Dan Olson Gets It 98% Right

Everyone who has any interest in their corner of the world’s information infrastructure – or for that matter the whole of the world’s information infrastructure – should watch Dan Olson’s masterful video Line Goes Up at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQ_xWvX1n9g. It’s subtitled “The Problem With NFTs,” but it’s about so much more, covering the whole of the blockchain-based landscape. It's is very long; and 98% of it is brilliant and needs to be watched by… everyone.

The 2+ hour video, packed with pithy, detailed information about the crazy directions taken by Web 3.0, ends with a couple minutes of Olson showing where he’s coming from.

He’s a union man. He rails against the tendency of so many digital developments to consolidate power into the hands of billionaires.

And I will rail right along with him. This concentration of wealth and power keeps growing to destructive proportions.

But Olson’s remedy, or rather his stance, is built on something that bears examination. To make my point, let me start by shining a light on Plumbers & Gasfitters UA Local 12 – the Boston plumbers’ “union.”

I put “union” in quotes because it’s really a guild rather than a labor union.

What’s the difference, you ask?

It’s quite simple. A union exists to fight for its members’ interests against an adversary.

A guild exists to further its members’ interests. Period. No need for an adversary.

Plumbers & Gasfitters UA Local 12 will provide its member with everything from elementary training in the plumbing trade, to assistance with launching one’s own plumbing business. There’s no “stick it to the man” attitude about Local 12; it exists only to help its members, whether they work full time for a plumbing business, or build their own business, or work as a freelancer for a plumbing business – in other words, the gig work that Olson suggests is a victimization scheme.

Unions that must find an enemy to fight, just like armies in war, are a manifestation of a failure. It means that someone found it impossible to work together to build and operate a productive organization or a peaceful nation. This is not to say that the struggle didn’t start with a genuine oppressor rather than with the union or the army. But regardless of who started it, the necessity of a fight indicates a failure.

And all too often, unions find it necessary to create an enemy in order to justify their dues. That often leads to a strike, meaning both employer and union member go without. How can that be seen as good?

I’m on a few boards, including a couple of classical music organizations. I cringe at the thought of the number of opportunities in this streaming-driven music economy that have been lost to European orchestras because musicians’ unions have seen digital music as an opportunity to create a new battleground and thus show their members how they fight the good fight on their behalf.

Fight? Really? Do they think someone’s getting rich managing classical orchestras? The musicians need a guild rather than a union. Both musician and management need to work together to drag audiences off the couch and into the concert hall.

Anyway, don’t let this guild vs. union discussion distract you from the main message of the video. Watch the whole thing. It’s the most valuable way you can spend a couple hours right now.