The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It explores another thought experiment, something I’ve done plenty of times before. This one just happens to involve money. Given the recent events with the stock market, I think the time is right to contemplate money and how it guides our lives. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: wealth
Imagine that you’re young, low on money, and in need of a quick buck. You do a few side-gigs, like drive a taxi or do some yard work. You make some money up front. You’re grateful for it. You wish you didn’t have to do it, but you still did and you’re ready to move forward with your life.
Now, imagine that same work you did ended up making someone else a boatload of money that continues to flow in, even though you’ve long since finished your part. Maybe while mowing the lawn, you discovered a priceless artifact under a tree stump. Maybe while driving a taxi, your car became the site of an infamous crime. Anyone with a white 1993 Ford Bronco SUV can attest to that.
With those ideas in mind, let’s talk about Mia Kalifa. If you don’t know who that is, just ask any straight man with an internet connection and a suspiciously large supply of tissue boxes. You might not get an honest answer, but rest assured, she’s a known public figure and not just because she has over 15 million followers on Instagram.
She’s worth talking about, but not because she’s a former porn star who still garners a great deal of popularity, despite having not worked in the industry for years. Recently, she made the news after revealing that, even though she was one of the most popular porn stars in the world for a time, she made a total of $12,000 for her entire career.
For someone who was that successful in an industry that’s already exceedingly crowded by an abundance of content, that just doesn’t seem to add up. Most working people make more than $12,000 in a year, even if they’re paid minimum wage. They even get to keep their clothes on. What’s going on here?
There is a context to that story. By her own admission, she was in the industry for about three months. She only got paid a flat rate of about $1,000 for each scene she did and, given how few she ended up doing, it’s still more than minimum wage. She basically made $12,000 for approximately two weeks of work. Ignoring, for the moment, that the work involved making porn, it’s not a terrible rate.
However, what stands out most about her story is that she continues to generate money for the companies that initially paid her. To this day, those scenes she shot still generate traffic for popular sites like PornHub and that traffic still makes its parent company, MindGeek, some additional profit.
Most people don’t know, or want to know for that matter, that the most popular porn sites and studios are owned by MindGeek. Think of any site your significant other won’t admit to visiting. Chances are, they own it. They’re basically the Amazon of porn. They’re so big that there really isn’t a close second.
It’s because they’re so big that Ms. Kalifa’s story isn’t unique. Most people who enter the porn industry, be they male or female, have to go through MindGeek in some form or another. They’re basically a monopoly and because of that, they can get away with shady practices, such as underpaying workers or short-changing them with fine print.
Most porn performers, including Ms. Kalifa, only get paid a flat rate per scene. They basically function as independent contractors, which means they’re not salaried employees who get benefits. They’re basically Uber drivers, but with sex. Unlike Uber drivers, though, the top performers can actually make a lot more, but they’re the exception and not the norm. Most performers are in Ms. Kalifa’s situation.
It’s not a situation unique to porn. Other elements of the entertainment industry have used similar practices for years. The music industry has plenty of examples of successful artists who sell millions of albums, but still go bankrupt because most of that money went to the companies they worked for rather than the artists themselves.
It even happens in the comic book industry. Few individuals have created and drawn more iconic character than Jack Kirby, but because he was a work-for-hire, he didn’t technically own his creations. The companies he worked for, both Marvel and DC Comics, owned them. As a result of this, there were some lengthy legal battles with Kirby’s estate. Not surprisingly, the companies won.
Think of any industry that involves performing or creating some kind of art. There’s a good chance that there are cases where someone creates something that becomes successful, but the creators themselves don’t profit from it. Only the companies profit.
Again, there’s a context to that. In industries like music, the top one percent of performers earn over three-quarters of the revenue. Most creative endeavors fail to turn a profit. As someone trying hard to break into the publishing industry, I can attest to how common failure and rejection are. These industries, as shady as their practices might be, need to make a profit and that often requires enduring many losses.
That’s exactly why Mia Kalifa’s story matters. It doesn’t just shed light on the less glamorous aspects of the porn industry. It highlights how the actual people behind popular media don’t reap as much of the benefits as we think. For porn stars, current and former, that’s made even harder by the stigma and taboos surrounding the industry. Ms. Kalifa endured those unpleasant elements more than most.
It’s a system that’s only getting worse. There was a time when porn stars could make considerably more money and even earn some residual income from the booming DVD market. Thanks to the advent of streaming media and excessive piracy, that’s no longer the case. It’s why many porn stars are turning to escorting or licensing products.
