Skip to content


A new word has risen into increasing use in the last few years: Hypercapitalism.

As is the case with neologisms, there are some varying definitions and interpretations, the broadest of which is a relatively obvious “capitalism carried to an extreme [at the expense of societal values]” or the like. A trace of older usages follow this definition. Edging out that dull and linear meaning, though, is a more specific one:

hypercapitalismnoun — 1. The idea that every action has monetary value. 2. The idea that every personal effort deserves compensation.

The older form of the word has sparse usage back to the 1930s and 40s, but rose sharply in the last decade. The capitalized form is even more recent. It's my suggestion that we deprecate the older, more generic, largely useless (through being obvious and generic) interpretation in favor of the above, stronger, more relevant one.

But enough lexicography for one day. What does the term mean?

In a nutshell, hypercapitalism is the idea that every act is worth compensation. While this can be tenuously sustained for business and commercial acts, even those not necessarily leading to direct value for customers or consumers as a whole, the real application is to individual acts and efforts. The perpetual drive to consume, which drives the bottomless desire to earn, has driven some vast percentage of people to believe their every action should cause coins to drop. Not just believe out of greed, but believe on the level of natural law or entitlement.

There have always been greedy people, yes. There are always those around who value their time, knowledge and expertise (real or imagined) so much that they won't contribute it without some form of compensation, preferably cash in hand. There are always those who see personal and community interaction as a tree to be shaken for loose change.

Hypercapitalism is more: in the most everyday sense, it's the idea that it's acceptable and perfectly ordinary, even ordained to charge for doing something for a friend, a neighbor, a group or a community. it is the antithesis of the idea that some things are done for their own sake, or for the benefit of those who choose to participate, or even just in the name of friendship or neighborliness... never mind charity.

And yes, there always have been charitable people as well — kind people, giving people — from those who work with Doctors Without Borders down to a neighbor who comes over to help you with a heavy garbage can. But more and more, these categories of good and kind and charitable people have come to believe that their giving deserves compensation. Beyond compensation (for costs or inconvenience), they believe they are entitled to profit from their acts.

Grouping for Dollars

Let me give a fairly narrow example. I often look for organized groups that have interests I share. One area I search is writing groups. Like most such areas, the spectrum of these groups covers a wide range, starting with the "Yes, You Can Write Your Memoirs!" circles for novice, mostly older aspirants. But many are at higher levels, for those with some degree of experience and commitment to the trade. And now... a vast number of these no longer have simple meetings, get-togethers or critique circles; they instead have one “workshop” after another, with fees that are often beyond token. Instead of writers with similar interests getting together to support each other, these groups have become marketing platforms to sell much the same service to each other — or, more likely, for one or two organizers to continually sell these programs to the participants. What was once free, and could still be freely shared, is now a commodity to be monetized and profit center without a whole.

I see much the same happening in other areas of community-group involvement, even utterly free-worthy types such as book clubs and craft circles. It is endemic in almost all “business” and “marketing” focused groups, which will be no surprise. The organization is not to bring together like minds, or associate for the benefit of association, or provide mutual support, but to provide a fixed participation pool for pay-to-play events. Because, to paraphrase Dr. Johnson, only a blockhead would organize for any other reason.

Bits for Coins

A broader example is this, the good ol’ world wide web (with “world” excluding parts of China and Russia, but never mind). Since its inception, there has been a contingent intent on shaking money from it—seeing it not as connectivity or community or a collective avatar of humanity, but a money tree that will yield untold riches if shaken hard enough—and according to the most arcane rules of the moment. The web, bless its digital heart, largely resisted this public mugging for many years, with only a few lucky players actually making a profit from shaking its dice. And then, of course, entities like Amazon figured out the process and it devolved down the chain.

It's not so bad that the web, nominally owned by no one and everyone, is used for commerce and profit. What is bad is how utterly clogged it is with third-rate efforts based not on information or entertainment or utility, but on some form of paywall, pay-to-play or begging-for-bitcoins. Sites created not to present news, not to enable an industry or hobby or interest, not for any public good or contribution or even sincere vanity... but first, foremost and with everything bent to shake some goddam pelf out of visitors,

People's exhibit A: all clickbait. Anything for a click-through, a visit, and hopefully a capture to sell something or scrape off valuta. Or—in the universal last-ditch scream for manna—advertising revenue.

This essay sat unfinished for a while, without a conclusion or a more focused point to make. Nailing down the existence of the phenomenon and giving it a name is not always enough. But then, the important point coalesced:

Is it a form of sociopathy to regard everyone around you—friend, neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance, passerby—as a target of economic opportunity?

Is it okay to think of people as walking ATMs, to be relieved of some of their wealth by some act or service you provide... whether that service has any real value or need in the first place, and whether it is something long considered a kindness, a courtesy, a gesture of friendship and not a pull of the payment lever?

Yeah. It is an induced pathology. And it's all part of the madness driven, at its root, by—you guessed it—consumerism. The gnawing, fostered need to acquire as much wealth as possible, that we might consume a yet larger share.

Leave a Reply