Since Johnson’s entire book relies on anecdotal evidence, I feel comfortable mustering some of my own in response. In August 2012, with her new solo album on the verge of release, Amanda Palmer took to the Internet again with another request. This time, she was looking for professional-caliber string musicians to play for free on her tour. “we [sic] will feed you beer, hug/high-five you up and down (pick your poison), give you merch, and thank you mightily for adding to the big noise we are planning to make,” she wrote.
The public reaction this time wasn’t as positive, with many surprised that a woman who raised $1.2 million couldn’t afford to pay professional musicians for their time. Palmer, under national media scrutiny, ultimately decided to pay the musicians, which is perhaps a sign that crowdfunding allows fans some oversight on the projects they support. But I think it’s worth examining Palmer’s initial reaction. Peer progressivism doesn’t just incidentally encourage the use of free labor. The entire system relies on it. First you try it, then you depend on it, then the whole industry depends on it, and then there is no industry.
The peer progressives, one suspects, would be content if everyone in their networks were paid in beer and hugs. But somebody’s still earning money, be it Amanda Palmer, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, or Steven Johnson—who sits on the advisory boards of Patch and Meetup.com, owns a $2.7 million house in Marin County, and will probably be back with another page-turner in 2014. I can see why the future looks perfect to him.