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Yglesias Really Doesn’t Get It


Yglesias takes exception to my support of the Huffington Post boycott. He is misguided on several points:

1. Yglesias seems to think that I am trying to take away his internet where people can write whatever they want for free:

Those of us who write or a living on the internet might well benefit from a rule banning amateur content creation online. No more professors giving opinions on political issues away for free! No more videos of cute cats on YouTube! Heck, no more Wikipedia! More traffic for me! What’s not to like? Obviously there are free speech problems with trying to legally ban amateur internet writing. But should we boycott all free internet writing? My view is that we shouldn’t, even if Wikipedia is reducing the demand for unionized teamsters to deliver physical encyclopedias.

Not at all. What I’m saying is that large corporations have the obligation to pay workers for labor. In other words, a basic tenet of all progressive thought for the last 200 years. And yes, AOL/Huff Post is a large and profitable corporation. Obviously people can and should write on the internet without getting paid. Hopefully, they can find a way to get compensated for their work. But the idea that somehow I and the journalist unions are trying to punish workers/writers by not reading their work is absurd. What this boycott hopes to accomplish is to get those writers a tiny bit of the profit going into AOL stockholders and Arianna Huffington’s bank accounts.

2. He seems to believe that the internet is not a workplace.

In the information economy, we need to rethink our ideas of the workplace. People have bought into the information economy. They go to graduate school with the hope of becoming tenure-track professors. They write online, hoping that they will be read. They take an unpaid internship, hoping they will get a good-paying job down the road to make up for their current poverty. They understand and explore new media, hoping to make some kind of a living disseminating and evaluating information. Outside of these more intellectual pursuits, workers try to retrain themselves to be flexible in a modern economy.

But many of the promises of an information economy are a chimera. We produce too many PhDs (and while I have found tenure-track employment, I will openly say how incredibly lucky I am. It’s not because I’m better than others). We had a brief flash where people could make money writing political opinions on the internet and then most of those opportunities were snatched up. The information economy has completely failed to provide steady employment for millions of Americans as we near 4 complete years of recession. Young people can’t find work, but unpaid internships abound.

Just put in your time (adjunct, HuffPo writer, unpaid intern) and surely you too will enjoy the benefits of the new economy!

It’s one thing to say people should be able to write for free on the internet–that’s obvious. It’s another to say that it’s totally fine for a corporation to make millions of dollars off people’s free and voluntary labor. Yes, those people could stop writing at Huff Post. But Huff Post also promises writers the opportunity to be read and someday, that far distant someday, maybe you can get paid too! And many of these writers buy in, like I have, that your hard work on the internet will pay off for you some day in the bright new information economy.

I realize I am writing from a marginally privileged position here. I am newly at a fairly prominent blog that big bloggers read and link to. And I have every intention on using that position to produce posts pointing out the injustices of the modern economy, of which a corporation the size of AOL not paying writers some amount for the internet traffic they generate is one. It’s not ironic, as Yglesias says, that I would write this post. Am I, because I have a tenure-track job and get a piece of the very small amount of advertising money this website makes, not suppose to point out exploitation of labor at other sites? Am I now part of the internet middle class, committing virtual class suicide by undermining my own position?

3. He switches the terms of the debate. He focuses on Gary Hart, of all people, essentially saying that I argue that it is immoral for HuffPo to not pay Hart for his editorials. I really don’t care about Hart or Reich or any of the other big names who write over there. This is an argument about the hundreds of unpaid bloggers. Maybe Hart should be paid too but moving the argument away from the new highly educated working-class to elite politicians and journalists is sadly indicative of how little consciousness there is of the new working-class, even at many leading progressive sites.

4. Based upon his first Twitter comment on this post earlier today, Yglesias seems to believe that this post was a veiled attack upon him. There are two possible reasons for this that I can think of. First, that he believes the blogosphere is a meritocracy and that he is read because he earned it. Well, that’s not entirely untrue of course. But I made the point in the post that the blogosphere was all about timing. Yglesias was right on that, much like Klein, Marcotte, Valenti, Kos, and many others. This site, in a lesser way, benefited from the same good timing. Nothing wrong with that. So that’s absolutely not meant as an attack. But a 22 year old today wanting to write about politics simply can’t become what Yglesias became. I don’t see the problem in just admitting that.

Of course, Yglesias has never shown much inclination toward labor and this leads us to the second possible reason for him becoming upset. When I said that the progressive blogosphere ignores labor, I wasn’t singling Yglesias out or even had him mind per se. But it is true. His slighting of teachers’ unions and support for anti-worker, anti-student education reform has always been the weakest subject in his writings. He rarely writes about working-class issues except from a technocratic perspective. Caring about improving health-care is caring about working-class people, yes, but when your leading discussion of working-class organizations on your site is denigrating teachers’ unions, well, that’s not good for a progressive blogger. Even if you disagree with the Huffington Post boycott, like Robert Reich for instance, if you write about working-class people and actively support labor unions I can take the argument as a legitimate disagreement.

But when you are widely recognized as a leading progressive blogger and you don’t seem to have much respect for one of the last core Democratic constituencies, yeah, that’s a problem.

In our brief Twitter war of the last hour, Yglesias noted:

still don’t see why it’s wrong for people to work for free voluntarily.

Well, Matt, why don’t you become part of the internet proletariat for awhile and find out? Quit cashing your paychecks. Write for free. Become the person you would be if you were 23 years old in 2011 and wanted to be the next Matt Yglesias but you couldn’t because you can’t get a readership.

If you want to get original buyer’s guide for plus size winter jackets and plus size winter trench coat take a look at our kids trench coat, biker girl clothing and army motorcycle jacket demos.

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  • Those of us who write or a living on the internet might well benefit from a rule banning amateur content creation online.

    Or you could actually be forced to up your game, since all those examples of truly egregious blogging would vanish and your work would suddenly become eyed more critically.

    Just a thought, Matt ;-)

  • LuckyJimJD

    still don’t see why it’s wrong for people to work for free voluntarily.

    He seriously wrote that? So he favors repeal of the FLSA? Maybe he’s angling for a gig (unpaid, naturally) with Cato.

    • Malaclypse

      So he favors repeal of the FLSA?

      He’s a sensible liberal.

      I think the conservative/libertarian critique of the minimum wage has a reasonable amount going for it, and I would greatly prefer to see more transfer payments to working people and less efforts to achieve the same goal through regulatory fiat.

      • shah8

        I was pretty dumb in 2003, too. Both of us are better read since then.

        I am still a big believer in healthy tranfer payments to welfare recipients. I think that’s a better way to drive up wages, because it allows worker to seriously negotiate with employers about the value of his or her time. Transfer payments have their place. As far as the EITC goes, yeah, I see the issues, following from newman’s links…

        • Malaclypse

          I was pretty dumb in 2003, too. Both of us are better read since then.

          I don’t think Yglesias is dumb. I’m sure he is quite smart.

          I’m also sure he is a shill and a careerist, who wants to be seen as a sensible contrarian liberal, and not a DFH.

          • firefall

            Exactly. In fact Yglesias-really-doesnt-get-it could stand as a post all by itself, not just a headline.

          • gimmeliberty

            I have problems when people start throwing around the terms shill. I’ve met people who are shills, and they could care less about the actual merits of the arguments they make. I often disagree with Yglesias, but his logic is pretty much always internally consistent. Maybe his personal political philosophy begins with different first principles than years, but he clearly seems genuinely committed to it. And what’s he a shill for? Barbershop start-ups? Big Public Transport? I don’t know why he “wants to be seen” as a sensible contrarian liberal, he just seems to be one.

            And guys who have famous dads and graduate from Harvard don’t go into blogging because they’re careerists. Honestly, where does this stuff come from? If you disagree with the man, just disagree with him!

            • N W Barcus

              I have problems when people start throwing around the terms shill.

              Well, gesundheit.

              And guys who have famous dads and graduate from Harvard don’t go into blogging because they’re careerists. Honestly, where does this stuff come from?

              Argument from incomprehension or diminished capacity, hmmm. He wasn’t called Big Media Matt for nothing, back when he was shilling for invading Iraq.

              • Furious Jorge

                Who is Yglesias’s famous father?

                • mark f

                  Raphael. He wrote both the novel and movie Fearless, most famously, as well as some other stuff.

            • Malaclypse

              Okay, I retract “shill” and substitute “careerist toady.”

          • James E. Powell

            I don’t know Yglesias and I have no idea what he really wants out of life, but from very early on he struck me as a young Richard Cohen.