Given the dirty nature of the business, few politicians or advocates will loudly proclaim they want to help the people in the porn industry. The last few years have been very difficult for anyone in the sex industry. Laws are making sex work more restrictive and more dangerous to everyone involved. Performers will end up with the stigma, but the companies will get most of the profits.
To some extent, what happened to Mia Kalifa’s career is a microcosm of what’s happening to entertainment in general. We’re currently in an era where big companies are acquiring as much intellectual property as possible. Companies, be they major movie studios or porn producers, have a vested interest in controlling the content at the cost of the performers.
Since so few entertainment products turn a profit, these companies have too much incentive to short-change performers and creators. There’s no law that requires companies to give performers a small percentage of future earnings. There’s no law that stops them from exploiting the content created by performers, even if those same performers don’t want to be associated with the work anymore.
Given the money and influence of these companies, that’s not likely to change anytime soon. However, Mia Kalifa did us all a service by making people aware of this very flawed system. The fact that she did this while fully clothed and being brutally honest in a world that lives in alternative facts might be her best performance to date.
Most people don’t think about what gives their money value. There’s just a general understanding that it’s vital for basic economic activity. Whether it involves simple bartering or complex cryptocurrencies, the assumptions are the same. Money is a measure of value and exchanging it is how we ascribe value to basic goods and services.
There are all sorts of economic and financial complexities that determine how money works. Rather than bemoan the issue, knowing I am not the least bit qualified to do so, I’d like to focus on the nature of money in the future. Having already given plenty of thought to advanced artificial intelligence, human enhancement, and intimacy, I think it makes sense to contemplate how it all affects our ideas about money.
By that, I’m not referring to current trends in digital currency and older trends within modern banking systems. I’m talking about what money will be in a future where people, resources, and our entire understanding of economics has rendered the existing system obsolete. If you don’t think that’ll ever happen, then I only request that you give some added scrutiny to the concept of money.
I often find myself scrutinizing it whenever I watch a bit too much sci-fi. Some of my favorite sci-fi movies and TV shows of all time don’t give much thought to money. In “Back To The Future II,” a world of flying cars and cheap fusion power still had money. Things were just exceedingly expensive due to inflation. A Pepsi cost around $50.
While inflation is a real force that was certainly present in the non-movie version 2015, it’s somewhat strange that it would get that excessive in a world where fusion power plants could fit into cars made in the mid-1980s. In the real world, advanced technology tends to counter inflation. Logistically, better technology means more efficiency. More efficiency means cheaper goods. Cheaper goods mean lower prices.
We can certainly forgive movies like “Back To The Future II” for failing to understand the economics of money. In addition, the technology of that world wasn’t so advanced that it undercut the foundations of society. However, the money systems in galaxy-spanning space operas can’t make those excuses.
“Star Wars” still used some form of currency. It was necessary for Han Solo to pay his debts and for Luke to enlist his services to Alderaan. Other space-faring epics like “Mass Effect” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” have a form of currency that allows characters to be greedy and ruthless. Whether they’re called credits or units, the principles are the same.
There’s this vague concept of money. Everyone agrees that it has value, but there’s little information about why it has value. That’s not entirely flawed. It’s just no different than traditional fiat money, which nearly every modern society utilizes to some extent in the real world. The money isn’t backed by anything. People just collectively agree it’s worth what it says its worth.
Now, I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists who claim this form of money is part of a global conspiracy theory run by lizard people who may or may not have murdered John F. Kennedy. I don’t know enough about economics or finance to make sense of our current monetary system. All I know is that we have a system of money that works within the constraints of our current society.
Whatever you think of that system, there’s still a larger question worth asking. What will money look like in the future when some of those constraints disappear? To some extent, our current system requires that people be frail, products be flawed, and resources be scarce. Through certain advances, some of which may occur in the next 50 years, those limits may disappear.
What happens to money when we perfect advanced energy generation that makes electricity cheap, abundant, and clean?
What happens to money when nanotechnology advances to a point where the production and assembly of every conceivable good is dirt cheap?
What happens to money when advanced artificial intelligence gets to a point where it gets so intelligent that it can solve every conceivable problem and manage every conceivable issue perfectly?
What happens to money when our civilization gets to a point where we can just upload our minds into a perfect simulation where all our wants and needs are met on a whim? Regardless of whether you think we’re already in a simulation, the question surrounding money and what form it takes remains.
While it’s impossible to predict the cumulative impact of technology, especially the kind that subverts modern economic forces, I believe there will be some sort of currency in the future. Even if we perfect nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and teleportation, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we’ll need some system for exchanging goods, services, and overall value.
