Robert Kiyosaki’s seminal self-help book Rich Dad, Poor Dad (1997) is perhaps one of the most interesting books written about capitalism in recent memory. To be clear, it is not the most well-written—Kiyosaki admits in a recent edition of his book that he is not a “best-writing author,” but rather a “best-selling author.” As always, he is quick to give away the game. In part, the success of Rich Dad, Poor Dad might be attributable to its less-than-sophisticated writing style. The kitsch nature of the book is its greatest strength—it allows Kiyosaki to articulate in simple terms what most working people already know to be inherently true, with chapters given didactic, clunky, multi-section titles such as:
“Lesson One: Rich Dad Rule Number One: The Rich Don’t Work for Money. The Poor and the Middle-Class Work for Money. The Rich Have Money Work for Them.”
Kiyosaki goes on to quote his “Rich Dad” mentor, the proprietor of a chain of convenience stores, who says of his employees:
They feel the fear [of destitution] so they go to work, hoping the money will soothe the fear, but it doesn’t. It continues to haunt them, and they return to work, hoping again that money will calm their fears, and again it doesn’t. Fear keeps them in this trap of working, earning money, working, earning money, hoping the fear will go away. But every day they get up, and that old fear wakes up with them. For millions of people that old fear keeps them awake all night, causing a night of turmoil and worry. So, they get up and go to work, hoping a paycheck will kill that fear gnawing at their soul.
Kiyosaki calls this cycle of fear “The Rat Race.” Have you ever seen the over-educated, modern proponents of “socialism” in the United States (and elsewhere, to some degree) come up with anything quite as succinct as Kiyosaki’s convenience store daddy? Even those who are well-versed in Marxism have traditionally struggled to articulate concepts like wage slavery in ways that are simultaneously coherent and visceral to everyday workers. If the conditions of workers are to ever improve, something has to wake them up to their own exploitation and have them respond—even quietly—I know. I feel this every day. In other words, if you are searching for a way to red-pill the normies, this is it.
Enjoying this? You can help us by supporting us on Patreon!
The pointlessness of the worker’s life, as ordered under capitalism is “like those little hamsters running around in those metal wheels. Their little furry legs are spinning furiously, the wheel is turning furiously, but come tomorrow morning they’ll still be in the same cage.” This is a powerful idea to exploit, and useful imagery for radicalizing workers. But Kiyosaki is not a revolutionary, he is a salesman, and a good one at that. What he sells is hope, and a guide to self-liberation, not only with Rich Dad, Poor Dad—which alone has sold at least 32 million copies, including the copies assigned as instructional material in my 11th grade high school economics class––but also with the book’s spinoff board game, Kiyosaki’s expensive seminars, and his many other books. The efficacy of his financial advice is apparently questionable at best, but that isn’t the point. The point is the idea of self-liberation from exploitative wage slavery, and of freedom from the endless hamster wheel of work and consumption. In other words, the hope is not that one can overthrow capitalism—or even escape it—but rather that one can transcend its miseries by rising to the top of the system (propelled there by folksy dad-based financial anecdotes, presumably).
Kiyosaki’s book is still popular—still cracking the Top 100 bestselling books on Amazon—more than twenty years after its initial publication. But much of his advice, which was written during the market heyday of the late 1990s, has lost a certain degree of purchase among the masses in the aftermath of the great recession. But the sentiment is not gone, and acknowledging workers’ intrinsic desire to escape wage slavery has become a key selling point for companies like Uber, who says you can “be your own boss.” It is also present in multi-level marketing schemes like LimeLife, which promise the same escape, wrapped in the language of family and community that people increasingly yearn for in an ever-atomizing society. Of course, it is quite easy to observe the exploitative nature of companies like Uber, and it should be obvious that no one is getting rich by becoming an amateur taxi driver—no matter how many Robert Kiyosaki books they’ve read. Moreover, the “socially conscious” forays into pyramid schemes by the wellness industry invariably recreate a tiny microcosm of capitalism within themselves; a few at the top grow rich from the labor of those below, sustaining and recreating the exploitative conditions from which their “family” of “representatives” sought to escape in the first place.
The same self-liberation impulse isn’t just lurking behind every depressing gig economy job. It is also being exploited in a newer, more insidious way, through the rise of so-called platform capitalism. Webs of Instagram influencers, professional twitch streamers, Tik-tokers, YouTube stars, and the top 1% (… of OnlyFans, that is) have all structured their lives around chasing the same dreams of escaping the rat race. These platforms promise both the possibility of self-liberation and the allure of celebrity—and give themselves a certain degree of cover by providing it to a select few. Not that they even need to, as more often than not, the press is more than willing to do the PR work for them. According to the press, a platform like OnlyFans “gives workers control” by taking only 20% of their incomes. Free of charge, the Guardian will even give you a good ole’ intersectionality spin:
OnlyFans allows content creators to self-identify and cultivate a fanbase on their own terms […] The rise of a platform like OnlyFans turns that traditional ladder-climbing on its head by putting more power in the hands of performers who no longer need the approval of overwhelmingly white cis male industry scouts and gatekeepers to launch their careers.
A dystopian article from the San Francisco Chronicle titled “Coronavirus took their jobs away. OnlyFans let these Bay Area people monetize themselves,” does not even bother to question why a pornography site is acting as a social safety net in one of the richest societies in human history.
Few people are able to make a living on YouTube, but those who do can make big money—at least until someone asks to speak to the manager. Their murky demonetization system—which nobody quite seems to understand—is good public relations post-2016, after all the liberal hand-wringing over “fake news,” and accusations of algorithmic radicalization happening on the platform. Of course, if YouTube was actually concerned about such content, they’d remove it rather than simply refuse to pay its creators. It is also worth noting that these de-radicalization efforts ironically radicalized at least one scorned (and broke) creator who shot three YouTube employees and then herself at their headquarters in 2018. According to her father, YouTube “stopped everything and now she has no income.”
Nonetheless, much of the reporting on the shooter’s motives focused on her eccentricity and (extreme) views on animal rights. But whether or not Nasim Aghdam was unstable does not change the fact that this was at its core a labor dispute—a fact nobody seems willing to admit. It doesn’t change the fact that YouTube’s algorithm rewards polemic and spectacle, and that her extreme opinions and eccentric behavior brought them viewership and spectacle. It doesn’t change the fact that she had gone whole hog on YouTube’s sole product—the promise of minor celebrity and economic self-liberation—in exchange for a fraction of the advertising revenue she generated, only to be left with nothing at the end of it all.
The Marxist writer Rosa Luxembourg purportedly once said (perhaps apocryphally): “those who move do not notice their chains,” but it doesn’t seem that they need to notice them, as capitalists are more than willing to point them out when it suits their particular economic projects. This only works because most workers already know instinctively that the chains are there. Millions are ripe for radicalization, so where is the revolution? For starters, revolutions of all kinds suffer from a collective action problem: it is much easier to imagine changing one’s own class position through grit and good luck than it is to imagine a widespread movement of worker power—to say nothing of the total abolition of the class system altogether. But pessimism is the most pathetic form of surrender. As workers, we should learn from the capitalists: First, by acknowledging the chains exist, in plain language, as Kiyosaki does. But unlike the capitalists—and Kiyosaki—we must be honest: There is no easy escape route, self-liberation is a scam, and none of us are free until all of us are.