    • matth

      Should YouTube be required to pay people who post videos of their kittens? YouTube is certainly a big, profitable (division of a) corporation.

      What about Facebook: does it have to pay its users? Or profitable sites whose traffic is driven in part by their comment communities, like Above the Law, aintitcool, or the Atlantic’s bloggers?

      Line-drawing is always difficult, but Eric’s principle — that “large corporations” which extract value from unpaid labor online should have to share the wealth — seems to lead to implausible results surprisingly quickly.

      • Left_Wing_Fox

        Not really, since it all comes down to profit sharing.

        The service has to exist, so the operational costs come off the top. Those who started, created and run the service deserve their pay. But they forget that without the contributors, those page-views don’t happen.

        There are lots of ways that a site like HuffPo can maintain the balance between those writing for exposure and those which gain enough hits to drive ad revenue.

        Perhaps there’s a tier structure: new bloggers get exposure, bringing in x number of hits gives you access to a percentage of ad revenue, consistent performance nets you a writing contract with performance expectations. There’s no reason this sort of system could not work with the sharing services as well.

        • There was a similar kerfluffle with Gawker a while back, if I remember correctly. It sounded pretty intense: you had to make a certain number of posts that brought in a certain number of hits each day/week. The idea of targets sounds good, but you have to remember that internet people are fickle.

          • Scott Lemieux

            I dunno, I have my issues with Gawker Inc., but Denton does actually pay people.

        • Lindsay Beyerstein

          I think YouTube has a profit-sharing model for super-popular videos. After Rebecca Black’s “Friday” became an overnight sensation, the Sound Opinions podcast did a bit about how YouTube monitors videos that seem to be going viral and reaches out to the creators and offers them some sort of cut from the advertising revenue–in exchange for something of benefit to YouTube that I don’t remember off the top of my head. It might have been putting bumper ads at the the beginning of the video itself.

          Your rank-and-file YouTube user just benefits from the free video sharing.

          • I can confirm this. I have at least two videos that I’ve gotten offers from YouTube to share ad revenues on

  • Well, Matt, why don’t you become part of the internet proletariat for awhile and find out? Quit cashing your paychecks. Write for free. Become the person you would be if you were 23 years old in 2011 and wanted to be the next Matt Yglesias but you couldn’t because you can’t get a readership.

    The experiment can be simpler: Keep cashing checks, etc., but set up a pseudonym and try to grow it into a prominent voice.

    If it works, then he has two voices (ca-ching!) plus evidence that he knows how to do it.

    • An idea we can all support–except that he can’t link to it himself or tell anyone he’s doing it until the experiment is over. All links will have to come strictly on his finding readership independently.

  • As far as generating readership goes, isn’t “post irrelevant comments on widely read political blogs with a link to your own non-political lame-attempt-at-humor blog” still a viable approach?

    (Also: I’m looking forward to the Idaho installment of political figures. Will George Hansen make the cut?)

    • I’m just going to list Helen Chenoweth 10 times.

      • Hogan

        Borah! Borah! Borah!

      • Chenowith is an all-star, to be sure. Let’s not leave out Bill Sali, though, who introduced a bill to repeal the law of gravity in the US House. ID-1 is a very special district.

    • DrDick

      Hah. Wait until he gets to Montana. After Jeanette Rankin, Mike Mansfield, and the Loathsome Max Baucus, where is he going to go?

      • I once sat in on a hour of the MT state legislature. There was a guy walking around in a coat made of coyote. I’m going with that guy.

        • firefall

          At that point, you’re just about qualified to list yourself.

        • Chris Buttars from UT- can’t really top the quantity from that guy, if we dip into the state leg pool that is.

        • DrDick

          That was one of our saner Republicans.

      • mark f

        A month or two ago a state legislator got fifteen minutes of YouTube fame for arguing that drunk driving is a valued way of life Montana. That ought to round out the top 5.

        • Could have been the same guy. Though the entire MT state legislature is full of very special people.

          • DrDick

            Indeed. They introduced over a dozen nullification laws this past session and it goes downhill from there.

            • Anonymous

              Come on, Erik. Massachusetts. Step into the big leagues, son.

              • I know–I’m kind of saving these for days that I don’t have time to post anything else since I have the first 10 or so already done. But soon. I know that everyone is excited to find out where Calvin Coolidge stands!

  • shah8

    The comment sign-in policy over there is killing the qi over at Think Progress. Early on, it just got so absurd that on a post about gender iniquity on pay, all but one old woman were male commentators. We need basic anon, idiots…And whenever I think about Yglesias’ management, I think back to that one day…Yeah, they idiots.

    Now, on whether Matt is one…Well, I don’t really think he is all that much less anti-union than most progressive bloggers are. He’s just more honest with himself about it. And given how many explicitly labor “progressives” have humongous blind spots wrt race/so/gender etc, it’s a bit much to ask for perfection from Matt.

    As for Matt’s position, my take is that Yglesias thinks this is futile bullshit. He’s been writing a whole bunch of posts, some of them with a small tinge of desperate color, about the need for improving demand in the economy. I don’t think he really thinks it’s right for those interns to not get anything, but I also think he believes that the economy is *structurally* and *intentionally* set-up this way, and I do think that he is reacting in a sense of sarcastic hilarity about someone else who’s made it–writing for free, complaining about free.

    There is a notorious publicist/plagiarist, I forget his name, who promises to make aspiring writers famous if they’ll just send him their scrips for free. There are many, many, many, scams about free labor. Why is this one any better than what happens to college sports players, grad students, actresses (oh hi, Mrs Fox!), or writers. For as long as there were blacksmiths and basketweavers, there were stupid little apprentices that were never going to be anyone.

    And after all of this, boycots don’t work.

    Okay, so maybe I was a little too hilarious about Brockington and Nate Silver (but that really was funny and I giggled straight through my exercise regime), but I ignored your post when I read it.

    Ya know why? In the face that boycots don’t work, LGM still ain’t boycotting by removing the link to Huffington Post.

    geez, but there is a surfeit of “Takes himself just a little too seriously” here.

    • Anderson

      The comment sign-in policy over there is killing the qi over at Think Progress.

      Yeah, what is it now — I have to have a Facebook account, or something? Too much unpaid labor, says I.

    • firefall

      yes, between Comrade Y’s right-deviationism and the extremely crappy farcebook comment system, I’ve given up following his blog – I’m only following Rosenberg on TP because of the exceptional quality of her writing.

      • Same, although I’ve been negligent about reading Rosenberg. She had some good guest posts.

    • witless chum

      I appreciated the insanity and free-for-all nature of a classic Yglesias comment section and they’ve pretty much killed that. I’ve been reading less and less.

  • Larry the Elder

    Next thing you know, people will want to get into Harvard without sending daddy’s checks.

  • What I’m saying is that large corporations have the obligation to pay workers for labor.

    I honestly don’t think this is correct. I think corporations have an obligation to pay according to the contract.

    HuffPo isn’t tricking people into writing with the expectation of getting paid, and then stealing their work. The agreement is explicit. You write it, and we’ll publish it. You don’t get paid – you get published. That’s the contract.

    Now, if you don’t like the terms of the agreement, that’s ok – don’t do the work. How is this difficult to understand? They pay by giving their writers access to an audience they otherwise wouldn’t have. Some think that’s a good deal, and happily generate the copy. Others, you for instance, think it’s a shitty deal, so you don’t write for HuffPo. Can’t see where anybody’s getting mislead or ripped off.


    • Malaclypse

      I think corporations have an obligation to pay according to the contract.

      Under FLSA, it is illegal to enter into certain contracts. If you enter into a contract with EvilMalaclypse, Inc, to work for $2.00/hour, it does not matter that you agreed. You can still sue for back wages and win.

      Will we ever stop fighting Lochner?

      • Moreover, will we ever even come to an understanding on left-leaning blogs about the labor issues are important and that the right has been lying about labor and working-class issues the same as they do about gay rights, invading Iraq, and so many other issues? It’s frustrating but necessary to have these conversations over and over again with allies.

        • pete

          Yup. Kevin Drum’s not bad, but he’s the exception. Maybe it’s a generational thing: Drum’s in his 50s I think and remembers when unions were prominent, while the 30-and-under techies really do not.

          • I’m 31, from a middle-class background, and have no idea about unions and labor. I really should, though, especially as I’ve got a job where conditions could be better and I should have joined a union a long time ago.

            I’m glad Erik’s writing about this, because I am learning at least something.