I also don’t think it’s reasonable to assume that our current fiat money would work. Just putting images on paper and using it as a token may not be practical in a society of advanced AI and immortal humans. These days, most of our money exists only as code in a computer and not as piles of paper or gold. I think for any form of money to work in a society of such technology, it needs to be backed by something.
Some sci-fi stories explore that concept. The movie, “In Time,” wasn’t that good, but the idea was intriguing. In that world, everybody is immortal and never ages past 25, but the system is such that the currency is measured in time. In a sense, a dollar is backed by a year of life as a healthy 25-year-old. For most people, that has plenty of value.
The rest of the movie is awful and I don’t recommend it, but it presents a novel, albeit dystopian concept. For that economic system to work, there has to be some sort of tyrannical power structure that has the ability to snuff someone’s life out the second they can’t pay. Even corrupt insurance companies aren’t that bad.
Then, there’s the Netflix series, “Altered Carbon,” which I highly recommend. That world also has a problem with massive wealth disparity, but not in the sense that rich people horde money in giant vaults. In this world, technology has advanced to the point where people can transfer their consciousness to different bodies the same way most people transfer files between computers.
In that world, the most precious assets are the best bodies. Being able to live in the body of Brad Pitt is inherently more valuable than living in the body of Danny DeVito. Much of society, from prisoners to billionaires, is divided by who has access to those bodies. In the story, the super-rich Bancroft family have that access and that’s what makes them so rich.
That kind of wealth may not show up as numbers on a balance sheet, but the value is there. Being able to produce, inhabit, and live within strong, beautiful bodies provides a powerful basis for any currency. Talk to anyone who has dealt with the effects of aging, which is pretty much everyone over the age of 25. Most would gladly pay a premium to live in a stronger, fitter body.
While “Altered Carbon” doesn’t get into the specifics of that system, the principle holds true. In a future where people aren’t bound by the limitations of biology or the human body, the greatest asset they can possess is a medium with which to experience life. A better medium means better experiences. Some companies today are already seeking to provide those experiences. Technology will simply change the methods.
Whether we end up in a simulated utopia or not, the experiences a currency affords us is what will give it value. Even though worlds like that of “Star Trek” present a world where money doesn’t exist, there is still plenty of value ascribed to life experiences. You may not be able to print that on a piece of paper or send that in a wire transfer, but that is still recognized as valuable.
I could still be wrong. Remember, I’m not an expert in money, nor can I predict the trends that future advances in technology will incur. Whatever form it takes, though, I expect that the overall goal will still be the same. We use money to pursue better, more rewarding life experiences. However we go about pursuing is, and always has been to some extent, the only true universal currency.
We all want it. We all work our asses off to get it. We all go to great lengths, learning whatever we can and doing whatever we must, to achieve it. For many of us, it’s a lifelong obsession that can be both agonizing and exhilarating.
No, I’m not talking about sex for once. I’m talking about something that is often associated with sex, albeit indirectly. I’m talking about success. It’s a relevant thing to talk about for me. I’ve got my first non-self published book coming out this month and another in the works for next year. Sure, it’s not the kind of success that’ll have me swimming in a pool full of champagne, but it’s a start.
I write erotica/romance novels because I want to make a living doing this. I want this to be my career. Naturally, I want it to be a successful career. I want to be able to pay a mortgage and an electric bill with this career. I’m not there yet, but I’m hoping I’m on the right path. However, in pursuing this career, I’ve realized something about success that often gets overlooked.
Nobody has any goddamn clue how to achieve it.
Sure, there are self-help gurus, scam artists, and Gwyneth Paltrows out there claiming they have some sort of secret. They claim they know how to find success, seize it, and hold onto it. They make it sound so easy. They make it sound like the lottery winners who lose all their money have no excuses.
Well, as much as I despise excuses, there are exceptions when it comes to success. If you’re lucky, you don’t have to learn the hard way. For most people, they don’t even have to learn it. It’s just something you tend to realize through experience, but even when we realize it, we don’t want to put it into to words and for good reason. When you break down the components of success, it’s kind of depressing to say the least.
Now I don’t claim to know squat about success. If I did, I’d be sending signed copies of my novels to Jennifer Lawrence and Natalie Portman on a weekly basis. I only know what everybody knows to some extent, but refuses to acknowledge.
In that knowledge, we understand that success has three vital components.
