loop? The same ones that companies pay online platforms specifically to push. Online platforms are the business tools of music companies.
As consumers, we've become slaves to recommendation algorithms. There's an overwhelming amount of music available on the internet; one person could never sift through it all. So as a result, we rely on manipulated popularity lists and automated algorithms to find our music for us.

Money was once a tool for traders and merchants, but it quickly transformed into a form of power and control for the ruling classes. The introduction of open markets initially fostered growth, but as aristocrats were threatened by a rising middle class, the creation of centralized currencies and interest-based loans helped them increase their influence while holding the rest of society back. The digital revolution has done little to reverse this; yet if we explored the usage of local currencies, we could make money a means again, rather than just something we desire to accumulate for its own sake.
Profile Image for Teo.
Author 13 books10 followers
August 13, 2017
"Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus" is a book about economy, or rather, a new breed of sustainable economy ushered by the digital age. I am not an economist, and I picked up this book simply to treat myself with some food for thought, as the saying goes.

Now, Rushkoff may have oversimplified things, and I'm certain he could not have covered the entirety of the complex behemoth that is "The Economy" with a capital E. But... his ideas - and this is what this book's about - are sound and they make common sense.

Rushkoff's main argument is this: we always try to find new solutions to "boost" the Economy, to patch things up here and there. But at the same time, we are not changing a thing in the way the system works at its core. It's as if the Economy was a law of nature and and wholly immutable and ultimately man-made. And what Rushkoff proposes is a complete reboot, a shift to a new economy which is not geared towards growth (for growth's sake), but sustainability - for us and the planet with its finite resources.

Personally, I have found within these pages a few very interesting concepts I have never given a second thought until now, such as crypto-currencies, and the implementation of localized currencies, and all the possible benefits of the same. Can Rushkoff's ideas actually be implemented? I guess only time will tell. Is our current economic system (where debt and economic crisis is almost the default and perpetual state) gone rotten? I think time has already answered that, and something does need to change. Perhaps trying some new ideas, Rushkoff's or someone else's, wouldn't be so bad after all.

I presume it will be a very long time before even the traces of these bold new economic directions are attempted on any meaningful scale, and this book may just a thought exercise at the moment. But, it's still a collection of alternatives worth considering, even if it is for expanding just your own horizons.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 188 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.