        • Of course labor issues are important. It’s just that this particular case isn’t really important, and to the extent labor is involved it’s more about protecting a certain segment of workers from competition from amateurs. Just because I’m pro-labor doesn’t mean I’m going to support an effort to stamp out an avenue for non-professionals to have access to a large audience.

      • DrDick

        I for one am sick to death of this “sanctity of the contract” horseshit. It totally ignores the inherent asymmetry of power between worker and employer, as well as the pervasive effects of monopsony. It is simply one more example of the hegemonic control over our discourse. I am much more concerned with whether it is fair and reasonable to ask someone to agree to those terms rather than whether the in fact did so.

        • Even if fair and reasonable, whether it’s a relatively bad deal and that, e.g., by organizing, they could do better.

          No one questions an employer trying to pursue advantageous terms from employees. But the reverse?

          • DrDick

            Exactly. In the absence of a union the employer always has an advantage.

        • Left_Wing_Fox

          You can get a “Hells Yeah”

        • I’d be really curious to hear an explanation of the ‘asymmetry of power’ in the case of writing for HuffPo. They have a popular site. I know I can write for it, and be published on it, but there is no money being offered. I can write a piece and offer it to ANY publisher in the world in exchange for money – they can agree to pay or not. But on HuffPo, there’s a standing offer. I don’t see how that’s a bad thing – nobody’s going to pay no names to write – that’s not news. But being willing to publish no names on a site with some traffic is actually fairly rare. I’ve been published on FDL – but that’s not something that’s easily available.

          I think this is a good fight, I just don’t think the argument applies in this case…


        • “I am much more concerned with whether it is fair and reasonable to ask someone to agree to those terms rather than whether the in fact did so.”

          I don’t really disagree with that, but it’s only really useful in situations where the weaker party doesn’t really have a choice. In the relationship between HuffPo and prospective writers, HuffPo may have a distinct advantage in power, but the writer won’t be harmed at all if they decide they don’t want to submit content to HuffPo, so can easily choose not to do that. And this is especially true if you believe that writing for huffPo without monetary compensation carries no value whatsoever to the writer.

        • Thank your for your simple, straight forward answer to stupid assumptions.

      • If you’re saying I can’t agree to write a piece in exchange solely for an agreement to publish it, I think you’re wrong. It is in no way the same as agreeing to work for less than the minimum wage – it is an agreement to produce a written piece under specific terms.

        Are you saying I should not be permitted to enter into this contract?


      • But of course it’s not illegal to do anything of value for free. I can do charity work for free, assist a political candidate for free, etc. So this isn’t really a meaningful point unless you can demonstrate a compelling reason for prohibiting me from submitting writing for publication at HuffPo for free if I so choose.

  • Rich C

    I have worked for unions for over decade (after escaping from grad school), and I want to say, first of all, that your characterization of Matt Yglesias as being indifferent or worse in his attitude toward unions is completely off-base. No, he’s not a huge fan of teachers unions, but Matt writes, not-at-all infrequently, about the economic crisis from a very pro-union and pro-worker point of view. Obviously, he has a bunch of other policy interests, but union-bashing has never been part of his approach, and I urge you to much more careful in your criticisms of him (and other bloggers).

    More to the point though, you’re really falling down flat in this argument. If I understand you correctly, you are trying to compare the unpaid bloggers at Huff Post to unpaid interns, grad students, and adjuncts. Your assumption seems to be that in each of these roles, people who are creating value of a larger organization are not receiving a fair wage (or any wage) for this work, and so are therefore exploited. I think this assertion is obviously true for adjuncts – who are superficially either employees or independent contractors, but who are substantively employees – who do a lot of teaching for very little $. Its true to some degree for grad students, who often (but not always) do at least some teaching and get paid very little. Its much less clear that this is true of interns, though I am willing to believe that there are organizations where interns do necessary, productive work that would get done by a paid employee if they weren’t there. I’m not so clear that it applies to the unpaid bloggers at Huff Post are producing much value though, by which I mean that your assertion that very much traffic goes to the site because of these unpaid bloggers is unproven, or that if the unpaid bloggers stopped blogging their content would be replaced (in any part, let alone in large part) by paid employees.

    Consider, by contrast, the volunteer. Lots of people volunteer for various organizations, for a variety of reasons. Campaign organizations, including union organizing campaigns, rely substantially on volunteers. Not just volunteers, but they play an important role. If you are volunteering your time for a campaign (political, organizing, whatever) or a charitable organization, are you being exploited? Pretty clearly, you are producing value, and by definition you’re not being paid, so, using “exploitation” the way you’ve used it, doesn’t the answer have to be “yes”? But isn’t that also a ridiculous answer? Are MoveOn and DailyKos really enablers of massive exploitation by election campaigns? That seems like a real stretch to me. It seems more plausible to me to say that volunteers get some non-monetary return from their labor (otherwise, they would not volunteer).

    What really seems to get under your skin, though, is the false promise of a future return. As I just suggested, volunteers do what they do because they’re getting some non-monetary reward: they feel better about themselves, they really like what it is they’re doing (I really like picket lines, for example), they like the people they meet there, etc. But for the intern/grad student/adjunct, and perhaps also the unpaid Huff Post blogger, the work and the people are not sufficiently rewarding that “enough” people would do it without some monetary return. So instead, there is the notion, certainly propogated by those who benefit from the work of the interns/grad students/adjuncts, that in the future there will be an opportunity to move up into more pleasant and higher paying work. In so far as that’s false, its an objectionable practice. And in at least some cases, unionization would be a way to cure this objectionable practice, by providing a mechanism to ensure that contributions to the organization are rewarded in real time, not (just) in a hypothetical future.

    But this does not resolve the question about Huff Post, because, as I think I’ve already mentioned, its not at all clear that if all non-paid bloggers ceased writing for the site, it would have to replace them (any of them) with paid writers. Is that what you’re arguing, that the boycott will deprive Huff Post of content it “needs”? Because if it is, it seems to me that a much better way to respond to Matt is to just demonstrate that Huff Post needs this content, and not engage in a bunch of bluster about his politics, your career, and so on. If this isn’t your argument, then … what is it?

    • I think I agree that Erik really needs to address the distinction between labor force and participants. The analogy with PhD students seems misplaced to me.

      OTOH, I don’t see why organizing against HuffPost is silly as a tactic. Trying to organize the HuffPost writers whether paid or unpaid is a reasonable thing to do. That HuffPost has deeper pockets makes it likely that there are concessions directly worth having. OTOH, they are a big enough corp to maybe change some general labor dynamics.

      Evidently, HuffPost seems some value in the contributing values. It seems sensible to determine exactly what that value is and to ensure an equitable split. No reason for people to leave money on the table, after all!

    • elm

      I actually agree with a lot of what you’ve said here, but it should be pointed out that Erik is claiming that corporations should pay workers for labor, or, if I may paraphrase, should share their profits with those who provided the labor that enabled the profits.

      Political campaigns, organizing campaigns, charitable organizations, religious organizations, etc. are not corporations. They are all non-profits. Therefore, they have no profit to share. Regardless, Erik clearly does not have to answer “yes” to the question of whether they are exploitative given his definition of exploitation.

      • And given that Rich C is a union guy, you’d think he know that corporations should pay a part of the profits to labor.

        • gimmeliberty

          I’m curious to hear your take on the Youtube comparison. Are the two corporations analogous or is there some significant distinction?

          • I would say that it is complicated and that I don’t have anything particular to say about You Tube except to say that people writing original posts and people posting videos are probably different things. But if the videos are produced, I suppose it could be different. I’m not going to spout off about things I don’t know about and I don’t really know about this probably because I really rarely use YouTube.

            • josh

              That’s a pretty big pass.

              Somebody arguing that content generators are entitled to a portion of the profits created on their profit should probably be conversant with the largest user generated content site on the planet.

              If you tube is different then the differences are important to illustrate your point. And if they’re not then you’re barking up a really small tree.

              Since no one asked, here’s my take!

              How much time does the average unpaid huffington post blogger put into their blogging? To me that’s important because it points to what kind of relationship HuffPo see’s itself as being in. I can publish letters to the editor and never get paid, but letters to the editor are a leisure activity.

              If HuffPo is giving cranks a place to vent to a public audience then they don’t have to pay them. But if they’re expecting a commitment of labor then they need to pay for it.

              • That seems to me a fair enough characterization. I don’t know enough about HuffPo to answer that question, and it certainly seems worth knowing the answer to before going further.