- Having talent, which not everybody has
- Being willing to work, which not everybody is
- Having a certain amount of luck, which not everybody gets
It’s the giant caveat that grade school teachers and “Back To The Future” left out. We’re all told as kids that we can do anything we set our minds to. Doc Brown gave that advice to Marty McFly on more than one occasion. That works great in the movies. In real life, it has the same effect as rubbing goat piss on your feet.
Maybe it’s because we want to protect our children from the harsh realities of the world and I can understand that to some extent, but that doesn’t make those realities any less harsh. When it comes to success, we’re often at the mercy of forces beyond our control.
I’m not just talking about the luck aspect either. For some people, it doesn’t matter how determined or dedicated you are. You could wake up every morning at 4 a.m. and practice throwing a football until 3 a.m. You’ll still never be as good a quarterback as Tom Brady because he just has a unique talent for it.
The same goes for skills beyond throwing a football. You can be the most charismatic actor or actress in the world. You could have all the talent you need. However, if you don’t have the body of Jennifer Lawrence or the sex appeal of George Clooney, you’re not going to get the same chances. That talent just isn’t enough. It isn’t fair, but the real world has a knack for kicking fairness in the ass on a daily basis.
There are even people who do have immense talent, but they’re just not willing to work at it. We never hear about these people, but we probably know someone in our lives who has uncanny talent in something, but just chooses to do nothing with it. It’s tragic, but it’s another one of those forces that are beyond our control.
Even if we do have the sex appeal of George Clooney, the talent of Tom Brady, and the body of Jennifer Lawrence, there’s still that nasty thing called luck. This is, by far, the most frustrating component of success because it’s “kind of” random to some extent.
I say “kind of” because I’m not talking about the luck that involves lottery tickets, Las Vegas, or the NFL draft. Luck can be guided to some extent, but only to a point. Tom Brady was a 6th round draft pick that nobody thought could play as more than a backup. There were 31 other teams who had a chance to draft him, but didn’t. Instead, he ended up going to New England.
Whether by luck or toil, Brady ended up on a team with a coach and a system that perfectly complemented his talents. Would he have succeeded as much as he did if he went to another team? That’s hard to say, but most can’t see him doing what he did with the Cleveland Browns.
Sometimes we have to put ourselves in a position for luck to find us. Sometimes we have to gamble that the luck will be there if we seek it. It doesn’t always pay off, but again, it’s not like the lottery or Las Vegas.
This is where the advice of someone like Scott Adams, the Dilbert guy, comes into play again. He often says in his books that success likes to hide in the ashes of failure. When you take into account the three ingredients I mentioned earlier, that makes perfect sense.
The thing about the lottery is that you have to pay to play the game. As such, it’s set up so that the odds are so remote that the math is just never on your side. It’s how Las Vegas makes its money and how the lottery is a $70 billion industry. With most other forms of success, there’s no ticket to buy. It’s free to keep playing.
That’s the key to some extent. If something is free to play, then the math is suddenly on your side, no matter how remote the odds are. Play an unlimited amount of times and eventually, the most unlikely outcome will occur. This isn’t always possible for fields like acting, modeling, or basket weaving. However, it does help balance out the depressing outlook.
With publishing, the odds are against me. I don’t deny that. However, it’s another one of those games that’s free to play. Sure, it comes with a lot of rejection, but you can make the law of averages work for you.
Other writers have done just that. The book, Twilight, was rejected by 14 publishers before it got picked up. The hit show “Breaking Bad” was rejected by multiple networks, including HBO and FX, before getting picked up by AMC. Ironically, it seems as though there’s a lot of failure that goes into success.
I didn’t keep track of how many times I got rejected. I’d rather not sift through that many emails. However, I don’t use this as an excuse to get discouraged. I use this as an incentive to get better. That’s something else that teachers and after school specials never taught us as kids. We have to keep improving.
It kind of clashes with the whole message that, “You’re so great, no matter what anyone else says!” The truth is that we are all a work-in-progress. If we don’t keep improving at whatever we do, be it writing erotica/romance or learning to deep-fry a turkey, we’re not going to find success. We’re only going to fall into the same pit as those who think they have a chance at winning the lottery.
For the record, though, I do buy lottery tickets. I don’t buy many. I never spend more than pocket change on them, but again, the odds of playing are better than zero, which are the only odds you get if you don’t play.
Success is an unpredictable force and one that not everybody achieves in life. However, it is possible to put yourself in a position to experience it. It often takes more than your teachers and favorite movie stars ever told you, but it’s something worth pursuing. We only have one life to live, after all. Why not make the most of it?