            • The Fool

              I would encourage you to think more deeply about the comparison, as it seems a pretty interesting one. First, “writing original posts” and “posting videos” is the wrong comparison. “hitting submit on blog posts” and “posting videos” would be a correct comparison. More relevantly “writing original posts” and “creating original videos” would be a correct comparison.

              There’s even an interesting angle with the Youtube Partner program, where creators of original content who own or have licensed all aspects of their work can share in ad revenue or make their content available for rent. Perhaps this is a program which the proposed HuffPo union should be fighting for?

              I don’t know, as I’m not you thus cannot understand a similar line of argument if it covers HuffPo but wouldn’t cover Youtube.

          • djw

            It seems to me youtube is more analogous to, say, blogger than to the huffington post. Like Blogger, it provides a free, searchable, widely known platform to present users content to the world. As with blogger, if your content is extremely popular you can, in theory, monetize that popularity.

            The difference between blogger/youtube/facebook and huffington post seem extremely clear to me; the former are platforms for content, and the latter is a website, more analogous to cnn.com than any of the first three. Perhaps I’m thinking about this wrong or missing something obvious, but I’m puzzled by the conviction that this distinction isn’t a meaningful.

            • djw

              Or to analogize this distinction in non-internet terms: the women who work the phone sex line should be paid, but it doesn’t follow from that that participants in chatline style service should, even though both may be successful for-profit operations.

              I can imagine cases in which this line is hard to draw, but the website/platform distinction doesn’t seem that difficult to me on conceptual and practical grounds.

            • mark f

              The difference between blogger/youtube/facebook and huffington post seem extremely clear to me; the former are platforms for content, and the latter is a website, more analogous to cnn.com

              I agree and it seems like everyone’s being deliberately obtuse on this point. I haven’t been “boycotting” the Huffington Post, because I’ve never visited it anyway, but I was under the impression that it marketed itself as some sort of newspaper. It certainly doesn’t strike me as prima facie ridiculous that its writers should be paid for their work.

        • Rich C

          What a cheap shot! Is your knowledge of the US economy so limited that you think only for-profit corporations may treat workers badly? The vast majority of hospitals in the US are non-profits, many treat their workers poorly, and I think they should be organized. The vast majority of the nursing homes in the US are non-profits, treat their workers very poorly, and I think they should be organized. The vast majority of educational institutions, at every level, in the US are non-profits, you get the picture. Nor does the distinction between non-profit vs. for-profit necessarily proxy for available resources (to increase pay, for instance), as there are many wealthy universities and health systems, and many near-bankrupt for-profit business.

          This argument is not about whether someone who wants to join a union should be able to, and its not even about the obligation of corporations to pay workers fairly. Its about whether the particular group of writers, if they were paid their marginal revenue product, would actually be making any money. I’m open to being persuaded that Huff Post should adopt a system to pay its contributors by some measure of traffic, but if they refuse, what happens?

          Or from a strategic point of view, if the unpaid bloggers strike, at what point does Huff Post fold? When is the economic pressure on them too much to bear? If its all depending on the boycott, then is the plight of the unpaid blogger enough, realistically, to hold together a large, disperse group of consumers long enough to win? Or is the idea to get big name bloggers, perhaps unpaid, to join the boycott? Have any of them addressed the Guild’s campaign?

          • djw

            Is your knowledge of the US economy so limited that you think only for-profit corporations may treat workers badly?

            That’s a….bizarrely esoteric reading of what Erik wrote. Why does he say that could possibly be interpreted as implying such a plainly incorrect view?

            • Malaclypse

              I think richc is responding to elm, not Erik.

      • Malaclypse

        Political campaigns, organizing campaigns, charitable organizations, religious organizations, etc. are not corporations. They are all non-profits. Therefore, they have no profit to share.

        1) All non-profits are corporations. Only corporations can be non-profits.

        2) “Non-profit” is a tax status, and simply means that profits cannot be distributed to shareholders (ie dividends). Plenty of non-profits are highly profitable.

        • elm

          Fair enough. My terminology did not accord with legal definitions of the term and I accept the error. But, I think Erik’s views of what consitutes a corporation are similar to mine even if they are misguided.

          • Rich C

            The point, though, is that what you were asserting isn’t really relevant. Just because you write a post at Huff Post, and Huff Post is a money making enterprise, doesn’t mean your post made them (or could make you) any money. I mean, this blog has ads and generates revenue (apparently) and comment here; am I being exploited? If there is a real problem with Huff Post, it has to be that there are unpaid bloggers whose work attracts meaningful traffic to the site, who want to get paid, and Huff Post is refusing. Someone above raised the example of YouTube’s partnership program, and that seems like a good model to me. I don’t mean this as any kind of criticism of the Guild, but Erik’s defense of the boycott seems remarkably unpersuasive, and about as easy an audience for this sort of thing that you can possibly imagine.

            • elm

              I actually agree with you on the merits of Erik’s argument about HuffPo. I was only making the somehwat pedantic (and, it seems, erroneously pedantic) point that your argument that Erik’s argument must mean that you can’t volunteer for campaigns or charities.

              I still think there’s a difference between, on the one hand, political campaigns, churches, and soup kitchens, and, other hand, HuffPo or CNN or GM. I was wrong in thinking that it was their status as corporations or non-profits (you’re right above that non-profits like hospitals and schools and so on often have and usually should have union labor forces). I’m not sure what exactly the difference is, and how one would draw the line, though.

    • Read this and decide if you want to continue arguing for a trend where you don’t get paid but get an “opportunity.” Trending indentured servitude.
      What is changing is that more and more people are willing to work, I mean really work, not post dick jokes on a blog, for nothing because employment options are so desperate. So hurrah to the massively profitable corporations that can be at the cutting edge of exploiting peoples desperation.

      Or something.

  • Carbon Dated

    But Huff Post also promises writers the opportunity to be read and someday, that far distant someday, maybe you can get paid too!

    Does HuffPo really make a promise about this “maybe” future ? Somehow I doubt it.

    Erik is suggesting that the contributors get nothing in return for their “work.” Of course they get something: a large audience to absorb their drivel. It’s actually an excellent deal for these “writers” because they enjoy the pretense of being published, no matter that their contributions would have been rejected by the Daily Shopper. It’s like a vanity press only the hacks don’t have to actually pay for it.

    • matth

      Thanks to the internet, we’ve discovered that you don’t actually have to pay people to get them to share their political opinions and/or blurry pictures of their genitals.

    • Lindsay Beyerstein

      When HuffPo is accused of exploiting its unpaid contributors, it defends itself by saying that the bloggers are working for “exposure” rather than money. Supposedly, this is a mutually beneficial arrangement because “exposure” is worth something for your career, or your media brand, or whatever.

      In fairness, The HuffPo demands very, very little of its unpaid bloggers. They don’t have to meet deadlines, or quotas. They can write about whatever they want with only the most minimal editorial oversight. They can repost the same content to their personal blogs or other publications. A lot of people use the space to promote their book or their foundation or whatever.

      So, if the bloggers are giving very little for commensurately little benefit, it’s hard to get worked up about it.

      If public shaming can make HuffPo pay its bloggers a token amount, I’m all for it. They don’t have to, but like all big companies, they cherish their public image.

      • Scott Lemieux

        This is what’s tricky for me; if I understand correctly, most HuffPo unpaid bloggers basically use it as a platform.

  • It is quite easy. Yglesias treated as an adult is somewhere on a spectrum, a spectrum of technocratic chunderknobs, with little true expertise in any area. A generalist with a broader knowledge than Joe Blow, but no real experience, and one who rediscovers the wheel and pockets the Super Mario coins into his intellectual bank account as if no one has ever solved that level of the game before.

    Treated as a child, he would be cutely precocious and we’d applaud how smart he is. Eventually, we’d want him to graduate to a sophisticated level. He really is a turd.

    • gimmeliberty

      Yglesias isn’t the one coming out of this post looking like a turd.

      • He looked that way going in.

  • shah8

    You know what? I think I’m a good commenter. I should get paid for creating useful comments that drive eyeballs to all these blogs.

    Pay me or I’ll hold my fucking breath and you’ll have to pay for my fucking funeral!

    • The Fool

      No, see, since Lawyers Guns and Money isn’t a large corporation it is free to exploit the common poster without scruple! After all, the basic tenet of progressive thought is about making sure that large corporations pay. Smaller entities can go about squeezing the blood out of their labor for all progressives care!

  • fanshawe

    “His slighting of teachers’ unions and support for anti-worker, anti-student education reform has always been the weakest subject in his writings.”

    I guess you’ve never read any of his basketball posts.

    • How about on education?

      • jeer9

        Yes. He is truly awful on education and teacher unions. His inane statements about reform are repeatedly corrected by readers with more experience and knowledge which he then ignores in order to post something even more ill-informed the next week. Abysmal.

        • John

          This is the worst. It’s not just that he has terrible views. It’s that he repeats the same already debunked arguments over and over again without any acknowledgement of the counterarguments his readers have made. That he then strawmans opponents’ views unapologetically makes it even worse.

          • N W Barcus

            How like his former roommate McArdle.

  • tpb

    I agree that Yglesias both misunderstood or misconstrued Loomis’s argument. Unlike Rich C as someone who has been involved with two union organizing drives, both successful, and belonged to 3 unions, Yglesias is both anti-worker and anti-union. His anti-worker stance is driven by his mindless embrace of Neo-liberalism. Emblematic of this silliness is he constant use of market-based solutions to the education “crisis.”

    And, for what it’s worth, if HuffPo and the rest of the intertubes profit making nonpayment sites can get along without the free labor, then they ought, oughtn’t they?

    • gimmeliberty

      Yglesias’ very next post lambastes Newt Gingrich and the right-to-work movement by demonstrating statistically (though poorly, granted) that anti-union legislation has a negative impact on employment rates and economic growth.

      That’s a strange kind of anti-union. It looks to me like there’s some ideological gatekeeping going on here.

      • No, really there’s no ideological gatekeeping from me. Would I like to see some major blogger on the progressive blogosphere actually report seriously on labor strikes, international labor issues, include voices from unions, etc? Yes. Yglesias gets my wrath more because he doesn’t support teacher unions and that makes me angry. But it’s not like many of the big progressive bloggers are really any better. As someone said in a previous comment, Yglesias is at just more honest about not much caring about unions.

        But certainly a post like the one you mention is appreciated. I hope he writes more posts like that.

        • How about actually arguing with Yglesias about the merits of teachers’ unions, instead of tired trust-fund-baby-baiting? You’re big enough to attack the ideas, not the person.

          I get that you get gooey about unions. I grew up as a red-diaper baby too. But Yglesias actually makes arguments instead of huffs that he’s a professor.

          • Malaclypse

            Because Yglesias will read stuff posted here, but won’t read his own comments? I’ve seem him comment more here (once) than his own place (never).

            • The Fool

              Actually he commented once on the new comment system! I’d look for it but knowing that site it’s already disappeared into the ether.

          • djw

            instead of tired trust-fund-baby-baiting?
            I get that you get gooey about unions. I grew up as a red-diaper baby too.

            I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that rhetorical juxtaposition was meant ironically…

          • John

            Yglesias’s commenters argue with him on the merits about teacher’s unions every damned time he posts on it, and he hasn’t once bothered to consider their arguments.

        • jonnybutter

          Yglesias criticizes teachers unions sometimes. I don’t think that makes him anti-union in general. I do think he can be a bit blithe in his neo-liberalism sometimes, but the antidote to that is argument, not stupid ad hominem attacks.

          The biggest problem the US faces at the moment is a political one: a reactionary, borderline disloyal right wing which is impervious to rational argument, and no countervailing political force to effectively oppose it. There are ALSO some unresolved areas in new media as regards labor, and this proposed boycott of HuffPo effectively addresses almost none of them, doesn’t make sense on the face of it (bloggers can’t promote their own blogs via HuffPo?) in addition to being practically guaranteed to fail on its own terms. This is a truly ridiculous brouha.

          BTW, I mostly boycott HuffPo now, because it’s a bloated piece of shit, and there’s very little published there I feel the need to read. Good luck getting people who NEED TO KNOW Brad Pitt’s mood on any given day to stop clicking HuffPo because they publish unpaid blogger stuff. And of course the site is overvalued – click whoring is not the wave of the future; give it a little time, and there will be a new situation.

          I do think that people need to get paid more for work they do on the internet. But the current model for generating income (advertising) is probably an interim one anyway.

  • strannix

    Three practical questions about this boycott:

    1) What, exactly, is being demanded of HuffPost? Will any pittance do, say 1 cent per 1000 contributions? I assume some measure of fair pay is at issue here, but how are these terms defined? There doesn’t seem to be any negotiation or even attempts at negotiation here, just demands.

    2) Who, exactly, is doing the demanding? What I mean is, it doesn’t seem like this boycott is being fueled by an attempt at collective bargaining. Instead, it seems like outside interests (i.e., journalist guilds) are intervening on their own accord, for reasons that are not immediately obvious to me given the HuffPost structure.

    3) Who exactly is going to be better off if the boycott succeeds? I can’t see this afffecting the vast, vast majority of bloggers, who by and large generate very little traffic. It’s more likely that HuffPost will instead limit the number of contributions in various ways, but that won’t help these bloggers either, and actually leaves them worse off. Are these unions really prepared to represent thousands of unpaid, unskilled bloggers? I don’t see how or why they would be, or how the bloggers would be better off if they did.

    If I’m being asked to support something, I want to know what it is. Not that I don’t appreciate the “LABOR!! FUCK YEAH!!” sentiment at heart here, but there’s a lot of murkiness around even these basic questions.

    The Mike Elk column posted in the earlier thread even talks about a “picket line” being crossed – but there’s no organized work action being taken here, as far as I can tell. There’s just a call by organizations to boycott, and suddenly we’re all expected to rally around the cause just because of some platitudes about as progressives we owe it to labor.

    Well, color me a little more skeptical.

  • Dan Miller

    I really think you need to do more work on this one. The Youtube issue is a real one, and to shrug it off based on lack of knowledge is pretty weak sauce.

    • Malaclypse

      Okay. I’m guessing that most of what actually gets watched on YouTube – not most of the content, but most of the viewed content, is copyrighted material posted by corporations as a form of free advertising. So this is not a matter of unequal bargaining power.

      Also, and I think this question is key – if someone writes for HuffPo, who holds copyright, the publisher or the author?

      • Rob

        Big traffic drivers on youtube can make money

      • gimmeliberty

        HuffPo’s business model seems to strike me as being as much about content aggregation as content production. FunnyOrDie actually seems like the best parallel – they also mix in-house production with user-created content. The people that FunnyOrDie pays to make content drive the vast majority of the traffic, while the people submitting their own creations are generally thrilled to have a platform. Some of them really are struggling comedians hoping to go viral. But if you were to take away FunnyOrDie, it’s not as if anyone would pay them for their creation anyway.

        For those folks, FunnyOrDie as an aggregation service is providing them something valuable: eyeballs. It’s providing websurfers something valuable: potentially funny content. But it’s not FunnyOrDie’s content, and I’m not sure why FunnyOrDie should pay for the videos that people are dying to put up for free, any more than YouTube or DailyKos (which I think also has paid staff writers, and turns a profit).

        I don’t read HuffPo, so I can’t tell you if its business model is too similar. But I suspect it is. And the type of thinking that says they need to pay all their contributors strikes me as being somewhat out of touch with the differences between traditional manufacturing economics and internet economics. Content is cheap on the internet – eyeballs are valuable.

        • The Fool

          I hadn’t thought about FunnyOrDie. Yeah, that’s a more on-point comparison than Youtube, although I think the Partner program might actually give a platform more concrete than demand for a just wage.

      • Jake

        The default is the Huffington Post owns the copyright of everything posted on the site, although it looks like that can be modified: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/terms.html

        I see the blog aspect of the Huffington Post as similar to a newspaper’s classifieds section or Craigslist. They are providing posters with a venue where the poster’s content can be read by a large audience. Classified ads are user-generated and create value for the newspaper, but since the ads are an effective way to reach an audience, people are willing to produce the content and pay for the privilege of posting it. Craigslist and HuffPo provide access to their valuable venue for free.

  • brandon

    First, that he believes the blogosphere is a meritocracy and that he is read because he earned it. Well, that’s not entirely untrue of course. But I made the point in the post that the blogosphere was all about timing. Yglesias was right on that, much like Klein, Marcotte, Valenti, Kos, and many others. This site, in a lesser way, benefited from the same good timing. Nothing wrong with that. So that’s absolutely not meant as an attack. But a 22 year old today wanting to write about politics simply can’t become what Yglesias became.

    The one thing about blogs that I don’t think you have a correct understanding of is this: there isn’t a blogosphere. There are blogospheres. Out on the internet entire little communities grow that talk amongst themselves, but not to each other, so if you follow one blogblob* it’s not easy to find another one unless you go looking. But the blogosphere you are referring to is just one of them, and not necessarily the most populous. Elsewhere, there are tech blog groups that are even older than your home blogosphere, and blog groups based on Tumblr that are launching professional writers: a number of the not-already-famous people on Grantland, for example. So it’s not quite as simple a picture as what you’ve painted, in terms of internet geography.

    I agree with the general thrust of your post in terms of writing-for-money and labor issues. No arguments there.

    *This is a much better term than “blogosphere”, isn’t it?

    • soullite

      If Matt is read because he earned it, explain me and the rest of his commenters.

      Most of us read him to laugh at his idiocy. I saw vaguely-trollish shit here and people hate me. I said it there and got like 20-50 ‘likes’ a day. Now he shut down that aspect of his blog, and all of 5 people are willing to comment there.

      He got the job because he’s an aristocrat, and got his readership because he’s a clueless upper-class twit and those of us who hate him and his ilk like to go there and argue with his upper-class twit followers.

      • Having read Yglesias’ comments pretty regularly for some reason God only knows, let’s be honest: there are far more people there laughing at you than there are laughing at Yglesias.

        • witless chum

          That’s because next to Triathalon, Don Williams, the Israel everything crowd, that Anthony guy, all the crazy conservatives and Hector, Soulite, you come off much more reasonably.

          I miss the insanity of that comment section. And I hope Al is well, wherever he is.

  • Even Marx only thought socially necessary labor creates value. And you can’t determine whether something is socially necessary except by finding out whether there is demand for it. If there’s no demand for it, it’s a hobby. And demand means willingness to pay, not just willingness to read.

    If someone wants to write on the chance someone else will read it, and feels compensated for that reason, then they are not hurting anyone. Sanctimonious labor history professors are free to read something else, but I can know all the words to every song Joe Hill ever wrote and feel free to disagree.

  • soullite

    I’m pretty sure that a place where you’re never more than three clicks away from pictures of dicks isn’t a workplace.

    There is nothing more annoying than old people demanding that the internet be treated like a some staid place where they should never have to be exposed to anything that makes them uncomfortable.

    You don’t get to decide what the internet is. It is not your thing. It is our thing. WE get to decide what it is, and what it will grow into. Enjoy your last few decades of life, and stop trying to force the world that is now into the box of the world that was then.

    • Hope I d-d-d-die before I get this moronic.

    • Malaclypse

      It is not your thing. It is our thing.

      And “your thing” is run by people a lot older than Loomis, who know better than to spout platitudes about how cool it is to be young and clueless.

      “Your thing” was developed by DARPA grants, and is now run by large, for-profit corporations. It is not now, never was, and never will be, “your thing.”

    • John

      I’m pretty sure that nowhere on the internet is more than three clicks away from pictures of dicks.

      • mark f

        I’m pretty sure that nowhere on the internet is more than three clicks away from pictures of dicks.

        Does anyone really doubt they could find with little effort someone at work to show them dick pics?

  • CrazyTrain

    Well, Matt, why don’t you become part of the internet proletariat for awhile and find out? Quit cashing your paychecks. Write for free.

    Ugh. This reminds me of conservatives who respond to comments from me and other progressives that we think taxes ought to be raised to Clinton-era levels with the comment that we are hypocrites because we just don’t pay those amounts voluntarily to the federal government.

    • The Romans had a name for this argumentative move, even though they didn’t have the Internet.

  • richard

    Can anyone show me anything where HuffPost has made a promise to its contributors about antyhing – future job chances, other writing gigs, increased traffic on their blogs, etc? I’d be very interested to learn that this is the case. My understanding is that Arianna solicits people to submit articles and makes no promises whatsoever except to state what the current eyeball count on HuffPost is. The authors may believe that exposure on HuffPost will lead to other things but that this is based on their own expectations, wishes, dreams, etc – not based on anything said to them by anyone at HuffPost.

    I think many people contribute to HuffPost because they want to be heard by a larger audience – not based on illusory hopes of future financial remuneration- and in that sense I don’t see these writers as constituting a labor force in any traditional sense

    Also are any of the current contributors to HuffPost organizing to demand pay or is all the organizing coming from people who don’t contribute?
    (I write as someone who finds Arianna and her site to be offputting – the only time I read it is when I see a link to an article that seems interesting or important to read. I’m certainly not going to boycott it)

    • Richard, I suggest actually going through the lawsuit if you want to delve into that question. I don’t think the specific claims are going make any dent in net discussion, due to the tendency of such discussions to be about principles of what people think is the moral order, specifics irrelevant. But there are interesting details there, if anyone really cares about them.

  • encephalopath

    The Screen Actors Guild and various other entertainment business unions exist for exactly the reasons this discussion details.

    • And if the Amalgamated Bloggers union is formed, should they form virtual picket lines around all the scabs writing for free? Come to think of it, what does SAG do about all the amateur video on Youtube? Presumably nothing, but they can still function because there is still a bright line between amateur and professional film content. This is not the case for writing, it seems.

      I’m pretty bemused by the efforts to slot new economy work into old economy thinking. This is not to say that the people who are at the unpaid end of the stick don’t have some real issues, but trying to solve them with industrial-age models seems doomed.

      • Why would SAG do anything about the amateur videos on YouTube?

        Now, the *professional* ones, yes, in fact, they do, which is why YouTube cracks down on illegal posting of music videos and clips of movies…well, SAG and the producers, I should add.

      • The new economy runs on free.

  • Scott Lemieux

    To take on a side issue, 1)in general, Ygleasias is in fact pretty good on labor issues, and 2)while I think he’s wrong on education, the wrongness comes from being mistaken about the efficacy of standardized testing as opposed to being anti-union per se. He’s not Mickey Kaus.

    • No, certainly I wouldn’t argue Yglesias is even in the same universe as Kaus. I don’t think Yglesias sees unions as particularly important or worth covering. The teachers unions he is particularly bad on. But he’s not seeing unions as his enemy like Kaus does.

      • I think he’ll eventually get to that destination.

      • “I don’t think Yglesias sees unions as particularly important…”

        So you don’t read very much of Yglesias’ writing about unions then?

    • shah8

      regarding the second point, he’s not talking about the efficacy of standardized testing in general. Yglesias is essentially making the same arguments that asian people who defend the college entry test, in that the important thing is about a little bit of good reaching the most people, the biggest fetch over the populace. The problem with better solutions that you or I are familiar with is that they are labor intensive and unpredictable, in terms of information flow and resulting quality of results.

      If you really want argue with Yglesias at the base of his value system, you’re gonna have to argue against intensive state-directed education programs, and advocate for a montage of education systems that compete for students, which is a solution he obviously seems in favor of. Arguing with him against testing and against charter schools with their own solutions actually does require delicate argumentation and proposals that incorporate multiple corporate agencies that organizes without central authority, but with central planning (no, not the invisible hand for charter schools).

      He’s just not saying any of this without some degree of thought. I think he’s wrong about education, and some of the outright wierd stuff he sez is wrong, wrong, wrong, but he’s saying this out of a genuine intellectual construct that probably should be rigorously challenged, because his sentiments are not genuinely uncommon among policymakers.

  • Masterfade

    Matt is an out of touch elitist who grew up in New York and went to Dalton and Harvard. This doesn’t necessarily make you a narcissistic asshole, but in this case I recommend watching his twitter for a few days. It’s telling.

    He’s a smart writer in many cases but hardly sympathizes with working class people except in the most theoretical/abstract way.

    Loomis also makes very good points about the lack of meritocracy in the blogosphere as it is presently constituted.

    • I guess arguing about whether he sympathizes with the working class is probably pointless, but I will absolutely see that I rarely see any blogger give a more full throated and sustain defense of the interests of poor people than Yglesias does on a regular basis.

      • mark f


    • strannix

      If he was really all that bad, you’d be able to point out bad things he’s done, instead of resorting to ad hominem attacks against his upbringing.

  • Christopher

    Yglesias is just the worst. Not because of his morals, but because of a process I call “The Y Factor”:

    Your step by step guide to arguments with Matthew Yglesias:

    I’ll use an older example to establish a pattern:

    1. Yglesias stakes out an entirely reasonable, defensible position. As I understand it in this case, it is, “The CPI leaves out certain goods that are important, but there’s actually very good reasons for that”.

    2. He then makes a brick stupid argument for his position: “What, the peasants have no bananas? Then let them eat iPods.”

    3. Someone points out that he sounds like Marie Antoinette (and hasn’t even come close to making a good argument).

    4. Yglesias’ fans immediately jump in in the comments and castigate the critic for engaging with the argument Yglesias actually made, and ignoring the imaginary argument he should have made. The imaginary argument for the way we calculate the CPI is actually quite good, and IOZ looks very bad for not being able to refute it.

    Every. God. Damned. Time. Like, this HuffPost situation is clearly complicated, and it’s true, you can’t simply brush away YouTube and pretend that those kinds of websites are irrelevant to the issue.

    On the other hand, Yglesias argument is “What, you think the miners should actually be getting paid? Well maybe everybody should get paid for everything! We should close down all the soup kitchens, that’ll make the world a better place, right? I mean, those nasty people are giving money to soup companies and tureen manufacturers, so clearly they’re evil too! Volunteer work is either ALWAYS good, or ALWAYS bad, and no other position makes sense.”

    An argument which is so brick stupid that it doesn’t even deserve a rebuttal.

    • Emma in Sydney

      Christopher, now you’ve reminded me that IOZ has gone away and I has a sad.

    • thehova83

      This post is true and hilarious.

    • But….what….about….the merits. For the love of God, think about the poor merits and their cheap iPods.

  • Murc

    I haven’t been active in either this thread or the other thread, but I’m going to attempt to re-cast the debate in terms that I think are helpful. This may be a fools errand.

    What Erik seems to proposing is this: If you are leveraging peoples labor in a way that nets you generous financial returns, even in situations in which the TANGIBLE value of said peoples labor is so low to them that they’re willing to give it away for free, you should compensate those people.

    That’s definitely controversial, in that there are plenty of people who are going to say that it doesn’t matter.

    I’d also like to note that despite HuffPo not making any overt claims as to what writing for them will or will not lead to, follow my logic here: the people running HuffPo know that there are a lot of writers out there who’d like to be the next Duncan Black or Matt Yglesias.

    They also know that REGARDLESS OF SKILL, most of these people will FAIL, because there are already Duncan Blacks and Matt Yglesias’ occupying the relevant niches, and that the emergence of new and prominent online writers these days is often as much due to luck or connections as anything else.

    That creates an opportunity for them to monetize the labor of all those who are hoping to be the next breakout blogger; they don’t have to pay those people anything, because there’s tons of them, and if they apply a basic skill filter of their own they can skim off the best and make what money they can off that talent. And HuffPo had the capital AND the connections to establish itself with a great big splash and so become a blogging mainstay THAT way, which, say, a political science postgrad with a blogger account can’t.

    Does HuffPo actually have to admit that they’re exploiting the dreams of many writers in order to make fat coin? Can’t we infer that using logic? The reason that professional writers in Hollywood have a union today is because they realized that there would always be a shit-ton more of them than the market would bear, and studios would exploit that, so they banded together and established a framework where even though there’s so much writing talent sloshing around that the market value for it is very low, they get their fair share of the profits (and worker protections to boot) anyway.

    TV and movie studios never ADMITTED they were using the vast talent pool to depress wages, but everyone knew it was happening. We can’t also know this is happening with HuffPo?

    I have some thoughts on the YouTube analogy, but I’m still getting them in order.

    • What Erik seems to proposing is this: If you are leveraging peoples labor in a way that nets you generous financial returns, even in situations in which the TANGIBLE value of said peoples labor is so low to them that they’re willing to give it away for free, you should compensate those people.


      • Does this mean that Google owes me money for indexing my content and using my links as an infinitesimal part of their algorithm? Or Jimmy Wales owes Wikipedia contributors money?

        I know there are people who answer yes to the above questions. And indeed, that might be fair, but I can’t see a way to make it work.

        • Is Wikipedia a for profit enterprise?

          • No. But people have complained that Wikipedia also has gains to the central “owners” (Jimmy Wales) are raking in fat speaker fees and other monies, based on the uncompensated works of others.

      • Dan Miller

        The implications of this are pretty far-reaching. At a minimum, letters to the editor would be right out, and so would the concept of Creative Commons images illustrating posts on pro blogs (not to mention my one brush with Internet glory, which I wrote for free–linked by Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan!).

        At the end of the day, blogging just isn’t similar to flipping burgers or mining coal–there will always be a bunch of people willing to do it for free, because they like the vanity or the influence or whatever. Trying to get in the way of that is a futile endeavor.

        • Murc

          That’s what people used to say about television and movie writers, Dan. They managed to unionize and demand fair compensation pretty well.

          And if a newspaper editor decided ‘Hey, I know! I’ll encourage people to as many letters to the editor to us as possible, skim the best ones, then bind them all together in a big book and sell that!’ and it turned out that that was a business model which was worth a ton of money, with multiple volumes coming out every year, I would say that guy is kind of a douche for not passing any of that cash on to the people who made it possible, EVEN IF THEY KNEW THEY WERE WRITING FOR FREE.

          Why do people keep taking this particular situation and running with it to logical extremes? I mean, what the hell? You can come up with an exception to damn near any economic, ethical, or moral principle if you think hard enough.

          • elm

            Why do people keep taking this particular situation and running with it to logical extremes?

            Forget it, Murc. It’s the internet.

          • Whether the writers should organize and try to bargain for compensation and whether it’s morally outrageous if HuffPo decides one way or another that there’s not enough marginal value there to justify paying them are two separate issues.

          • Dan Miller

            Most exceptions aren’t nearly this blatant or unreasonable. Following Erik’s logic here would mean that anyone releasing a photo under CC-BY was being exploited, and so were all the people writing letters to the editor. That seems totally unreasonable to me.

      • Brett Turner

        Where is the factual support for the premise that HuffPo is making “generous financial returns” off its unpaid bloggers?

        The only hard facts I have seen are in Nate Silver’s piece, which I linked to in the other thread, suggesting pretty strongly that HuffPo’s unpaid bloggers get very few page views. If very few people are reading them, how are they creating value?

        I actually agree that HuffPo has at least a moral obligation to share “generous financial returns” earned from its unpaid bloggers. But where is the evidence that any “generous financial returns” are present?

    • strategichamlet

      So which did Nate Silver make it on, luck or connections? How about Ta-Nehisi Coates?

      • Silver is the exception that proves the rule. He had a tremendously specialized skill set that had a huge market and that no one had developed. The average or even well above average person does not have that.

        • strategichamlet

          I tend to think that average people, with no special market of their own, not making a living writing on the internet is the norm and that the era when they could was an aberration. I also don’t see how this is HuffPo’s fault.

        • elm

          OK, this is my pet peeve: rule can have exceptions, but exceptions do not prove the rule!

          • N W Barcus

            In this case “prove” means “to test”, not “show to be true” … but a quick Wikipedia search indicates there may be other interpretations.

      • Lindsay Beyerstein

        Ta-Nehisi Coates is a self-made man and a very talented writer, but he’s not a self-made blogger in the sense that he built a readership from complete obscurity by blogging for free on his own site. He was an established magazine journalist who had already published a memoir before he became a paid professional blogger with the Atlantic Monthly. His success story is not an example of how you become a success by writing for free on the internet until your blog gets big enough to live on. Coates was making a living by writing before The Atlantic Monthly hired him to blog.

        Digby and Amanda Marcotte are better examples of self-made independent bloggers.

  • Yglesias is hardly right about everything. But what I like about him is that he lacks the sense you often find on the left that people deserve moral credit (or blame) for their opinions. Opinions are right or wrong. You argue with them.

    Loomis strikes me as precisely the kind of preening lefty labor history professor who wants the glamor from other people’s struggles to rub off on him.

    • Loomis strikes me as precisely the kind of preening lefty labor history professor who wants the glamor from other people’s struggles to rub off on him.

      This makes less sense than any comment I have ever read.

    • How does one argue with Yglesias? He ignores people that comment there and has for years, he rarely updates his posts when he is wrong to the nth degree and doesn’t acknowledge any opinions from his “non-equals.” He is a cartoon.

    • witless chum

      Yglesias is hardly right about everything. But what I like about him is that he lacks the sense you often find on the left that people deserve moral credit (or blame) for their opinions. Opinions are right or wrong. You argue with them.

      This is a good point. I think that’s why Yglesias had so many more conservative commenters who seemed to engage him instead of shouting at him.

      I dunno about the point that I evaluate your opinions according to my morals and decide whether they’re up to snuff. Possibly I don’t understand something.

      Loomis strikes me as precisely the kind of preening lefty labor history professor who wants the glamor from other people’s struggles to rub off on him.

      This is just dickheaded nonsense. And if it’s true, so what?

      • witless chum

        Oops. Above should say “I dunno about the point that I CAN’T evaluate your opinions according to my morals and decide whether they’re up to snuff. Possibly I don’t understand something”

  • Jason

    What the hell is up with all the ad hominem attacks on Yglesias in this thread? Even if he’s as wrong as wrong can be about this issue, the spite, the resentment, and the more-progressive-than-thou preening are bizarre. Usually the progressive blogosphere, or at any rate this corner of it, doesn’t succumb so totally to the narcissism of small differences.

    • witless chum

      This. I mean, we’d be a better country if we had more class warfare for its own sake, but Matt’s better on a lot of issues than he could be. He’s been pretty forthright about admitting he was wrong about Iraq and seems to have learned some lessons for that.

  • I just want to add that, as someone who has videos posted to YouTube, they’ve actually offered to share ad revenues with me based on the number of hits a video gets, after a certain threshold.

  • You know, I think the first post might have been better if Erik had included something like the Newspaper Guild’s actual request:

    The Newspaper Guild and Visual Art Source urge others to join forces and no longer contribute their labor until the following demands are met: 

    ● A pay schedule must be proposed and steps initiated to implement it for all contributing writers and bloggers; and,

    ● Paid promotional material must no longer be posted alongside editorial content; a press release or exhibition catalogue essay is fundamentally different from editorial content and must be either segregated and indicated as such, or not published at all.


Four things you can do NOW, if you choose to join this effort: 

    ● Stop providing free content to Huffington Post and let your editor know you are choosing to take this action and what your demands are if he/she would like to keep you writing for HP (see above);

    ● Please respond and let us know you’re on board and that we are allowed to use your name in any press materials we send out regarding this strike;

    ● Please pass along the names and e-mail addresses of your colleagues who contribute to the Huffington Post so that we may ask for their support;

    ● Send a letter to your local media op-ed section letting them know how you feel about this situation. 

    I think that’s perfectly reasonable and pretty easy to abide by, given that most of us seem to think HuffPo is usually shit.

    Also: Dear Newspaper Guild, I dunno what kind of fucking encoding you use on your website but you might wanna find one that doesn’t spit out oddball characters on the two Windows browsers I’m using. Not very newspapery.

    • Also I can’t help but think that taxing the living shit out of corporations and rich assholes like Huffington might provide enough of a social cushion that I wouldn’t much care about who was using my work to drive traffic. Guaranteed minimum income!

      • Huh-freakin-zah

      • I am sure Matt would agree to this as soon as he finishes extolling the virtues of the Olive Garden.

  • I’m just going to go back to a point that mostly got shuffled around and the last thread and just note that the real problem is that the bloggers in question aren’t really labor. The full time employees of HuffPo with actual obligations and responsibilities are labor, and they are paid. So far as I know the bloggers in question are under no particular obligation to provide labor to get their work published, and voluntarily submit content to HuffPo for publication knowing they wouldn’t be monetarily compensated.

    The Huffington Post is a useless joke of a website, but this is just a silly controversy ginned up by people looking to get some money they were never promised and supported by newspapers and their employees for the purpose of knee-capping HuffPo.

  • Ragout

    When the exploited HuffPost bloggers, or even a determined minority, call for a boycott, I’ll be very sympathetic. But as far as I can tell, very few have supported the boycott. If the vast majority of HuffPost bloggers aren’t demanding to be paid, I think I can best support them by also not demanding that they be paid.

  • One thing that Yglesias should have learned is if its not about you don’t make it about you. And don’t start none there won’t be none. If he is not careful in four years he will be occupying the same place that Megan McArdle does. At least it pays well.

    • Anonymous

      If he is not careful in four years he will be occupying the same place that Megan McArdle does.

      Well-paid and unfireable? I’m pretty sure he will be very careful precisely so that he ends up in exactly that place.

      • Malaclypse

        above was me.

      • Actually, he doesn’t sit on her lap when they go to dinner, so the space he occupies is across the table.

  • Michael Drew

    I’m really starting to think that Yglesias is just letting himself be lazy on certain issues. Labor & education are among them, though I think his education views aren’t so much born out of laziness as out of a combination of wrongheadedness and lack of rigor in his thought, which i suppose amounts to laziness (I guess he’s just starting from a place of greater wrongness there). In any case, if he is notg oing to put the energy into issues that is necessary to get them right, or at least right to the extent that his views are well-thought-out and respectable, (such as, for him, issues like urban planning and immigration), then he should really just step aside and let those who can spare the energy to do that. Not that he doesn’t have the right…

    • If by “well-thought-out views on urban planning” you mean “cleverly aping Duncan Black” then, yeah.

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  • Bart

    I’ve stopped ready Matt because of his bizarre new comment system filtering through four portals I don’t use.

  • charles pierce

    Or, conversely, if young Matthew actually ever had worked in the old lamestream media like many of the rest of us did — and do — he would realize that “why shouldn’t people write for free?” is precisely the endpoint of every management strategy in the history of newspapers. Murdoch, Hearst, or Huffington, all those greedy bastards are exactly the same. And, when you adopt that particular point of view, you sell out the people who aren’t Matthew Fucking Yglesias at the peril of us all. Dr. Johnson had the right of it — nobody but a fool ever wrote except for money.

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  • Ralph Hitchens

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t a lot, maybe most of the HuffPost contributors have real, paying jobs? Most of the HuffPost articles are short, & may not reflect a huge investment of time, right? People publish for various reasons, & money may not be the most important. I write book reviews for various military history publications. One or two have paid me, others (including the prestigious Journal of Military History) don’t. But I write these reviews because I want to express my opinions, blow my own horn as a military history expert of sorts. The money I’ve been paid (by Vietnam Magazine & a couple of others) is chump change. I get satisfaction seeing my name in print, & I bet a lot of the HuffPost contributors feel the same way.

  • Thank you.

    I write for free on a blog, and consider it a privilege. The blog, Angry Black Lady Chronicles, gets much more traffic than the little WordPress operation I set up for myself a few years ago. I considered myself successful when I got 40 hits on a post.

    I benefit greatly from the exposure I get because Angry Black Lady invited me to join her team. My recent post on the roots of Weinergate in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings has drawn close to 14,000 views and counting, and was linked to by Crooks & Liars, The Reid Report, and others, and was the subject of a brief post by Andrew Sullivan.

    I am unpaid because the entire blog is an unpaid labor of love for ABL. There is no paid advertising or other revenue stream generated by the site.

    If ABL were earning income from the site, I would negotiate with her for a share based on some reasonable parameter such as the percentage of traffic my posts bring. And she would gladly come to an agreement with me, and we would proceed with a mutually beneficial business relationship.

    It’s really this simple, no matter how hard Yglesias (and Ezra Klein) bob and weave and try to make it about something else.

  • ABL

    I am the aforementioned Angry Black Lady, and not only would I be entirely open to any revenue sharing arrangement, I can’t imagine making as much money off the backs of other writers as Arianna has and feeling indignant that the writers would expect to be treated fairly.

  • In my opinion, the problem is more than just Arianna’s model of not paying the “citizen journalists”, but also the way HP has transformed over the years. I had it as my home page for a while, when it was still left-leaning and focused primarily on politics. As the salacious entertainment started creeping in, so did the misleading headlines that made me click to read, only to find out the story either didn’t say what the headline screamed or many times, said the opposite of the headline. I started to feel manipulated, tricked and used.

    And as President Obama took office, the site pretty quickly devolved into a bash Obama site. Health care reform was the start of it. They had every unflattering photo ever taken of the President and portrayed him in a borderline racist way. I quit reading about then.

    When she sold out to AOL, whose CEO is a known right-wing conservative, I audibly gasped when I read it. She was back to her right-wing roots. I imagined her and Newt skipping through Central Park together. ON the announcement, she talked about how similar her and Tim Armstrong’s views were. Yeah boy, not only did she build the website on the backs of mostly liberal bloggers and anger towards President Bush, but she then turned on the liberals, started to slant back to the right and then sold out to a right-winger. In her appearances, she kept emphasizing that HP wasn’t liberal. But for years, she gladly was introduced as representing the liberal HP.

    On paying bloggers. Really, how hard would it have been for Arianna to throw a little money at those people who helped build her empire. Shit, she could have taken a couple hundred thousand dollars and thrown each writer a nice bonus with a thank you card. Even if it were a token amount, it would have been something.

    And how freakin hard would it be for her to institute a new system where writers could work into getting paid. Maybe after so many articles or so much traffic, a small stipend kicks in. Why the hell not?

    Oh, and you can visit my blog and donate if you like, but only if you can afford it.

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